October 14th: Clock


Want to learn some physics? Go watch/read Richard Feynman’s Lectures.

Want to be inspired? Feynman’s Lectures.

Want to have some fun? Feynman’s Lectures.

Feynman is one of the most loved scientists of all times. And for good reasons. He was awarded the Nobel prize for Quantum Electrodynamics, he collaborated in the Manhattan project, he invented a new type of diagram to describe the behaviour of subatomic particles (one of which is called penguin diagram – I like penguins!). But at the same time, he would play the bongo, he would spend time pranking his colleagues by discovering their combination locks, he would deliver engaging lectures that have made the history of science communication.

There is a famous episode that in the most intimate and moving way can inform us about Feynman: the moment his wife died.

“Finally he heard a last small breath, and a nurse came and said that Arline was dead. He leaned over to kiss her and made a mental note of the surprising scent of her hair, surprising because it was the same as always.” Gleick, James writes in one of Feynman biography book.  “The nurse recorded the time of death, 9:21 P.M. He discovered, oddly, that the clock had halted at that moment—just the sort of mystical phenomenon that appealed to unscientific people.”

But he was a scientific mind. Shortly after he remembered that he had repaired that same clock several times, and it was pretty fragile because of that. The nurse must had stopped it when they picked it to check the time of death.

Even at the time of tragedy, he used reason and science to make sense of the world. Because science can make the world a more beautiful place!

“I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”

If you wondering what’s going on here, I explained it on this blog post: Inking Science

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