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Feynman doesn't, in my opinion, ever pretend to know anything he doesn't know, or doesn't think (for seemingly good reasons) he knows.   Share:  
Thrust of argument: In "Distinction of past and future", Chapter 5, The Character of Physical Law, a lecture by Richard Feynman, that particular god of science tells us this about the science of god:

<<

The conservation of energy would let us think that we have as much energy as we want. Nature never loses or gains energy. Yet the energy of the sea, for example, the thermal motion of all the atoms in the sea, is practically unavailable to us. In order to get that energy organized, herded, to make it available for use, we have to have a difference in temperature, or else we shall find that although the energy is there we cannot make use of it. There is a great difference between energy and availability of energy. The energy of the sea is a large amount, but it is not available to us.

The conservation of energy means that the total energy in the world is kept the same. But in the irregular jigglings that energy can be spread about so uniformly that, in certain circumstances, there is no way to make more go one way than the other - there is no way to control it any more.

I think that by an analogy I can give some idea of the difficulty, in this way. I do not know if you have ever had the experience - I have - of sitting on the beach with several towels, and suddenly a tremendous downpour comes. You pick up the towels as quickly as you can, and run into the bathhouse. Then you start to dry yourself, and you find that this towel is a little wet, but it is drier than you are. You keep drying with this one until you find it is too wet - it is wetting you as much as drying you - and you try another one; and pretty soon you discover a horrible thing - that all the towels are damp and so are you. There is no way to get any drier, even though you have many towels, because there is no difference in some sense between the wetness of the towels and the wetness of yourself. I could invent a kind of quantity which I could call 'ease of removing water'. The towel has the same ease of removing water from it as you have, so when you touch yourself with the towel, as much water comes off the towel on to you as comes from you to the towel. It does not mean there is the same amount of water in the towel as there is on you - a big towel will have more water in it than a little towel - but they have the same dampness. When things get to the same dampness then there is nothing you can do any longer.

Now the water is like the energy, because the total amount of water is not changing. (If the bathhouse door is open and you can run into the sun and get dried out, or find another towel, then you're saved, but suppose everything is closed, and you can't get away from these towels or get any new towels.) In the same way if you imagine a part of the world that is closed, and wait long enough, in the accidents of the world the energy, like the water, will be distributed over all of the parts evenly until there is nothing left of one-way-ness, nothing left of the real interest of the world as we experience it.

Thus in the ratchet and pawl and vanes situation, which is a limited one, in which nothing else is involved, the temperatures gradually become equal on both sides, and the wheel does not go round either one way or the other. In the same way the situation is that if you leave any system long enough it gets the energy thoroughly mixed up in it, and no more energy is really available to do anything.

Incidentally, the thing that corresponds to the dampness or the 'ease of removing water' is called the temperature, and although I say when two things are at the same temperature things get balanced, it does not mean they have the same energy in them; it means that it is just as easy to pick energy off one as to pick it off the other. Temperature is like 'ease of removing energy'. So if you sit them next to each other, nothing apparently happens; they pass energy back and forth equally, but the net result is nothing. So when things have become all of the same temperature, there is no more energy available to do anything. The principle of irreversibility is that if things are at different temperatures and are left to themselves, as time goes on they become more and more at the same temperature, and the availability of energy is perpetually decreasing.

This is another name for what is called the entropy law, which says the entropy is always increasing. But never mind the words; stated the other way, the availability of energy is always decreasing. And that is a characteristic of the world, in the sense that it is due to the chaos of molecular) irregular motions. Things of different temperature, if left to themselves, tend to become of the same temperature. If you have two things at the same temperature, like water on an ordinary stove without a fire under it, the water is not going to freeze and the stove get hot. But if you have a hot stove with ice, it goes the other way. So the one-way-ness is always to the loss of the availability of energy.

That is all I want to say on the subject, but I want to make a few remarks about some characteristics. Here we have an example in which an obvious effect, the irreversibility, is not, an obvious consequence of the laws, but is in fact rather far from the basic laws. It takes a lot of analysis to understand the reason for it. The effect is of first importance in the economy of the world, in the real behaviour of the world in all obvious things. My memory, my characteristics, the difference between past and future, are completely involved in this, and yet the understanding of it is not prima facie available by knowing about the laws. It takes a lot of analysis.

It is often the case that the laws of physics do not have an obvious_ direct relevance to experience, but that they are abstract from experience to varying degrees. In this particular case, the fact that the laws are reversible although the phenomena are not is an example.

There are often great distances between the detailed laws and the main aspects of real phenomena. For example, if you watch a glacier from a distance, and see the big rocks falling into the sea, and the way the ice moves, and so forth, it is not really essential to remember that it is made out of little hexagonal ice crystals. Yet if understood well enough the motion of the glacier is in fact a consequence of the character of the hexagonal ice crystals. But it takes quite a while to understand all the behaviour of the glacier (in fact nobody knows enough about ice yet, no matter how much they've studied the crystal). However the hope is that if we do understand the ice crystal we shall ultimately understand the glacier.

In fact, although we have been talking in these lectures about the fundaments of the physical laws, I must say immediately that one does not, by knowing all the fundamental laws as we know them today, immediately obtain an understanding of anything much. It takes a while, and even then it is only partial. Nature, as a matter of fact, seems to be so designed that the most important things in the real world appear to be a kind of complicated accidental result of a lot of laws.

To give an example, nuclei, which involve several nuclear particles, protons and neutrons, are very complicated. They have what we call energy levels, they can sit in states or conditions of different energy values, and various nuclei have various energy levels. And it's a complicated mathematical problem, which we can only partly solve, to find the position of the energy levels. The exact position of the levels is obviously a consequence of an enormous complexity and therefore there is no particular mystery about the fact that nitrogen, with 15 particles inside, happens to have a level at 2.4 million volts, and another level at 7.1. and so on. But the remarkable thing about nature is that the whole universe in its character depends upon precisely the position of one particular level in one particular nucleus. In the carbon12 nucleus, it so happens, there is a level at 7.82 million volts. And that makes all the difference in the world.

The situation is the following. If we start with hydrogen, and it appears that at the beginning the world was practically all hydrogen, then as the hydrogen comes together under gravity and gets hotter, nuclear reactions can take place, and it can form helium, and then the helium can combine only partially with the hydrogen and produce a few more elements, a little heavier. But these heavier elements disintegrate right away back into helium. Therefore for a while there was a great mystery about where all the other elements in the world came from, because starting with hydrogen the cooking processes inside the stars would not make much more than helium and less than half a dozen other elements. Faced with this problem, Professors Hoyle and Salpeter [Fred Hoyle, British astronomer, Cambridge. Edwin Salpeter, American physicist, Cornell University] said that there is one way out. If three helium atoms could come together to form carbon, we can easily calculate how often that should happen in a star. And it turns out that it should never happen, except for one possible accident - if there happened to be an energy level at 7.82 million volts in carbon, then the three helium atoms would come together and before they came apart, would stay together a little longer on the average than they would do if there were no level at 7.82. And staying there a little longer, there would be enough time for something else to happen, and to make other elements. If there was a level at 7.82 million volts in carbon, then we could understand where all the other elements in the periodic table came from. And so, by a backhanded, upside-down argument, it was predicted that there is in carbon a level at 7.82 million volts; and experiments in the laboratory showed that indeed there is. Therefore the existence in the world of all these other elements is very closely related to the fact that there is this particular level in carbon. But the position of this particular level in carbon seems to us, knowing the physical laws, to be a very complicated accident of 12 complicated particles interacting. This example is an excellent illustration of the fact that an understanding of the physical laws does not necessarily give you an understanding of things of significance in the world in any direct way. The details of real experience are often very far from the fundamental laws.

We have a way of discussing the world, when we talk of it at various hierarchies, or levels. Now I do not mean to be very precise, dividing the world into definite levels, but I will indicate, by describing a set of ideas, what I mean by hierarchies of ideas. For example, at one end we have the fundamental laws of physics. Then we invent other terms for concepts which are approximate, which have, we believe, their ultimate explanation in terms of the fundamental laws. For instance, 'heat'. Heat is supposed to be jiggling, and the word for a hot thing is just the word for a mass of atoms which are jiggling. But for a while, if we are talking about heat, we sometimes forget about the atoms jiggling - just as when we talk about the glacier we do not always think of the hexagonal ice and the snowflakes which originally fell. Another example of the same thing is a salt crystal. Looked at fundamentally it is a lot of protons, neutrons, and electrons; but we have this concept 'salt crystal', which carries a whole pattern already of fundamental interactions. An idea like pressure is the same.

Now if we go higher up from this, in another level we have properties of substances - like 'refractive index', how light is bent when it goes through something; or 'surface tension', the fact that water tends to pull itself together, both of which are described by numbers. I remind you that we have to go through several laws down to find out that it is the pull of the atoms, and so on. But we still say 'surface tension', and do not always worry, when discussing surface tension, about the inner workings.

On, up in the hierarchy. With the water we have waves and we have a thing like a storm, the word 'storm' which represents an enormous mass of phenomena, or a 'sun spot' or 'star', which is an accumulation of things. And it is nu worth while always to think of it way back. In fact we cannot, because the higher up we go the more steps we have in between, each one of which is a little weak. We have not thought them all through yet.

As we go up in this hierarchy of complexity, we get tc things like muscle twitch, or nerve impulse, which is an enormously complicated thing in the physical world, involving an organization of matter in a very elaborate complexity. Then come things like 'frog'. And then we go on, and we come to words and concepts like 'man', and 'history', or 'political expediency', and so forth, a series of concepts which we use to understand things at an ever higher level.

And going on, we come to things like evil, and beauty, and hope.

Which end is nearer to God? (If I may use a religious metaphor.) Beauty and hope, or the fundamental laws? I think that the right way, of course, is to say that what we have to look at is the whole structural interconnection of the thing; and that all the sciences, and not just the sciences but all the efforts of intellectual kinds, are an endeavour to see the connections of the hierarchies, to connect beauty to history, to connect history to man's psychology, man's psychology to the working of the brain, the brain to the neural impulse, the neural impulse to the chemistry, and so forth, up and down, both ways. And today we cannot, and it is no use making believe that we can, draw carefully a line all the way from one end of this thing to the other, because we have only just begun to see that there is this relative hierarchy.

And I do not think either end is nearer to God. To stand at either end, and to walk off that end of the pier only, hoping that out in that direction is the complete understanding, is a mistake. And to stand with evil and beauty and hope, or to stand with the fundamental laws, hoping that way to get a deep understanding of the whole world, with that aspect alone, is a mistake. It is not sensible for the ones who specialize at one end, and the ones who specialize at the other end, to have such disregard for each other. (They don't actually, but people say they do.) The great mass of workers in between, connecting one step to another, are improving all the time our understanding of the world, both from working at the ends and working in the middle, and in that way we are gradually understanding this tremendous world of interconnecting hierarchies.

>>
Direction of resistance / implied resistance: The spectrum he mentions he presents as a vague, approximate, necessarily inaccurate initial appraisal of a field he insists we are new to, overall, and which has much distance to go.

 

 

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Removal of resistance: What I am just as interested in is the 'holes', the 'gaps', the rough edges around our knowledge of those areas of physics Feynman specialised in. Unification: Feynman told us that in filling those gaps, presuming it to be possible, which he admitted was by no means a correct presumption, but hopefully, we would complete our understanding, hopefully, of anything which still remains far beyond the scope of what today are, without a doubt, still 'crude' attempts at the field we deify with names like 'science' and with good marketing of the word, along with soap.

You may have to read that Feynman quote a few or more times to digest everything vital in it, I know I will do so, having already been through it a few times or more.
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Simple text version.

Feynman doesn't, in my opinion, ever pretend to know anything he doesn't know, or doesn't think (for seemingly good reasons) he knows.

In "Distinction of past and future", Chapter 5, The Character of Physical Law, a lecture by Richard Feynman, that particular god of science tells us this about the science of god:

<<

The conservation of energy would let us think that we have as much energy as we want. Nature never loses or gains energy. Yet the energy of the sea, for example, the thermal motion of all the atoms in the sea, is practically unavailable to us. In order to get that energy organized, herded, to make it available for use, we have to have a difference in temperature, or else we shall find that although the energy is there we cannot make use of it. There is a great difference between energy and availability of energy. The energy of the sea is a large amount, but it is not available to us.

The conservation of energy means that the total energy in the world is kept the same. But in the irregular jigglings that energy can be spread about so uniformly that, in certain circumstances, there is no way to make more go one way than the other - there is no way to control it any more.

I think that by an analogy I can give some idea of the difficulty, in this way. I do not know if you have ever had the experience - I have - of sitting on the beach with several towels, and suddenly a tremendous downpour comes. You pick up the towels as quickly as you can, and run into the bathhouse. Then you start to dry yourself, and you find that this towel is a little wet, but it is drier than you are. You keep drying with this one until you find it is too wet - it is wetting you as much as drying you - and you try another one; and pretty soon you discover a horrible thing - that all the towels are damp and so are you. There is no way to get any drier, even though you have many towels, because there is no difference in some sense between the wetness of the towels and the wetness of yourself. I could invent a kind of quantity which I could call 'ease of removing water'. The towel has the same ease of removing water from it as you have, so when you touch yourself with the towel, as much water comes off the towel on to you as comes from you to the towel. It does not mean there is the same amount of water in the towel as there is on you - a big towel will have more water in it than a little towel - but they have the same dampness. When things get to the same dampness then there is nothing you can do any longer.

Now the water is like the energy, because the total amount of water is not changing. (If the bathhouse door is open and you can run into the sun and get dried out, or find another towel, then you're saved, but suppose everything is closed, and you can't get away from these towels or get any new towels.) In the same way if you imagine a part of the world that is closed, and wait long enough, in the accidents of the world the energy, like the water, will be distributed over all of the parts evenly until there is nothing left of one-way-ness, nothing left of the real interest of the world as we experience it.

Thus in the ratchet and pawl and vanes situation, which is a limited one, in which nothing else is involved, the temperatures gradually become equal on both sides, and the wheel does not go round either one way or the other. In the same way the situation is that if you leave any system long enough it gets the energy thoroughly mixed up in it, and no more energy is really available to do anything.

Incidentally, the thing that corresponds to the dampness or the 'ease of removing water' is called the temperature, and although I say when two things are at the same temperature things get balanced, it does not mean they have the same energy in them; it means that it is just as easy to pick energy off one as to pick it off the other. Temperature is like 'ease of removing energy'. So if you sit them next to each other, nothing apparently happens; they pass energy back and forth equally, but the net result is nothing. So when things have become all of the same temperature, there is no more energy available to do anything. The principle of irreversibility is that if things are at different temperatures and are left to themselves, as time goes on they become more and more at the same temperature, and the availability of energy is perpetually decreasing.

This is another name for what is called the entropy law, which says the entropy is always increasing. But never mind the words; stated the other way, the availability of energy is always decreasing. And that is a characteristic of the world, in the sense that it is due to the chaos of molecular) irregular motions. Things of different temperature, if left to themselves, tend to become of the same temperature. If you have two things at the same temperature, like water on an ordinary stove without a fire under it, the water is not going to freeze and the stove get hot. But if you have a hot stove with ice, it goes the other way. So the one-way-ness is always to the loss of the availability of energy.

That is all I want to say on the subject, but I want to make a few remarks about some characteristics. Here we have an example in which an obvious effect, the irreversibility, is not, an obvious consequence of the laws, but is in fact rather far from the basic laws. It takes a lot of analysis to understand the reason for it. The effect is of first importance in the economy of the world, in the real behaviour of the world in all obvious things. My memory, my characteristics, the difference between past and future, are completely involved in this, and yet the understanding of it is not prima facie available by knowing about the laws. It takes a lot of analysis.

It is often the case that the laws of physics do not have an obvious_ direct relevance to experience, but that they are abstract from experience to varying degrees. In this particular case, the fact that the laws are reversible although the phenomena are not is an example.

There are often great distances between the detailed laws and the main aspects of real phenomena. For example, if you watch a glacier from a distance, and see the big rocks falling into the sea, and the way the ice moves, and so forth, it is not really essential to remember that it is made out of little hexagonal ice crystals. Yet if understood well enough the motion of the glacier is in fact a consequence of the character of the hexagonal ice crystals. But it takes quite a while to understand all the behaviour of the glacier (in fact nobody knows enough about ice yet, no matter how much they've studied the crystal). However the hope is that if we do understand the ice crystal we shall ultimately understand the glacier.

In fact, although we have been talking in these lectures about the fundaments of the physical laws, I must say immediately that one does not, by knowing all the fundamental laws as we know them today, immediately obtain an understanding of anything much. It takes a while, and even then it is only partial. Nature, as a matter of fact, seems to be so designed that the most important things in the real world appear to be a kind of complicated accidental result of a lot of laws.

To give an example, nuclei, which involve several nuclear particles, protons and neutrons, are very complicated. They have what we call energy levels, they can sit in states or conditions of different energy values, and various nuclei have various energy levels. And it's a complicated mathematical problem, which we can only partly solve, to find the position of the energy levels. The exact position of the levels is obviously a consequence of an enormous complexity and therefore there is no particular mystery about the fact that nitrogen, with 15 particles inside, happens to have a level at 2.4 million volts, and another level at 7.1. and so on. But the remarkable thing about nature is that the whole universe in its character depends upon precisely the position of one particular level in one particular nucleus. In the carbon12 nucleus, it so happens, there is a level at 7.82 million volts. And that makes all the difference in the world.

The situation is the following. If we start with hydrogen, and it appears that at the beginning the world was practically all hydrogen, then as the hydrogen comes together under gravity and gets hotter, nuclear reactions can take place, and it can form helium, and then the helium can combine only partially with the hydrogen and produce a few more elements, a little heavier. But these heavier elements disintegrate right away back into helium. Therefore for a while there was a great mystery about where all the other elements in the world came from, because starting with hydrogen the cooking processes inside the stars would not make much more than helium and less than half a dozen other elements. Faced with this problem, Professors Hoyle and Salpeter [Fred Hoyle, British astronomer, Cambridge. Edwin Salpeter, American physicist, Cornell University] said that there is one way out. If three helium atoms could come together to form carbon, we can easily calculate how often that should happen in a star. And it turns out that it should never happen, except for one possible accident - if there happened to be an energy level at 7.82 million volts in carbon, then the three helium atoms would come together and before they came apart, would stay together a little longer on the average than they would do if there were no level at 7.82. And staying there a little longer, there would be enough time for something else to happen, and to make other elements. If there was a level at 7.82 million volts in carbon, then we could understand where all the other elements in the periodic table came from. And so, by a backhanded, upside-down argument, it was predicted that there is in carbon a level at 7.82 million volts; and experiments in the laboratory showed that indeed there is. Therefore the existence in the world of all these other elements is very closely related to the fact that there is this particular level in carbon. But the position of this particular level in carbon seems to us, knowing the physical laws, to be a very complicated accident of 12 complicated particles interacting. This example is an excellent illustration of the fact that an understanding of the physical laws does not necessarily give you an understanding of things of significance in the world in any direct way. The details of real experience are often very far from the fundamental laws.

We have a way of discussing the world, when we talk of it at various hierarchies, or levels. Now I do not mean to be very precise, dividing the world into definite levels, but I will indicate, by describing a set of ideas, what I mean by hierarchies of ideas. For example, at one end we have the fundamental laws of physics. Then we invent other terms for concepts which are approximate, which have, we believe, their ultimate explanation in terms of the fundamental laws. For instance, 'heat'. Heat is supposed to be jiggling, and the word for a hot thing is just the word for a mass of atoms which are jiggling. But for a while, if we are talking about heat, we sometimes forget about the atoms jiggling - just as when we talk about the glacier we do not always think of the hexagonal ice and the snowflakes which originally fell. Another example of the same thing is a salt crystal. Looked at fundamentally it is a lot of protons, neutrons, and electrons; but we have this concept 'salt crystal', which carries a whole pattern already of fundamental interactions. An idea like pressure is the same.

Now if we go higher up from this, in another level we have properties of substances - like 'refractive index', how light is bent when it goes through something; or 'surface tension', the fact that water tends to pull itself together, both of which are described by numbers. I remind you that we have to go through several laws down to find out that it is the pull of the atoms, and so on. But we still say 'surface tension', and do not always worry, when discussing surface tension, about the inner workings.

On, up in the hierarchy. With the water we have waves and we have a thing like a storm, the word 'storm' which represents an enormous mass of phenomena, or a 'sun spot' or 'star', which is an accumulation of things. And it is nu worth while always to think of it way back. In fact we cannot, because the higher up we go the more steps we have in between, each one of which is a little weak. We have not thought them all through yet.

As we go up in this hierarchy of complexity, we get tc things like muscle twitch, or nerve impulse, which is an enormously complicated thing in the physical world, involving an organization of matter in a very elaborate complexity. Then come things like 'frog'. And then we go on, and we come to words and concepts like 'man', and 'history', or 'political expediency', and so forth, a series of concepts which we use to understand things at an ever higher level.

And going on, we come to things like evil, and beauty, and hope.

Which end is nearer to God? (If I may use a religious metaphor.) Beauty and hope, or the fundamental laws? I think that the right way, of course, is to say that what we have to look at is the whole structural interconnection of the thing; and that all the sciences, and not just the sciences but all the efforts of intellectual kinds, are an endeavour to see the connections of the hierarchies, to connect beauty to history, to connect history to man's psychology, man's psychology to the working of the brain, the brain to the neural impulse, the neural impulse to the chemistry, and so forth, up and down, both ways. And today we cannot, and it is no use making believe that we can, draw carefully a line all the way from one end of this thing to the other, because we have only just begun to see that there is this relative hierarchy.

And I do not think either end is nearer to God. To stand at either end, and to walk off that end of the pier only, hoping that out in that direction is the complete understanding, is a mistake. And to stand with evil and beauty and hope, or to stand with the fundamental laws, hoping that way to get a deep understanding of the whole world, with that aspect alone, is a mistake. It is not sensible for the ones who specialize at one end, and the ones who specialize at the other end, to have such disregard for each other. (They don't actually, but people say they do.) The great mass of workers in between, connecting one step to another, are improving all the time our understanding of the world, both from working at the ends and working in the middle, and in that way we are gradually understanding this tremendous world of interconnecting hierarchies.

>>

The spectrum he mentions he presents as a vague, approximate, necessarily inaccurate initial appraisal of a field he insists we are new to, overall, and which has much distance to go.

What I am just as interested in is the 'holes', the 'gaps', the rough edges around our knowledge of those areas of physics Feynman specialised in.

Feynman told us that in filling those gaps, presuming it to be possible, which he admitted was by no means a correct presumption, but hopefully, we would complete our understanding, hopefully, of anything which still remains far beyond the scope of what today are, without a doubt, still 'crude' attempts at the field we deify with names like 'science' and with good marketing of the word, along with soap.

You may have to read that Feynman quote a few or more times to digest everything vital in it, I know I will do so, having already been through it a few times or more.



https://www.amazon.co.uk/Character-Physical-Penguin-Press-Science/dp/0140175059