Subscribe
Subscribe
MY AMERICAN SCIENTIST
LOG IN! REGISTER!
SEARCH
 
Logo IMG

BOOK REVIEW

The One and Only, an Excerpt from A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit

Richard Feynman was the Michael Jordan of physics. His intellectual leaps, seemingly weightless, defied explanation. One of his teammates on the high-school math team in Far Rockaway, Long Island, recalls that Feynman "would get this unstudied insight while the problem was still being read out, and his opponents, before they could begin to compute, would see him ostentatiously write down a single number and draw a circle around it. Then he would let out a loud sigh." At twenty-three, he amazed a Princeton colleague when he worked out at the blackboard a proof of an important proposition of physics that had been only loosely conjectured eight years earlier by the Nobel Prize winner Paul Dirac. In 1960, in his early forties, restless and unable to find a physics problem worth working on, Feynman taught himself enough biology to make an original discovery of how mutations work in genes.

Feynman rarely read the scientific literature. When he did, he would read only far enough into an article to see what the problem was, fold up the journal, and then derive the results on his own. When a colleague, after perhaps months of calculations, walked into Feynman's office with a new result, he would often discover that Feynman already knew not only that result, but a more sweeping one, which he had kept in his file drawer and regarded as not worth publishing. The mathematician Mark Kac has said that "there are two kinds of geniuses, the ordinary and the magicians. An ordinary genius is a fellow that you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better." But for the second kind, "even after we understand what they have done, the process by which they have done it is completely dark. . . ." He called Feynman "a magician of the highest caliber."

A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit
Alan Lightman
Pantheon Books
$23.

Unshelved offers a glimpse of books recently received at the Bookshelf. A complete list of such books can be found at http://www.americanscientist.org/NewBooksReceived.


comments powered by Disqus
 

Connect With Us:

Facebook Icon Sm Twitter Icon Google+ Icon Pinterest Icon RSS Feed

Sigma Xi/Amazon Smile (SciNight)


Our Latest Multimedia

Bishop with beehives

The disappearance of honeybees continues to make headlines in the news and science journals, but are their numbers still dwindling, and if so, what are the causes?

Dr. Jack Bishop, a researcher at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and a hobby beekeeper, discusses the external influences that are linked to bee population decline, as well as ways to help honeybees thrive.

Click the Title to view all multimedia content!


Subscribe to Free eNewsletters!

  • Sigma Xi SmartBrief:

    A free daily summary of the latest news in scientific research. Each story is summarized concisely and linked directly to the original source for further reading.

  • American Scientist Update

  • An early peek at each new issue, with descriptions of feature articles, columns, Science Observers and more. Every other issue contains links to everything in the latest issue's table of contents.

  • Scientists' Nightstand

  • News of book reviews published in American Scientist and around the web, as well as other noteworthy happenings in the world of science books.

    To sign up for automatic emails of the American Scientist Update and Scientists' Nightstand issues, create an online profile, then sign up in the My AmSci area.


EMAIL TO A FRIEND :

Subscribe to American Scientist