Salient points [#3] – Richard Feynman on not knowing things

Richard Feynman is one of those highly quote-able and, thankfully, widely quoted people from Science whose words have some legs. Video clips and entire documentaries about Feynman can be found online, so please search when you have time and help to bounce his legacy beyond the circles of Science. Here I would like to draw attention to just one gem: Feynman’s comments on not knowing things…

As a non-Scientist I love learning of, and from, the scientific facts that anchor the words uttered by many scientists. Yet, equally, I enjoy listening between the lines and/or savouring the foresight that helps some of these words soar on for decades (in some cases for generations).

“…don’t feel frightened by not knowing things”

Richard Feynman

In this short clip (linked, right) Mr Feynman waxes lyrical on doubt/uncertainty, and thereby decries pretenders and pseuds who posture full, certain knowledge (whether or not they come from science, or another area, like politics). For me, these words simultaneously sum up – in less than a minute – the courage and curiosity of scientists and for some, like Feynman, their carefree attitude.

The latter – the attitude – is all too easily misconstrued as carelessness or worse, madness, genius or some other misnomer. Yet listening to Feyman’s words, for me, often stands the tests of time and common sense (I say often, as I am far from having listened to all of the vast amount of his published and recorded words…)

Meanwhile the messages in this brief video are many, varied, lasting. Hearing Richard Feynman on not knowing things calls to mind so many signposts: keep asking questions, distinguish fact from opinion, disprove hype and hearsay, embrace not knowing things…


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