Richard Feynman Quotes

I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.

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You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here... I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. It doesn't frighten me.

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Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there.

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No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it. You say you are a nameless man. You are not to your wife and to your child. You will not long remain so to your immediate colleagues if you can answer their simple questions when they come into your office. You are not nameless to me. Do not remain nameless to yourself — it is too sad a way to be. Know your place in the world and evaluate yourself fairly, not in terms of the naïve ideals of your own youth, nor in terms of what you erroneously imagine your teacher's ideals are.

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Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.

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Have no respect whatsoever for authority; forget who said it and instead look what he starts with, where he ends up, and ask yourself, "Is it reasonable?"

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No government has the right to decide on the truth of scientific principles, nor to prescribe in any way the character of the questions investigated. Neither may a government determine the aesthetic value of artistic creations, nor limit the forms of literacy or artistic expression. Nor should it pronounce on the validity of economic, historic, religious, or philosophical doctrines. Instead it has a duty to its citizens to maintain the freedom, to let those citizens contribute to the further adventure and the development of the human race.

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You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It's their mistake, not my failing.

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Ordinary fools are all right; you can talk to them, and try to help them out. But pompous fools—guys who are fools and are covering it all over and impressing people as to how wonderful they are with all this hocus pocus—THAT, I CANNOT STAND! An ordinary fool isn't a faker; an honest fool is all right. But a dishonest fool is terrible!

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I had a way of having adventures which is hard to explain: it's like fishing, where you put a line out and then you have to have patience. When I would tell someone about some of my adventures, they might say, "Oh, come on—let's do that!" So we would go to a bar to see if something will happen, and they would lose patience after twenty minutes or so. You have to spend a couple of days before something happens, on average.

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The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.

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The real question of government versus private enterprise is argued on too philosophical and abstract a basis. Theoretically, planning may be good. But nobody has ever figured out the cause of government stupidity—and until they do (and find the cure), all ideal plans will fall into quicksand.

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In the selling business, there's a lack of integrity. My father had the spirit and integrity of a scientist, but he was a salesman. I remember asking him the question "How can a man of integrity be a salesman?" He said to me, "Frankly, many salesmen in the business are not straightforward—they think it's a better way to sell. But I've tried being straightforward, and I find it has its advantages. In fact, I wouldn't do it any other way. If the customer thinks at all, he'll realize he has had some bad experience with another salesman, but hasn't had that kind of experience with you. So in the end, several customers will stay with you for a long time and appreciate it."

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When I see a congressman giving his opinion on something, I always wonder if it represents his real opinion or if it represents an opinion that he's designed in order to be elected. It seems to be a central problem for politicians. So I often wonder: what is the relation of integrity to working in the government?

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When playing Russian roulette, the fact that the first shot got off safely is of little comfort for the next.

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Scientific knowledge is an enabling power to do either good or bad — but it does not carry instructions on how to use it.

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The imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man. No one who did not have some inkling of this through observations could ever have imagined such a marvel as nature is.

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We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty—some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain.

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What, then, is the meaning of it all? What can we say to dispel 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.

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We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on. It is our responsibility to leave the people of the future a free hand. In the impetuous youth of humanity, we can make grave errors that can stunt our growth for a long time. This we will do if we say we have the answers now, so young and ignorant as we are. If we suppress all discussion, all criticism, proclaiming "This is the answer, my friends; man is saved!" we will doom humanity for a long time to the chains of authority, confined to the limits of our present imagination. It has been done so many times before. It is our responsibility as scientists, knowing the great progress which comes from a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, the great progress which is the fruit of freedom of thought, to proclaim the value of this freedom; to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed and discussed; and to demand this freedom as our duty to all coming generations.

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Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn't matter. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don't think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn't stop you from doing anything at all.

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I'm not dopey enough to tie up my whole life in the future because of some promise I made in the past—under different circumstances.

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[B]eyond poverty, beyond the point that the material needs are reasonably satisfied, only from within is peace.

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No man is rich who is unsatisfied, but who wants nothing possess his heart's desire.

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I find it psychologically very distasteful to judge people's "merit." So I cannot participate in the main activity of selecting people for membership. To be a member of a group, of which an important activity is to choose others deemed worthy of membership in that self-esteemed group, bothers me.

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If you have any talent, or any occupation that delights you, do it, and do it to the hilt. Don't ask why, or what difficulties you may get into.

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[E]xperiment and observation is the sole and ultimate judge of the truth of an idea.

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I never believed that people who used big words and very fancy speech were especially smart or good. I think it is important only to express clearly what you want to say.

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A book should be only an assistance to a good teacher, and not a dictator.

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Work hard to find something that fascinates you. When you find it you will know your lifework. A man may be digging a ditch for someone else, or because he is forced to, or is stupid—such a man is "toolish"—but another working even harder may not be recognized as different by the bystanders—but he may be digging for treasure. So dig for treasure and when you find it you will know what to do.

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Learn by trying to understand simple things in terms of other ideas—always honestly and directly. What keeps the clouds up, why can't I see stars in the daytime, why do colors appear on oily water, what makes the lines on the surface of water being poured from a pitcher, why does a hanging lamp swing back and forth—and all the innumerable little things you see all around you. Then when you have learned to explain simpler things, so you have learned what an explanation really is, you can then go on to more subtle questions.

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It is wonderful, if you can find something you love to do in your youth which is big enough to sustain your interest through all your adult life. Because, whatever it is, if you do it well enough (and you will, if you truly love it) people will pay you to do what you want to do anyway.

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The real fun of life is this perpetual testing to realize how far out you can go with any potentialities.

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Don't think of what "you want to be," but what you "want to do."

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Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.

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If you look closely enough at anything, you will see that there is nothing more exciting than the truth.

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All other aspects and characteristics of science can be understood directly when we understand that observation is the ultimate and final judge of the truth of an idea.

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The principle that observation is the judge imposes a severe limitation to the kind of questions that can be answered. They are limited to questions that you can put this way: “If I do this, what will happen?” There are ways to try it and see. Questions like, “Should I do this?” and “What is the value of this?” are not of the same kind.

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So what we call scientific knowledge today is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty. Some of them are most unsure; some of them are nearly sure; but none is absolutely certain.

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Some people say, “How can you live without knowing?” I do not know what they mean. I always live without knowing. That is easy. How you get to know is what I want to know.

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This freedom to doubt is an important matter in the sciences and, I believe, in other fields. It was born of a struggle. It was a struggle to be permitted to doubt, to be unsure. And I do not want us to forget the importance of the struggle and, by default, to let the thing fall away. I feel a responsibility as a scientist who knows the great value of a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, and the progress made possible by such a philosophy, progress which is the fruit of freedom of thought. I feel a responsibility to proclaim the value of this freedom and to teach that doubt is not to be feared, but that it is to be welcomed as the possibility of a new potential for human beings. If you know that you are not sure, you have a chance to improve the situation. I want to demand this freedom for future generations.

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Throughout all the ages, men have been trying to fathom the meaning of life. They realize that if some direction or some meaning could be given to the whole thing, to our actions, then great human forces would be unleashed. So, very many answers have been given to the question of the meaning of it all. But they have all been of different sorts. And the proponents of one idea have looked with horror at the actions of the believers of another—horror because from a disagreeing point of view all the great potentialities of the race were being channeled into a false and confining blind alley. In fact, it is from the history of the enormous monstrosities that have been created by false belief that philosophers have come to realize the fantastic potentialities and wondrous capacities of human beings. The dream is to find the open channel. What, then, is the meaning of it all? What can we say today to dispel the mystery of existence? If we take everything into account, not only what the ancients knew, but also all those things that we have found out up to today that they didn't know, then I think that we must frankly admit that we do not know. But I think that in admitting this we have probably found the open channel. Admitting that we do not know, and maintaining perpetually the attitude that we do not know the direction necessarily to go, permit a possibility of alteration, of thinking, of new contributions and new discoveries for the problem of developing a way to do what we want ultimately, even when we do not know what we want.

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That something is unscientific is not bad; there is nothing the matter with it. It is just unscientific. And scientific is limited, of course, to those things that we can tell about by trial and error.

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So in life, in gaiety, in emotion, in human pleasures and pursuits, and in literature and so on, there is no need to be scientific, there is no reason to be scientific. One must relax and enjoy life.

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This is in the attitude of mind of the populace, that they have to have an answer and that a man who gives an answer is better than a man who gives no answer, when the real fact of the matter is, in most cases, it is the other way around.

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