- In a previously unpublished interview made under the auspices of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Feynman reminisces about his life in science:
→ his terrifying first lecture to a Nobel laureate-packed room;
→ the invitation to work on the first atomic bomb and his reaction;
→ cargo-cult science; and
→ that fateful pre-dawn wake-up call from a journalist informing him that he'd just won the Nobel prize.
- Feynman’s answer: "You could have told me that in the morning."
- Most of this Chapter repeats things covered in other Chapters, so is rather disappointing. Also, the interviewer is far too intrusive – trying to second-guess what Feynman is about to say, and not always getting it right. Finally, the title seems to be nothing to do with the discussion, as far as I could see.
- As always, these discussions are an interesting insight into the state of knowledge at the time. The quark theory seems to have been “cutting edge” when the interview took place (it would have been useful to know just when this was – the book doesn’t say).
- However, it perks up (from my perspective) right at the end when Feynman gets on to Cargo Cult science. Again, this is repetitious – in that we had a whole chapter on this topic ("Feynman (Richard) - Cargo Cult Science: Some Remarks on Science, Pseudoscience, and Learning How to Not Fool Yourself") – but this makes the point of the analogy Feynman is trying to make much clearer, or maybe it’s just more focused in this Chapter.
- A cargo cult (Wikipedia: Cargo cult) is where following the form of a real activity in a sort of play-acting way is performed in the hope of achieving the results of the real activity. So, the South-Sea Islanders – by building “pretend” airfields and airplanes out of wood – hoped to receive the benefits (“cargo”) of real landing strips that had been built during the war to receive military supplies. As if by magic, without any understanding of why the original process “worked”.
- Feynman – rather controversially – makes an analogy between Cargo Cults and the social sciences, where a partly-understood methodology is used with the hope that the same “miraculous” results will be achieved.
- Feynman thinks that the various studies – eg. into educational techniques – aren’t scientific because variables aren’t controlled. He gives an example of an inspirational teacher who invents a computer and uses it to teach children arithmetic. Naturally, this works very well, but won’t necessarily translate to a good general practice if “average” teachers have to learn how to do it from a book.
- His advice is a “horses for courses” approach. Science looks to the future rather than the past – in performing experiments to find new knowledge. While it retains the truths that were discovered in the past, these are always provisional and subject to revision1. The past has no authority over the present. Rather than imitate science, the social “sciences” should learn from the past – what has worked and what hasn’t.
- He doesn’t say this in this interview, but this is his general “take”.
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