June 16, 2011

But, I do. I care what Feynman thought.

I finished David’s pick last week, What Do You Care What Other People Think by Richard Feynman. I loved reading this book. It is  an odd collection of material—personal stories Feynman recounted over the course of his life, letters others wrote about him, and Feynman’s account of time spent on the committee investigating the Challenger disaster. What I love most is Feynman’s voice, or rather his keen and yet enthusiastic outlook.

Looking back, I can see how this book resonated with David and has since fit into the jigsaw of ideas that affect how both of us would like to spend our time in the world. I haven’t come close to not caring too much what other people think, but I’m moving in that direction.

The book ends with a printed version of an address given by Feynman about the value of science. He discusses the importance of doubt, ignorance, and uncertainty. Here is a passage I particularly like:

What, then, is the meaning of it all? What can we say to dispell the mystery of existence?

If we take everything into account–not only what the ancients knew, but all of what we know today that they didn’t know–then I think we must frankly admit that we do not know.

But, in admitting this, we  have probably found the open channel.

I’ve recently started attending church on a regular basis. My church is liberal and inclusive else I couldn’t stand going there. It is also very thoughtful. What Feynman says above about embracing uncertainty touches on what gives both science and religious faith power. We lose the possibility of vision when we value being right more than being open. Feynman speaks so beautifully about science in this address, and to me, part of what he’s pointing out is that scientific thinkers have faith too—in human curiosity. I think spiritual faith is born of the same curiosity—a sense the world is bigger, that our selves are bigger, than we will ever know and that we must reach out.