Blog

Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman was not a photographer.  What can I say, taking the liberty to occasionally post about non-photographic subjects is part of the joy of being a blog owner. So who was Richard Feynman and why do I feel compelled to mention him?  As regular blog readers may know, I have recently had some interest in broadening my understanding of quantum mechanics, which initially took the form of reading In Search of Schrödinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality".  Based on a reference in that book I discovered Dr. Richard Feynman, a Nobel prize winning physicist who died in 1988 at the age of 69.

Dr. Feynman was not only noted for his work, but was one of those rare people who was also noted for his teaching ability (he also apparently had quite a few eccentricities, but don't we all).   How good a teacher was he?  Good enough that after watching several of Dr. Feynman's videotaped lectures from the 1960s, Bill Gates  commented that if he had watched those lectures earlier in his life he might have become a physicist instead of a software entrepreneur.  Good enough that after seeing a series of seven taped lectures that Dr. Feynman gave at Cornell University (they were guest lectures, as Feynman was a professor at CalTech) he felt a strong need to preserve them for future generations and did so by buying the rights to them in order to make them available on the internet.

So, while planning to watch the series of lectures, I felt immediately compelled to watch the one on quantum mechanics.  Feynman takes a teaching approach that is contrary to the way everyone had been teaching the subject.  Rather than teach the ideas of quantum physics by discussing how the field was built by progressive historical experiments and thoughts, he instead starts with a lecture that goes right to the heart of the matter.

Let me explain.  Feynman's concern was that by moving through the subject historically one becomes lulled into the erroneous idea that one can understand quantum concepts by making analogies to the macroscopic world we live in.  As he puts it, this is a blind alley from which few can escape.  The properties of (dare I call them) particles in the atomic realm act like nothing we have experience with and to try to make them seem such is fraught with hazard.  So he starts by describing an experiment that immediately demonstrates the conundrum (to us) of atomic particles.  And, he is quick to say that the experiments provide mere descriptions of how nature acts......and that nobody knows why it is so.  It just is.

If you would like to be entertained for an hour while gaining a better understanding of the world around us (and, I might add, without the need for any real knowledge of math), then you owe it to yourself to listen to this lecture.  Though I am not a physicist, I believe the information in this lecture is as true today as it was then (meaning that in the interim years nobody has shown any evidence to dispute what is contained in this video from the 1960s)

It can be found here or on the Microsoft site here.  Just scroll to the lecture entitled "Probability and Uncertainty - The Quantum Mechanical View of Nature".