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The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  3,468 ratings  ·  179 reviews
Many appreciate Richard P. Feynman’s contributions to twentieth-century physics, but few realize how engaged he was with the world around him—how deeply and thoughtfully he considered the religious, political, and social issues of his day. Now, a wonderful book—based on a previously unpublished, three-part public lecture he gave at the University of Washington in 1963—show ...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published April 6th 2005 by Basic Books (first published 1998)
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Richard
The Meaning of it All is based on lectures given by Richard Feynman to lay audiences at the University of Washington, Seattle, over three nights in April 1963, on science and its relationship to social problems and religion. (All of Feynman's published books are similarly based on recordings of lectures or conversations.) It pains me to say anything negative about a book by Feynman but this is one that probably should never have been published, except as part of a "Complete Works" set. This is p ...more
Brian
My wife told me about a movie she watched (The Challenger Disaster (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2421662/)) late one night that covered the investigation regarding the space shuttle Challenger. She said the lead technical person in the investigation was this interesting scientist, who I later found out was Richard Feynman. Luckily, my wife had recorded the movie as well as a small documentary of this "scientist". After watching both pieces, I was amazed I'd never heard of this man, but was so gla ...more
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in July 2001.

These three lectures, about science, society, philosophy, religion and so on, were delivered in the early sixties but not published until after Feynman's death. They read as though they are basically transcriptions of more or less off the cuff speaking rather than as composed in written form for the book.

Basically the theme of the talks is how science relates to society's other concerns, with interesting digressions on subjects like why politicia
...more
Eve Proofreads
So here it is, the greatest puzzle of all, life, the universe and everything, as discussed by the genius, Richard Feynman. The Nobel Prize winning physicist is often quoted in popular science; I thought it was about time I read him in his own words. This book contains three public lectures given in 1963. The first, entitled, ‘The Uncertainty of Science’, addresses the importance of doubt in science as the catalyst for ideas and progress and introduces his views on the remarkable process of scien ...more
Dave
Since my first introduction to Richard Feynman's memoirs, lectures, letters and the first hand stories about him I've been a fan. For me, Richard Feynman represents an embodiment of scientific curiosity, healthy skepticism and a powerful advocacy of acknowledging the limits of understanding and the importance of knowing we cannot be absolutely certain of many things. This short volume / audio production is a transcription / reading of three lectures the great physicist and practical joker gave a ...more
Utsav
A collection of three lectures given by Feynman in 1963. Unfortunately, these lectures were very non-technical in nature, with Feynman talking about his views on science, society, religion, and the relationships between them. He's engaging enough, but the subject matter is rather thin, especially if you're already pretty committed to a scientific worldview.

This is probably pretty good if you are looking to read some basic philosophy from a leading scientist's point of view, but if, like me, you
...more
Leanne

This book is based off a series of lectures Feynman gave for laymen audiences. I don't think the editors changed enough to say it is "based off" the lectures, actually--even "Thank you for the laugh" and that sort of thing are left in. The lectures cover science and its relation to doubt, religion, and politics. Feynman is critical of his lectures, and with some reason to be, but none of the reasons matter much. It was a pleasure to listen to this, despite its faults.

The lectures were repetitive

...more
Louis
This book was decent, but suffers from supply and demand problems. There is/was a huge demand for Richard Feynman books since his death. The problem is that everything he has written was already published. Al of the 'new' books you find 'written' by Feynman in the last decade or so are just collections that reorganize his short anecdotes already published in different volumes.

This 'book' is a collection of talks that he gave late in his life. It has all the interesting ideas and anecdote you exp
...more
Clif Hostetler
I respect Mr Feynman's intelligence and skill as a lecturer. His reputation makes me feel bad about giving this book only two stars. But this book isn't his best work. The three lectures in this book were given in 1963. It's interesting to speculate how his speech would be different if given today. In 1963 the lectures may have seemed more cutting edge. I was particularly interested in what he had to say about the relationship between religion and science. Well, he did a fine job describing the ...more
Gary
I opened this book with some excitement, as Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! is an all-time favorite of mine. Although I did enjoy The Meaning of It All, I just wasn't getting into it as much as Surely You're Joking and I wasn't sure why. Then it hit me.

I've seen word-for-word transcription of talks that I've given in the past and shuddered at how they came across in written form. A well-written book or article is very different from a well-presented lecture. I got the impression that the edi
...more
Trin
A trio of lectures Feynman gave in 1963 on the theme of "A Scientist Looks at Society." He discusses politics, religion, and the role of science. Feynman's thoughts aren't always perfectly organized, but much of what he says—especially about how people aren't trained to think scientifically, and how that's a detriment to a society that's pretty much conditioned to perceive itself as incapable of understanding science and logical thought—is still remarkably relevant today. This seemed to me almos ...more
Robert Vlach
Tato kniha je přepisem tří veřejných přednášek o vědě vširším kontextu politiky, školství, náboženství a filozofie (epistemologie). Zaujaly mě dvě myšlenky týkající se, řekněme, měkkých léčebných metod (faith-healing), jako je homeopatie či léčitelství. Feynman argumentuje, že v konečném součtu tyto metody mohou buď a)pomáhat, b) nemít žádný výrazný efekt, anebo c) škodit zejména tím, že pacient kvůli nim odkládá účinnou léčbu. To je silná myšlenka adocela by mne zajímalo, jestli se jí od té dob ...more
Retrovold
There are plenty books "bring science closer to random people" I would call them. Thing is, how good is author at actually explaining laws of physics to us - people less educated in science.

I've read many books like that. And Mr. Feynman is sure man we can trust on delivering very good informations but he is also amusing and you can actually feel charisma out of his words. Hawking is probably mostly popular in bringing science closer but ofter, reafing his books you can catch and thinking "Oh,
...more
pax
Now this is Feynman, so a book of his cannot be really bad. And I marked a few dozens passages in this one, scrambled notes and exclamation marks on margin, will definitely cite sentences (and I wish that I had encountered that last Galileo passage earlier, it would have been the ideal intro for my PhD thesis).

Yet ...

The lectures were lectures. A physicists lectures. Freely spoken, perhaps even without too clear a scripts. The book is a pretty close account of they way Feynman was speaking. And
...more
Eduardo
Classic Feynman attacking problems as diverse as the reformation of the English language.

My only complaint is that I'd have appreciated a little bit more of structure, but that's minor.

If you enjoy seeing how a scientist of the caliber of Feynman thinks about subjects other than hardcore physics (and you know that Feynman is a master at this), you won't be disappointed.
Diego
El libro recupera las 3 conferencias que Feynman impartió en 1963 en la universidad de Washington para discutir la naturaleza de la ciencia, como método, como arreglo sistemático del conocimiento y como aplicaciones (tecnología, Feynman va más allá y asume su rol de ciudadano para cuestionar el lugar de la ciencia en la sociedad, en la creación y solución de problemas sociales y en su relación dentro de los grandes debates del hombre, sobre la moralidad o la religión.

Feynman ante todo promueve
...more
Will
Having intended to read something by Richard Feynman for many years, I purchased this on impulse when browsing in a used book shop over Christmas. It contains three lectures Feynman delivered in 1963 to a general audience. He begins by describing how scientists think and work, then offers his thoughts on the relationship of science to the realms of religion and politics, before concluding by lamenting the various ways in which the contemporary age is insufficiently scientific in its approach to ...more
Affiodott
La personalità politica di Feyman, condizionata sicuramente dagli avvenimenti del tempo, è fin troppo filo governativa e anti-sovietica. I ragionamenti sulla "paranoia" che può assalire chi crede fermamente in qualcosa che non ha basi certe, a tal punto da riuscire a ricreare un castello mentale inespugnabile da nessuna ovvietà, sembrano potersi applicare senza nessuno sforzo al suo pregiudizio anti-comunista.
Rimane in ogni caso un'ottima fonte di saggezza e colpa di spunti di riflessione.
Unici
...more
Hevel Cava
Aug 08, 2013 Hevel Cava rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Alison Bähmuller
One of the best books I've ever read... I can tell that it's quite excellent, so inspiring, thought-provoking, and much, much more... you have to read it
Lincoln
I liked it a lot. What an interesting guy. Clearly smart, but so folksy. I like the way he presents scientific ideas in a way that a regular Joe like me can appreciate. I keep thinking about one point me made in particular, about a simple trick he developed for figuring out whether somebody knows what they're talking about: ask them a sincere, intelligent question--and very soon they'll get stuck. I don't know why I find that so appealing. Probably because I get stuck all the time, and now I can ...more
unbaulepienodigente
Richard Feynman è stato un genio, e non c’è sicuramente bisogno che lo confermi io. Una delle menti più brillanti del secolo scorso, premio Nobel per la Fisica nel 1965 per alcuni studi sull’elettrodinamica quantistica, in questo volumetto, contenente tre conferenze tenute presso l’Università di Washington, mostra quello che si può definire il metodo scientifico applicato alla vita pratica.
Le conferenze risalgono all’aprile 1963, quando Feynman aveva quarantacinque anni: per qualcuno potrebbe es
...more
Jihad Lahham
it's better to listen to some Feynman lectures before reading this book just to get acquainted with the way he talks and explains things. Needless to say, Feynman had one of the brightest minds that ever lived in the history of humanity, however, when it comes to topics like politics and religions, he is so clumsy with words and sentences. you can distill the substance of what he's trying to communicate, but it won't flow in a pleasurable literary style. on such topics, i find Sagan and Dawkins ...more
Darren
The Meaning of It All contains three public lectures Richard Feynman gave on the theme "A Scientist Looks at Society" during the John Danz Lecture Series at the University of Washington, Seattle in April 1963. At the time Feynman was already a highly respected physicist who played a big role in laying the groundwork for modern particle physics.[5] Two years later in 1965, Feynman won the Nobel Prize in Physics with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga for their work in quantum electrodynamics ...more
Keya
Jul 14, 2010 Keya marked it as lectures  ·  review of another edition
16 - Scientists take all those things that can be analyzed by observation, and thus the things called science are found out. But there are some things left out, for which the method does not work. This does not mean that those things are unimportant. They are, in fact, in many ways the most important.

27 - And it is of paramount imptance, in order to make progress, that we recognize this ignorance and this doubt. B/c we have the doubt, we then propose looking in new directions for new ideas. The
...more
Matt
A publication of three lectures given by Feynman at the University of Washington in 1963. His musings are a quick read and give the feeling of a slightly drunk bar conversation with good friends. Not terribly probing, but comfortably contemplative. Since this is a transcription of a lecture, it rambles a bit but the book is short enough that I didn't really notice.

He seems to have fun with his last lecture and opens by stating "I have completely run out of organized ideas, but I have a large num
...more
Wanda
It was okay I guess. It might have helped if I didn't imagine Feynman's voice to be that of Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory.
Nothing special here, for the most part, with a lot of very dated references. He's read Richard Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics--or read about it--and gives a garbled version of Hofstadter's ideas, without referencing him, recounts a weird example of a wife being terrified of her husband to illustrate paranoia (why would he have come up with that
...more
Alexa
Apr 09, 2012 Alexa rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Every single human being on this planet.
Recommended to Alexa by: University of Washington
Incredibly interesting.

The whole time I was reading this book, I kept wishing Mr. Feynman was still alive. I would absolutely love to attend his lectures. I imagine he's one of those people who could talk for hours about 20 different subjects, all connected in one train of thought. This whole book is basically an intellectual train of thought, in which the speaker is very aware of the things he speaks of and how the audience perceives him. It was refreshing and different.

One of my favorite quot
...more
Robert
Here we have 3 lectures generally entitled "A Scientist looks at Society", transcribed verbatim, apparently. I can hear, even picture Feynman when reading it; he had a distinctive way of speaking that was very natural and not polished at all, including hesitations, corrections and minor mistakes of language. Not often did he memorise a speech.

Here, Feynman wades a long way beyond his own territory to examine the relationship of science to politics, religion and other aspects of wider Western civ
...more
Remo
De nuevo Feynman, en su salsa. Este libro está basado, como muchos otros suyos, incluyendo las magnas “Conferencias de Física”, en las transcripciones de una serie de conferencias –tres– que dio Feynman acerca de la ciencia, y su relación (o ausencia de ella) con, por ejemplo, la política, la ética y la religión. Feynman empieza reconociendo que no es experto en ninguna de las materias, salvo quizás la física, y que las opiniones que va a dar son las de “un ciudadano científico” (o un científico ...more
Joseph D. Walch
I really enjoyed this short book about truth, science, religion, values, ethics, and the way of one who seeks out the truth in all nooks wherever it may be found. I have enjoyed Dr. Feynman's wit and irrepressible enthusiasm for understanding the world around himself--including people and society. He presents himself as a non-dogmatic agnostic with clear sympathies (he quotes atheists as well as Catholic Cardinals with whom he agrees on values), but emphasizes the importance of remaining open to ...more
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1429989
Richard Phillips Feynman was an American physicist known for the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as work in particle physics (he proposed the parton model). For his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman was a joint recipient of the Nobel Pr ...more
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Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character What Do You Care What Other People Think? Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics By Its Most Brilliant Teacher QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman

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“Words can be meaningless. If they are used in such a way that no sharp conclusions can be drawn.” 35 likes
“It is surprising that people do not believe that there is imagination in science. It is a very interesting kind of imagination, unlike that of the artist. The great difficulty is in trying to imagine something that you have never seen, that is consistent in every detail with what has already been seen, and that is different from what has been thought of; furthermore, it must be definite and not a vague proposition. That is indeed difficult.” 24 likes
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