Science Thoughts from a Feyn Man

by Colin Roberts

Main photo by Keenan Pepper 

Richard Feynman is one of my favorite scientists. As a lover of biological topics, I can’t say I understand his field of study AT ALL, but I truly appreciate what he has done for science. His charisma (and ego) has popularized science to a certain generation, and his approach to learning about the world continues to encourage people think about the world and, as a result, be citizen scientists. He gives what I think is a great definition of “science” in a public lecture he gave that was posthumously printed (together with two other public lectures) in a book called The Meaning of It All.  He said (numbers added):

“What is science? The word is usually used to mean one of three things, or a mixture of them. I do not think we need to be precise—it is not always a good idea to be too precise. (1) Science means, sometimes, a special method of finding things out. (2) Sometimes it means the body of knowledge arising from the things found out. (3) It may also mean the new things you can do when you have found something out, or the actual doing of new things.”

This is one of my favorite definitions of science because it shows that science is open to anyone. Science doesn’t have to be complicated. Science doesn’t have to involve laboratories and microscopes and Bunsen burners. Science is the method, the exploration, the “pleasure of finding things out.” Science can be as simple as asking questions, doubting the answers, and asking more questions. The understanding that results from this adds to an ever growing body of knowledge (number two from above). Later in the lecture, Feynman elaborates on that second meaning:

“This is the yield. This is the gold. This is the excitement, the pay you get for all the disciplined thinking and hard work. The work is not done for the sake of an application. It is done for the excitement of what is found out. Perhaps most of you know this. But to those of you who do not know it, it is almost impossible for me to convey in a lecture this important aspect, this exciting part, the real reason for science.”

So I say, whenever you can, ask questions. Doubt. Ask more questions. Get excited.