What would happen if scientists stopped trusting each other?Before trying to answer this question, I’ll explain why it has been on my mind. Science fraud, questionable research practices, and replication have got a lot of attention lately. One iss…
Heartening news of the day: Stanford’s Maryam Mirzakhani becomes the first woman to win the Fields Medal, the “Nobel Prize of mathematics.” In some distant galaxy, Maria Mitchell’s heart is bursting with joy.
Somewhere in the world, a physics professor writes the perfect exam question.
Richard Feynman discusses why there is a difference between the past and the future, in this clip from his legendary 1964 lecture series at Cornell: The Character of Physical Law.
It’s well worth taking 45 minutes out of your day to hear Dr. F explain why the workings of nature unfold in one direction. You see, while we innately know that the future is different from the past, and so much of our conscious experience is built around the fundamental just-so-ness of time moving forward, the equations of physics describing phenomena from gravity to friction can be run in either direction without breaking the rules. Yet irreversibility is what we observe.
That’s where entropy and probability come into play. When we take into account complex systems, like the jiggles and wiggles of the uncountable atoms that make up our bodies and this chair and my coffee and our world and even out to the scale of the universe itself, there is simply a greater chance that things will become more disordered than less. It’s not that the universe can’t run in reverse, it’s just that there are so many other ways for it not to.
Or as Feynman says, nature is irreversible because of “the general accidents of life”.
This seven-part series, which Open Culture has assembled in its entirety, captures the physicist in his prime, one year before he won the Nobel Prize and became a household name. Feynman was seemingly born for the scientific stage. He had this uncanny ability to weave profound observations of the universe’s inner workings with off-the-cuff (and often brash) humor. James Gleick wrote of Feynman’s unique style and skill:
He had a mystique that came in part from sheer pragmatic brilliance–in any group of scientists he could create a dramatic impression by slashing his way through a difficult problem–and in part, too, from his personal style–rough-hewn, American, seemingly uncultivated.
This clip was a huge influence on my recent video Why Does Time Exist? Although my take scarcely measures up to Dr. Feynman, you can watch below:
This just in: spiders tune the silk threads of their webs like guitar strings
… and they use the distinct vibrational frequencies to help them locate meals and mates. Hear the full story of these good vibrations, from NPR’s Christopher Joyce, here.
And watch our video!:
Richard Feynman explains the scientific method, from his 1964 lectures at Cornell.
"If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science."
Here is physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed’s take:
It’s not fashion, it’s not sociology. It’s not something that you might find beautiful today but won’t find beautiful 10 years from now. The things that we find beautiful today we suspect would be beautiful for all eternity. And the reason is, what…
When Sir Isaac Newton died in 1727, he left behind no will and an enormous stack of papers. His surviving correspondences, notes, and manuscripts contain an estimated 10 million words, enough to fill up roughly 150 novel-length books. There are pages upon pages of scientific and mathematical brilliance. But there are also pages that reveal another side of Newton, a side his descendants tried to keep hidden from the public.
Image: Isaac Newton by Sir Godfrey Kneller. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.