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A Special Place for Blog Lovers with a Touch of Science!

Editor’s pick: Richard Feynman

Credit: Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman stands in front of a blackboard strewn with notation in his lab in Los Angeles, Californina. (Photo by Kevin Fleming/Corbis via Getty Images)

Excerpts from Feynman's book - QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (1985)

1. "We cannot predict whether a given photon will arrive at A or B. All we can predict is that out of 100 photons that come down, an average of 4 will be reflected by the front surface. Does this mean that physics, a science of great exactitude, has been reduced to calculating only the probability of an event, and not predicting exactly what will happen? Yes. That's a retreat, but that's the way it is: Nature permits us to calculate only probabilities. Yet science has not collapsed."

2. "With quantum physics, who needs drugs?"

3. "Why are all the theories of physics so similar in their structure?

There are a number of possibilities. The first is the limited imagination of physicists: when we see a new phenomenon we try to fit it into the framework we already have-until we have made enough experiments, we don't know that it doesn't work.

Another possibility is that it is the same damn thing over and over again-that Nature has only one way of doing things, and She repeats her story from time to time.

A third possibility is that things look similar because they are aspects of the same thing- some larger picture underneath, from which things can be broken into parts that look different, like fingers on the same hand. Many physicists are working very hard trying to put together a grand picture that unifies everything into one super-duper model. It's a delightful game, but at the present time none of the speculators agree with any of the other speculators as to what the grand picture is."

4. "Whether the proton decays or not is not known. To prove that it does not decay is very difficult."

5. "There are only two states of polarization available to electrons, so in an atom with three protons in the nucleus exchanging photons with three electrons-a condition called a lithium atom-the third electron is farther away from the nucleus than the other two (which have used up the nearest available space), and exchanges fewer photons. This causes the electron to easily break away from its own nucleus under the influence of photons from other atoms. A large number of such atoms close together easily lose their individual third electrons to form a sea of electrons swimming around from atom to atom. This sea of electrons reacts to any small electrical force (photons), generating a current of electrons-I am describing lithium metal conducting electricity. Hydrogen and helium atoms do not lose their electrons to other atoms. They are "insulators."

All the atoms-more than one hundred different kinds-are made up of a certain number of protons exchanging photons with the same number of electrons. The patterns in which they gather are complicated and offer an enormous variety of properties: some are metals, some are insulators, some are gases, others are crystals; there are soft things, hard things, colored things, and transparent things-a terrific cornucopia of variety and excitement that comes from the exclusion principle and the repetition again and again and again of the three very simple actions P(A to B), E(A to B), and j. (If the electrons in the world were unpolarized, all the atoms would have very similar properties: the electrons would all cluster together, close to the nucleus of their own atom, and would not be easily attracted to other atoms to make chemical reactions.)"

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