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The Character of Physical Law
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The Character of Physical Law

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4.29 of 5 stars 4.29  ·  rating details  ·  2,364 ratings  ·  67 reviews
In the Messenger Lectures, originally delivered at Cornell University & recorded for TV by the BBC, Feynman offers an overview of selected physical laws & gathers their common features into one broad principle of invariance. He maintains at the outset that the importance of a physical law isn't "how clever we are to have found it out, but...how clever nature is to ...more
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published November 8th 1994 by Modern Library (first published 1964)
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Manny
Jun 01, 2013 Manny rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who want to understand what physics is really about
As I progressed through this excellent little book, I began to feel that the style was somehow familiar from another genre. Mozart? Perhaps e.e. cummings? But my subconscious, while granting that I wasn't totally off-base, informed me that it had a chess analogy in mind.

I had never thought about it before, but I am suddenly rather taken with the idea of comparing great physics writers with great chess players. Penrose reminds me of Tal, trusting his astonishing visual intuition to steer him thr
...more
brian
all the great early-20th century physicists came up with this l. ron hubbardish conceit to invent a pornucopia of whackadoo sci-fi theories and sell 'em to the public as hard 'reality'… the solvay conference - where they came up with the first round of bullshit - was a blast! they eliminated absolute time, described light as particle & wave, defined space as 'curved', played with cats which were simultaneously dead and alive, came up with a slew of random constants, and - just as Area 51 inf ...more
Robert
This is a fantastic little book for which we have to thank the BBC: They decided to film these lectures and subsequently publish transcripts of them, at a time before Feynman had turned into a one-man industry and every one of Feynman`s students`first-draft lecture notes became as diamond dust.

The title tells one enough about the contents; if you have any interest in the topic you should read this book. It is almost but not completely non-mathematical. If you can cope with the algebra contained
...more
Zanna
It is commonplace to praise Feynman for describing fiendishly difficult concepts in friendly vernacular and intuitive analogies, for example, his wet towels metaphor for the second law of thermodynamics communicates its content, import, and the sad desperation physicists have felt about it unforgettably. But what matters as much is that he is never sloppy, he never allows an analogy to carry away substance or overstep its explanatory limits. I have read other accounts of the double-slit experime ...more
Chris Wilson
I once had a friend that I was tutoring in physics explain to me that this was her intro physics "textbook". Amazingly, though I was studying physics, I hadn't really been introduced to Richard Feynman in any real way. That Saturday, I sat down with a cup of coffee in my small rooming house kitchen and started reading this book. Feynman is a magician of explanation. On every page I read, Feynman took some concept that I was familiar with and tugged it apart, then with a sly turn deftly snapped i ...more
David
Feynman's lectures make good reading. That alone is somewhat unusual, since many lectures do not survive well when they are simply transcribed. The other unusual thing about Feynman's lecture style is that he makes what he's talking about clear and accessible without an excess of jargon. His approach is sometimes quirky, but in his lectures you can see how he thinks about that approach. In these lectures, there's a balance between musings about physics and musings about how people think (about p ...more
Tom
I procrastinated reading this because I thought the level of physics might be too difficult. It is actually extremely accessible and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the way the universe works and the relationship between mathematics and physics. Since the chapters are transcribed lectures, there are a few points in the book at which complex mathematics is glossed over or presented as an understood explanation. Also, as lectures, the diagrams and illustrations are sparse, which makes the ...more
Robert Vlach
Představte si, že pořádáte akci, na kterou pozvete pár cool řečníků, aby představili své nejlepší knihy o inovacích. Do toho přijde Petr Koubský a jako trumf vytasí ke všeobecnému zděšení Feynmanovu 50 let starou klasiku O povaze přírodních zákonů. Aspoň takhle jsem tu historku slyšel… Wow! — The Character of Physical Law je knižní kompilace Feynmanových přednášek z roku 1964, v nichž do té doby nevídaným způsobem vystihl podstatu vědecké metody v celé její šíři a složitosti. Pro mnoho vědců nás ...more
Sean
Book was great but listen to the guy's lectures and you get a feel for what it must have been like to learn from him.
Matthew Plummer
An extremely interesting and informative look at a variety of different physical laws and their surrounding concepts. At times, for a layman such as me, I found it tricky to follow but Feynman, while losing me intellectually still held my interest, usually by the end of a lecture I had a good general understanding which is all that I ask of a book like this. His style is nice and clean, not cluttered with unnecessary jargon and often he makes the complicated seem simple, especially through his d ...more
David
I "read" this as an audiobook, and the various charts and tables weren't immediately available to me, so there were a few challenges. Based on my background in science, I could follow, but it took more work. I found the discussion of the philosophy the most interesting. This book is almost 50 years old, and so much has happened in physics. However, this look for a renowned physicist at how you get there, is what makes this book still worth reading. Feynman is an interesting guy, if you haven't r ...more
Catherine
A short and sweet collection of lectures Feynman gave at Cornell in the sixties, this is a great read for anyone who's never read Feynman before. He clearly loves teaching and talking about physics; he is adept at explaining both the mathematical details and laws as well as the implications of these laws (if any) on our daily experience. He has a manner of looking at physical laws from different points of view, which makes the reader's engagement with them quite different; for example, he descri ...more
Michael
An interesting insight into the way one of the more brilliant minds of the 20th century regarded the scientific process. It's the first book I've read that made the theory of relativity clear to me, which reflects on its main strength and weakness: this book is not for scientists. If you're looking for an in-depth explanation of any phenomena here, you're barking up the wrong tree. The focus is on how we arrive at the physical laws and how the laws interact to form the universe we know, not appl ...more
LB
Mar 25, 2008 LB rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: terrible
I have only just started--or restarted--this book and my problem is the same that I had with Hawking. Statements like this (p. 19-20) "As a matter of fact Newton was able to demonstrate that the statement that equal areas are swept in equal times was a direct consequence of the simple idea that all the changes in velocity are directed exactly towards the sun, even in the elliptical case..."

What in the hell does that mean? Velocity is direction + speed, right? So, I understand that a change in di
...more
Romesh Srivastava
Very nice way of introducing how physics work and physicists think. Feynman makes it a fun ride filled with witty jokes and awesome experiments, methods and metaphors to explain this beautiful subject. He mainly sticks to the character of the laws - their essence - rather than the laws themselves.

PS. I saw the original lectures which were recorded on tape by BBC.
Kam-Yung Soh
A good collection of lectures given by Feynman on the character of science and the search for the laws of physics. One can only wish to be present at the actual lectures to catch a glimpse of the actual Feynman behind the words.

The book acts as a good introduction into what makes up the laws of physics and what physicists actually do to discover them. Many might be shocked to discover that instead of methodical and step-by-step research, laws may be 'guessed' via intuition but Feynman emphasises
...more
Amr Omran
شخصية مرحة وبسيط ومن العلماء القلائل يقدم العلم بطريقة بسيطة..
سلسلة محاضرات شاملة الفيزياء من البداية والتفكير الفيزيائي..
والتفكير العلمي وكيفية تكوين نظريتك واسنادها..
وتكوين قوانين جديدة, وطبيعة ميكانيكا الكم..
وعلاقة الرياضيات والفيزياء..
Aaron
This is a good second read if you picked up Five Easy Pieces.

The title is carefully chosen: Feynman gives us a guide through physics and points out the general character of the laws we've discovered. How does the universe act, generally? Why would that be?

With reference to concrete discoveries we get to ask the meta questions. It turns out that beside the predictable things in the universe, there are fantastic, incomprensible weirdnesses, things that have no reason to work.

One such quote: "I fin
...more
Nathan
Beautiful. A clear overview of how we know what we know. This quickly became one of my favorite science books.
Yves
read it in French when in highschool ; liked it at the time.
Damien Sutevski
Cool recap on physics. I'd say it's a little above the layman's level for a quick, full understanding. On the other hand, it's pretty simple for someone w/ a physics/engineering background. BUT, it makes you think about some of the cool fundamental shit going down - minus the fact that this is like 50 years old. For example, it'd be nice if it touched on the Higgs boson, etc.

Feynman has a talent for describing physics. Early on, he relies on formulas more often than necessary I think, but that s
...more
Aaron Jacob
I am not someone with much of a grasp on physics. I never had a physics class in high school, and i needed so many hours with a tutor to get through my college physics course with just a C, even with all of the extra credit.

i know that physical laws dominate our universe. i know that, i can see that, but that doesn't mean i can comprehend the laws to any real depth. it's sort of hopeless for me to even pretend to know what is going on in this book.

Feynman is amusing to listen to and read, but t
...more
Mohan
Awesome book on how particles behave... For even novices
Dan
Classic Feynman
Robert
I Love Feynman
Cristian
What can I really say? This book makes me want to hack Goodreads so that it alone can enjoy a rating of 10 stars as opposed to the maximum of 5. I am familiar with physics and yet I absorbed every single word. If you want to know what physics is REALLY like - hint: you will likely not find that out in school - then Feynman is probably the best person you can find that out from.

If you have even the most remote interest in physics, don't you dare miss this.
Aasem Bakhshi
What an enlightenment, how sheer the awe, how great the pleasure. An extraordinary genius, an amazing teacher, and perhaps the most curious human being to ever walk on earth. These lectures are not only an education but a kind of osmotic transfer of Feynman's curiosity to the immediate generation that learnt from him, and to many more include ours. However this osmosis is not ideal in a sense that concentration of curiosity on both sides can never be equal.
Kari
I'm managing to read all my books in some accidental order that's actually building on what I just read in the last one. I'd just read One, Two, Three...Infinity by Gamow and he touched on some things that were exapanded on here, so I got more out of it, I think. And I like the humor. I'm more of a physicist and less of a mathematician, which I already knew because I drove my dad crazy in high school using the "brute force" method on everything.
Lucy
I didn't thoroughly enjoy this book. It wasn't horrible; the subject matter corresponded slightly with aspects of our current science lessons. However, this was the kind of book that put me to sleep. The author indeed had a personal and unique way of writing, which made this book different than our text books. It's going to be hard doing a book report on it, though, since there was so much information packed into 167 pages.
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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
More about Richard P. Feynman...
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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“Mathematics is a language plus reasoning; it is like a language plus logic. Mathematics is a tool for reasoning.” 46 likes
“... it is impossible to explain honestly the beauties of the laws of nature in a way that people can feel, without their having some deep understanding of mathematics. I am sorry, but this seems to be the case.” 17 likes
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