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The Character of Physical Law

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4.29  ·  Rating details ·  5,596 ratings  ·  187 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
May 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  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
...more
brian
Sep 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Robert
Aug 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Roy Lotz
May 11, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is impossible, by the way, by picking one of anything to pick one that is not atypical in some sense. That is the wonder of the world.

I would probably be giving this little book five stars if I wasn't already familiar with much of it from reading Feynman's Six Easy Pieces and Six Not-So-Easy Pieces. There's a good deal of overlap in the material, and Feynman even uses several of the same examples and analogies. It seems he was so often explaining these things that he developed a method. I
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Zanna
Oct 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stem
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 ...more
Christopher Wilson
May 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Ami Iida
Sep 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: physics
the author explained "Foundation of quantum mechanics and Physics".
He treated many interesting physics and quantum mechanics examples.
I have a lot of harvest from the book. (^ ^)V
Jim
Somewhat dated since this was first published in the mid 60s, it's still a fairly decent primer on some basic physics. I'd heard Feynman was renowned for his ability to explain complex topics in simple language. I found that true to a large extent, although sometimes I got confused. It's one reason I can't recommend the audiobook. There are a lot of diagrams & while I didn't need the early ones, about midway through they became critical.

Table of Contents
1The Law of Gravitation, an example of
...more
Jake
Nov 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: physics, philosophy
Feynman was one of the few scientists who understood the methods, ideas and philosophy of science to the degree of a first rate philosopher. This can be shown in these transcripts in where he travels across a few topics in the nature of physics such as the reoccurring physical parameters(which we anthropomorphically call scientific ‘law’), his analysis of symmetry, the nature of math and its relation to physics, probability ,the oddities of physics and its future prospects. He showed a piercing ...more
Jeremy
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physics
This is not a book about the content of physics, but the practice of physics. What is it physicists do and how do they think? Feynman's explanation here is unmatched in its clarity and accessibility.
Mohamed al-Jamri
This is a short and easy to understand book. It is beneficial mostly to those new to popular science books. Feynman talks about the following topics: What are the laws of nature and how are they discovered. The story of the Law of Gravity up to Einstein, and that of the law of conservation of energy. The uncertainty and universality of the laws of nature. The flow of time, order and disorder (entropy). Levels of complexity. Quantum mechanics and uncertainty principle. And falsifiability.
Matthew Royal
Feb 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Much better than other, more biographical works of his. Guess I never thought of Physics as such a scattershot patchwork of guesses before. He does a good job democratizing it, emphasizing that ideas can come from anywhere, and their value comes only from their agreement with experiment data.
Amirreza
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A splendid story of the phyical laws of nature written by the best physics teacher of all times, Richard Feynman. He tells the theories of physics in the layman's language, making them easy to comprehend.
David
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this transcript of lectures and watched some of them on YouTube as well. The first few are good reviews about gravity and basic physics concepts, but the interesting bits are about the nature of the laws themselves: how they were discovered and how science works in practice. I was surprised to learn first that the axiomatic approach that grounds mathematics isn't the most effective way to approach physics and that (relatedly) physicists often guess at the right explanations and only later ...more
Janet
Jul 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
My son, Ryan, recommended this book since I wanted to learn more about Physics, and Richard Feynman per: Ryan is "great at explaining terms that everyone can understand". The content is seven lectures delivered at Cornell University in 1964, and I must admit that some of the material went in one eyeball and out the other despite Mr. Feynman's great diagrams and simplified explanations. The concepts of gravitation, conservation, symmetry, probability, uncertainty, and more are reviewed with ...more
Richard Thompson
Jul 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: physics
Feynman's sparkling personality comes through clearly in the words of these lectures. It is easy to see why he was a beloved professor in addition to being a genius physicist. There is little new ground covered here for anyone with even a passing knowledge of physics. Ideas of symmetries, conservation laws, the close alliance of math and physics and the weirdness of quantum mechanics are basic concepts, so this book is accessible to nearly everyone. But it is interesting and a bit outside of the ...more
Ryan Curry
Aug 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physics
Enjoyed this one quite a bit. Particularly the last chapter on seeking new Laws of nature.
A23a
May 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Interestingly divulgative. Intriguing and as clear as it gets. I covet deeper and more complex explanations.
I have yet to read his lectures.
Jan
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Feynman explains how we got to various laws and how scientists think about the new ones. I particularly enjoyed the explanation of process of how Newton came up with gravitation equation and the double slit experiment which demonstrates that electrons behave both like waves and particles. Feynman uses his characteristic analogies and stories to make the explanations super-captivating.
Brian Clegg
This was a late discovery for me amongst Richard Feynman's books, and it's something of an oddity. Like all the books with his name on, this wasn't a case of Feynman sitting down to write a book; he never wrote a single book - in this case it's a transcription of a set of lectures Feynman gave at Cornell University which were broadcast in the UK by the BBC.

What the great physicist sets out to do is to explore the nature of physical laws. Where this works best (and he would probably have hated
...more
albin james
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-best
Prof. Feynman consciously chooses select examples like the Law of Gravitation (which he says would have been considered less fancy Physics by then) and uses them to emphasise how tight-knit things really are in nature and how Mathematics is an indispensable tool for Physics. He goes into showing the importance of careful study and hard work while explaining the process of scientific research. He shows utmost respect to nature by taking a no nonsense attitude and avoiding any false modesty (he ...more
Vinay Ayilavarapu
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
It's part of our survival instinct to study patterns in nature. This particular trait has led us to ask these important questions and to pursue their answers. And tools such as science & math help us achieve these goals. But, Feynman is also making an interesting point here. He says that "Our main concentration will not be on how clever we are to have found it all out, but on how clever nature is to pay attention to it."

These lectures primarily focus on the characteristics of these laws and
...more
David
Dec 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Abdulrahman Kauther
Nov 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
For a long time, I was against the idea of having a favorite book; I thought it would be like picking a favorite child. But this book completely shattered this mindset.

If you are not a physicist, this book will be a very easy and simple way for you to understand what physics is, and how we study it. On the other hand, if you are a physicist, this book will provide you with an extremely beautiful and concise way to look at the world and think about the major concepts of physics.

This is,
...more
Tom
Dec 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jb
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
How delightful is Nature for Feynman and his peers. This glimpse on the Physicist method (more than the actual explanations of some laws) is a great takeaway. I already feel the approach, both in technic and in philosophy, can be applied to any kind of intellectual work.

This book is a transcript, hence it is sometimes hard to process. The videos can be seen online, that’s a great experience overall. Also it makes reading with Feynman accent in mind mandatory from now on :)
Sean
Mar 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Chi-Tathon Kupwiwat
Sep 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A critical, quantitative and imaginative way of thought to see nature.

The Law of Gravitation, an example of Physical Law
Pg.13 Even the artists appreciate sunsets, and the ocean waves, and the march of the stars across the heavens. There is then some reason to talk of other things sometimes. As we look into these things we get an aesthetic pleasure from them directly from observation. There is also a rhythm and a pattern between the phenomena of nature which is not apparent to the eye, but only
...more
E
Jul 02, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Richard Feynman, who has always had the reputation of being a masterful explainer of complex concepts, sets out in this series of published lectures to describe some of the basics of physics. There are seven lectures/chapters. The first discusses physical law in general but uses gravitation as an example of how such law operates. The second chapter addresses mathematics and how it plays an integral role in physical investigation. Feynman does not hide his wonder and delight that so much of the ...more
Alex
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physics-math-etc
Even the artists appreciate sunsets, and the ocean waves, and the march of the stars across the heavens. There is then some reason to talk of other things sometimes. As we look into these things we get an aesthetic pleasure from them directly from observation. There is also a rhythm and a pattern between the phenomena of nature which is not apparent to the eye, but only to the eye of analysis; and it is these rhythms and patterns which we call Physical Laws.


Wonderful, accessible. Feynman
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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 ...more
“Mathematics is a language plus reasoning; it is like a language plus logic. Mathematics is a tool for reasoning.” 74 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.” 24 likes
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