The Imagination of Nature – Richard Feynman

“Although we humans cut nature up in different ways, and we have different courses in different departments, such compartmentalization is really artificial… The imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man.” ~Richard Feynman

feynman-1981 2

In this age of specialization men who thoroughly know one field are often incompetent to discuss another. The great problems of the relations between one and another aspect of human activity have for this reason been discussed less and less in public.

When we look at the past great debates on these subjects we feel jealous of those times, for we should have liked the excitement of such argument. The old problems, such as the relation of science and religion, are still with us, and I believe present as difficult dilemmas as ever, but they are not often publicly discussed because of the limitations of specialization.

We are not to tell Nature what she’s gotta be.. She’s always got better imagination than we have. We’ve learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right.

Nature’s phenomena will agree or they’ll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven’t tried to be very careful in this kind of work.

Nature isn’t classical, dammit, and if you want to make a simulation of nature, you’d better make it quantum mechanical, and by golly it’s a wonderful problem, because it doesn’t look so easy.

Western civilization, it seems to me, stands by two great heritages. One is the scientific spirit of adventure — the adventure into the unknown, an unknown which must be recognized as being unknown in order to be explored; the demand that the unanswerable mysteries of the universe remain unanswered; the attitude that all is uncertain; to summarize it — the humility of the intellect.

The other great heritage is Christian ethics — the basis of action on love, the brotherhood of all men, the value of the individual — the humility of the spirit. These two heritages are logically, thoroughly consistent. But logic is not all; one needs one’s heart to follow an idea.

How can we draw inspiration to support these two pillars of western civilization so that they may stand together in full vigor, mutually unafraid? Is this not the central problem of our time?

It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil — which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.

You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity. When you get it right, it is obvious that it is right—at least if you have any experience—because usually what happens is that more comes out than goes in…

The inexperienced, the crackpots, and people like that, make guesses that are simple, but you can immediately see that they are wrong, so that does not count. Others, the inexperienced students, make guesses that are very complicated, and it sort of looks as if it is all right, but I know it is not true because the truth always turns out to be simpler than you thought.

Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers, you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age.

A poet once said, “The whole universe is in a glass of wine.” .. it is true that if we look at a glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imagination adds the atoms.

The glass is a distillation of the Earth’s rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe’s age, and the evolution of stars. What strange arrays of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it!

If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts — physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on — remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for…

Although we humans cut nature up in different ways, and we have different courses in different departments, such compartmentalization is really artificial… The imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man.

I stand at the seashore, alone, and start to think.
There are the rushing waves
mountains of molecules
each stupidly minding its own business
trillions apart
yet forming white surf in unison.

Ages on ages
before any eyes could see
year after year
thunderously pounding the shore as now.
For whom, for what?

On a dead planet
with no life to entertain.
Never at rest
tortured by energy
wasted prodigiously by the sun
poured into space.

A mite makes the sea roar.

Deep in the sea
all molecules repeat
the patterns of one another
till complex new ones are formed.
They make others like themselves
and a new dance starts.

Growing in size and complexity
living things
masses of atoms
DNA, protein
dancing a pattern ever more intricate.

Out of the cradle
onto dry land
here it is
atoms with consciousness;
matter with curiosity.

Stands at the sea,
wonders at wondering: I
a universe of atoms
an atom in the universe.

Quotes source: Richard Feynman Wikiquote

About Christopher Chase

Co-creator and Admin of the Facebook pages "Tao & Zen" "Art of Learning" & "Creative Systems Thinking." Majored in Studio Art at SUNY, Oneonta. Graduated in 1993 from the Child & Adolescent Development program at Stanford University's School of Education. Since 1994, have been teaching at Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka, Japan.
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4 Responses to The Imagination of Nature – Richard Feynman

  1. Bob OHearn says:

    Excellent, Thanks Chris!

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