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

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  7,471 ratings  ·  462 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 Now, a wonderful book -- based on a previously unpublished, three-part public lecture he gave at the University of Washington in 196 ...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published April 6th 2005 by Basic Books (first published 1998)
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Feb 06, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Jun 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
What a wonderful, quick, fascinating read. I'd say this is my new manifesto if the idea of having a manifesto didn't go against nearly everything inside.

This is the first thing I've read by Richard Feynman and I'm very excited to read more. He's clearly one of those people who is talented at everything, and could have been a celebrated poet or an economist if he didn't become a physicist instead.

I'm a little surprised to see some many reviews here that suggest that this collection of lectures i
Jun 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fav, theory
Richard Feynman was something else. He summarizes the curious, scientific worldview like no other.
Feb 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are 3 lectures by Feynman here that he presented in Seattle, WA in the early 60s, about 1963, I think. We were still lagging behind the USSR in the Space Race & there are other references that might not mean much to the younger folks, but not many. I think Richard Dawkins is a worthy scientific successor to Feynman's ideas & I see the roots of many of them here. (Personally, Feynman was far more of a hoot than Dawkins.) IOW, he's the finest kind of scientist.

The lectures are about the Unce
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
Anupam Ranku
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Reading Richard Feynman's book is always entertaining. This book consists of a transcript of three lectures. I think listening to the lectures would have been more fun. Some notable lines:

- Keep trying new solutions is the way to do everything.

- For billions of years, this ball was spinning with its sunsets and its waves and the sea and the noises, and there was nothing alive to appreciate it.

- This piece of dirt waits four and a half billion years and evolves and changes, and now a strange cre
Apr 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This guy never ceases to amaze me. This book drives down deeply, the value of being uncertain.
Dec 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A really nice and short read on the meaning of doing science and it’s inherent uncertainty. A very useful read for aspiring scientists as well as the average layman.
Jim Razinha
Jan 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
I know this may be a shock, but I've never read Feynman until now. Of course, I pick a transcription of a three night series of lectures for my first, rather than his...more thought out writings. But, one gets a sense of his humor. The three lectures, in 1963 Seattle, were titled, "The Uncertainty of Science", "The Uncertainty of Values", and "This Unscientific Age". Feynman's first two lectures had structure, and yet this still reads like the spoken lecture it was - sidetracks here and there. O ...more
Mohamed al-Jamri
Feb 17, 2016 rated it liked it
This book is a short read. It is based on three-part public lecture given by Feynman in 1963 in which he talked about various topics. In general they're enjoyable, especially those that deal with science, but he also speaks about politics. The following points are my summary for the most important topic he tackled:
*The nature of science, the fact that it can be used for good or evil purposes.
*Nature and its poetry that is way more beautiful than myths, because its imagination is more than that o
Ahmad Ashkaibi
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I read a book for someone like Richard Feynman, the first things jumps to my mind is how lucky were his students. I wish I could meet someone like him in person. I could listen to him talk for hours.

In this book, Feynman talks about the relationship between science and people. These were three lectures presented by Professor Feynman at California Institute University, in 1963.
In the first lecture, he talks about the uncertainty of science. Everything about science is uncertain; the scientif
Feb 12, 2017 rated it liked it
I felt the chapter The Unscientific Age redeemed this book. I barely could keep my attention on it. But when I came to the final chapter his point finally clicked. I think he has quite a bit to say about conspiracy theories and widespread paranoia. I wish the American public could read this chapter!

Besides that though I felt the book was too rambling and not pointed and emphatic enough. It is almost like he wanted all his words to maintain a sort of equivalent nature. Not good when writing a bo
Sep 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
There's not much here that a scientist probably has not thought of on their own, nor is it expressed in a way that would make you pause and think of things in a new way, but the historical context (civil rights, space exploration, cold war) and the fact that it is a self-admitted brain dump by Freynman, make it a worthwhile read.
Daniel Kraft
Aug 21, 2018 rated it did not like it
The reason I read this book is because of Feynman was a part of the Manhattan project (also because he was a nobel laureate). The perspective on ‘meaning’ or ‘value’ where Feynman “[…] will discuss the impact of scientific views on political questions, in particular the question of national enemies, and on religious questions”, is unique and extremely interesting. It is a rare occurrence considering that Feynman was instrumental, and fully aware of what he was doing, in the creation of the atomi ...more
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Richard P. Feynman's The Meaning Of It All: Thoughts Of A Citizen-scientist is a delightful series of three lectures on the uncertainty of science, then of values, and ending with the best of all -- "This Unscientific Age" -- which deals with popular notions which militate against science in favor of various shaky beliefs.

Feynman is a great believer in uncertainty as a guiding principle in life:
I made an impassioned plea for the idea that it's good to have an open channel, that there's value in
"Is science of any value?" ...the opening rhetorical. Yes, Feynman thinks but it isn't that simple. The value is in the power scientific findings harness and wield, but finding new ways to do things (the definition of Science)requires we look at this new power and ask ourselves "what could the scientific experiment/findings cause to happen and do I want that result to occur?" (IE. nuclear bombs etc) basically, moral and ethical questions have been sitting outside the boundaries of Science. who i ...more
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
Eve Proofreads
Sep 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 30, 2013 rated it liked it
My wife told me about a movie she watched (The Challenger Disaster ( 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
Dec 13, 2018 added it
A nice quick philosophising read from Richard Feynman’s view on life. Certainly not a must-read, but it opened my mind on certain issues. To be honest, format isn’t optimal. The book consists of three lectures written down, unsummarised. That makes the book light to read.

Feynman is a great thinker. He has the ability to word things simply, yet powerful. He’s gentle, yet to the point.

He dwindles on the subjects of morals, possibility versus probability, uncertainty. He leaves the conclusion to
Jun 17, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-is-drugs
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
Shuby Deshpande
This book gives fresh insight into Richard Feynman's thought process. It's a delightful read that contains his views on politics and philosophy, and takes the reader on a tour of applying the 'scientific' perspective to societal problems. The originality of his thought processes shines through from start to finish, culminating in an end that leaves the reader longing for more.
Roberto Rigolin F Lopes
What a great way to approach the conflicts among science, religion and politics. Feynman goes straight to the point making sure that he is amusing his audience. Bravo!
Andrew Ives
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Three 'science' lectures from 1963 by Dr Feynman may not sound like everyone's cup of tea, but this short book makes for very accessible, thought-provoking reading to pretty much anyone. The first two are quite short, and the third one touches briefly upon a myriad topics - science, religion, politics, astrology, propaganda, scammers, advertising, statistics, and basically, sensible free-thinking and philosophy. Hardly any of this has dated at all over the last 50yrs, and is arguably more releva ...more
Dec 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The Meaning of it All : Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist (1998) by Richard Feynman is a cleaned up transcription of a series of lectures Feynman gave in 1963 at The University of Washington. 

The book seems to have been published because many people will read so much of what Feynman wrote. Feynman's other books are really fantastic. Feynman really goes off his topics of real expertise and writes about politics, about philosophy and even ventures into theology. Feynman's brilliance still shines thr
Mar 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was somewhere between the great memoir "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character and his hard core science books which are over my head. In this one, which is a transcript of some lectures in 1968, he speaks of many topics without much science. The examples of flawed reasoning were very funny and should be read by everyone who says, "What were the chances of that happening? after an unlikely occurrence. Very readable and still relevant. ...more
Hardik Kothare
Sep 02, 2020 rated it liked it
A transcription of lectures doesn’t read as good as something written to be disseminated in writing. Not a big fan of professors rambling on pretentiously about an assortment of topics with an air of importance. The lectures began with some structure but then slowly derailed into the unstructured thoughts of a rip-off Ancient Greek philosopher.
Glenn Bravy
Mar 30, 2019 rated it liked it
"Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman" is still far and away the best I've read from him. "The Meaning of It All" has a number of good points but it felt like a slog. Don't recommend it. Read others he wrote.
Oct 21, 2018 rated it liked it
These lecture could have been delivered yesterday despite the 50+ years since they were first presented.
Mary Norell Hedenstrom
Discusses the conversion of science and religions, science and ethics, and science and government - as relevant now as in 1963.
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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

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61 likes · 32 comments
“Words can be meaningless. If they are used in such a way that no sharp conclusions can be drawn.” 78 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.” 53 likes
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