Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988) was widely recognized as the most creative physicist of the post-World War II period. His career was extraordinarily expansive. From his contributions to the development of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos during World War II to his work in quantum electrodynamics, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1965, Feynman was celebrated for his brilliant and irreverent approach to physics.It was Feynman's outrageous and scintillating method of teaching that earned him legendary status among students and professors of physics. From 1961 to 1963, Feynman, at the California Institute of Technology, delivered a series of lectures that revolutionized the teaching of physics around the world. Six Easy Pieces, taken from these famous Lectures on Physics, represents the most accessible material from this series. In these six chapters, Feynman introduces the general reader to the following topics: atoms, basic physics, the relationship of physics to other topics, energy, gravitation, and quantum force. With his dazzling and inimitable wit, Feynman presents each discussion without equations or technical jargon.Readers will remember how - using ice water and rubber - Feynman demonstrated with stunning simplicity to a nationally televised audience the physics of the 1986 Challenger disaster. It is precisely this ability - the clear and direct illustration of complex theories - that made Richard Feynman one of the most distinguished educators in the world. Filled with wonderful examples and clever illustrations, Six Easy Pieces is the ideal introduction to the fundamentals of physics by one of the most admired and accessible scientists of our time.
Those with a physics background and lay people alike should all be able to learn something from here, or if not see something they thought that they knew in a fresh way.
Also the introduction by philosopher and physicist Paul Davies is good and deflates the hyperobjective and impersonal myth, predominent among the way we teach science, that personality and idiosyncratic preferences don't show up in the results of scientists.
It is interesting to note that one can see some "datedness" in these lectures. This isn't a fault but a nice historical picture of things as they were at the time of 62(?): e.g.: the strong force was not fully understood, the weak force was not fully understood, and there was no unification with EM; there was no "standard model"; a lot of inflationary cosmology had not been developed; the theory of plate tectonics was not accepted; Lorenz' results on aperiodic flows was just being published, so the earth sciences were not very well understood.
All in all, a great read.
Special Preface: "Through the distant veil of memory, many of the students and faculty attending the lectures have said that having two years of physics with Feynman was the experience of a lifetime. But that's not how it seemed at the time. Many of the students dreaded the class, and as the course wore on, attendance by the registered students started dropping alarmingly. But at the same time, more and more faculty and graduate students started attending. The room stayed full, and Feynman may never have known he was losing some of his intended audience." pp. xxii-xxiii
"'Quantum mechanics' is the description of the behavior of matter in all its details and, in particular, of the happenings on an atomic scale. Things on a very small scale behave like nothing that you have any direct experience about. They do not behave like waves, they do not behave like particles, they do not behave like clouds, or billiard balls, or weights on springs, or like anything that you have ever seen." pg. 116
"Because atomic behavior is so unlike ordinary experience, it is very difficult to get used to and it appears peculiar and mysterious to everyone, both to the novice and to the experienced physicist. Even the experts do not understand it the way they would like to, and it is perfectly reasonable that they should not, because all of direct, human experience and of human intuition applies to large objects. We know how large objects will act, but things on a small scale just do not act that way. So we have to learn about them in a sort of abstract or imaginative fashion and not by connection with our direct experience." pg. 117
"We would like to emphasize a very important difference between classical and quantum mechanics....We can only predict the odds!.... We do not know how to predict what would happen in a given circumstance, and we believe now that it is impossible, that the only thing that can be predicted is the probability of different events." pg. 135
Written as introductory lectures to the subject for first year University students and then heavily edited for book form.
Feynman personality and idiosyncratic personality shines through. Some maths but not too much for even complete novices to physics.
Quick, clear, simple, elegant.
“First figure out why you want the students to learn the subject and what you want them to know, and the method will result more or less by common sense.” (p. xx)
It seemed obvious to me that Dr. Feynman was gifted man, the winner of life’s intellectual lottery. It was also obvious to me that no amount of intellectual “elbow grease” on my part was going to level the playing field for, so I was happy to have cheap seats on the 50 yard line while the master warmed up.
A good read for anyone interested in Physics or, for that matter, the shear joy of learning. Three and a half stars from this intellectual dullard. Now on to QED.
"First figure out why you want the students to learn the subject and what you want them to know, and the method will result more or less by common sense.""