Feynman, the great teacher

on May 10, 2007 with 0 comments » |

I am reading QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard Feynman and am absolutely wonder-struck by his explanations of such complex (and yet simple) topics like light reflection from a quantum electrodynamics (QED) perspective. I got lost about by the time I got to Chapter 3 (It was like drinking from a firehose and I was overwhelmed), but what I learned in Chapters 1 and 2 was a treat in itself and some day I plan to re-read Chapters 1 and 2 and then proceed to chapters 3 and 4.

In the past, I have read his Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, Perfectly Reasonable Deviations From The Beaten Track: The Letters of Feynman, and more recently The Meaning of it all - Thoughts of Citizen-Scientist. However, this is my first book on physics by him and I am bowled over enough to consider gifting myself the famous Feynman Lectures on Physics ($123 at amazon.com seems like a great price for a classic, especially if you consider how expensive mediocre regular text books are these days!)

A good friend gifted me Feynman's Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets Around the Sun more than a year ago but unfortunately I have not read it yet. However, you can be sure it is next on my reading list; although I think the motion of planets is something I understand better than such esoteric topics such as quantum mechanics, particle physics, and the worst of all - Einstein's relativity theories. I have a really good book on the subject - Newton's Clock: Chaos in the Solar System - that I bought in 1995 and have read at least twice in the last decade.

Despite reading many books on the subject (and whatever nonsense they "taught" in school in India), I have never really understood the fundamentals of physics well - let alone the complex topic of quantum mechanics ... but maybe what I have been missing is a dose of Feynman....though, one could ask what do I have to gain by understanding physics at this age and I have no answer for that except to say I waste/invest my time doing a lot of things which are not really result-or-goal oriented but somehow fulfill something within me and keep me entertained... like this blog! :)

1) Feynman's Nobel lecture can be read here.
2) A set of four priceless archival recordings from lectures Feynman gave at the University of Auckland can be seen here. The titles of the first three lectures are the same as the title chapters in the QED book I am just finishing up.