Richard Feynman on Pseudoscience and Uncertainty

Richard Feynman - The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out

The BBC Horizon The Pleasure of Finding Things Out[1981] interview with Richard Feynman is available on Youtube.

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out was filmed in 1981 and will delight and inspire anyone who would like to share something of the joys of scientific discovery. Feynman is a master storyteller, and his tales — about childhood, Los Alamos, or how he won a Nobel Prize — are a vivid and entertaining insight into the mind of a great scientist at work and play.

In this candid interview Feynman touches on a wide array of topics from the beauty of nature to particle physics. He explains things that are hard to grasp in layman’s terms much like Carl Sagan did in the cosmos series. His explanation of the scientific method covers what we know, why we know it and most importantly, what we don’t know and the pleasure of figuring it out.

Professor Sir Harry Kroto, Nobel Prize for Chemistry said “The 1981 Feynman Horizon is the best science program I have ever seen. This is not just my opinion — it is also the opinion of many of the best scientists that I know who have seen the program… It should be mandatory viewing for all students whether they be science or arts students.”

Feynman was not a fan of pseudoscience and especially disliked the social sciences.

Regrettably, the disease of Post-Normal Science [aka pseudoscience] has infected [and become endemic in] in every corner of academia where there is Settled Science.

[Starting at 42:54 in the Horizon program]

Because of the success of science, there is, I think, a kind of pseudoscience.

Social science is an example of a science which is not a science; they don’t do [things] scientifically, they follow the forms—or you gather data, you do so-and-so and so forth but they don’t get any laws, they haven’t found out anything.

They haven’t got anywhere yet—maybe someday they will, but it’s not very well developed, but what happens is on an even more mundane level.

We get experts on everything that sound like they’re sort of scientific experts.

They’re not scientific, they sit at a typewriter and they make up something like, oh, food grown with, er, fertilizer that’s organic is better for you than food grown with fertilizer that’s inorganic—may be true, may not be true, but it hasn’t been demonstrated one way or the other. But they’ll sit there on the typewriter and make up all this stuff as if it’s science and then become an expert on foods, organic foods and so on.

There’s all kinds of myths and pseudoscience all over the place.

I may be quite wrong, maybe they do know all these things, but I don’t think I’m wrong.

You see, I have the advantage of having found out how hard it is to get to really know something, how careful you have to be about checking the experiments, how easy it is to make mistakes and fool yourself.

I know what it means to know something, and therefore I see how they get their information and I can’t believe that they know it, they haven’t done the work necessary, haven’t done the checks necessary, haven’t done the care necessary.

I have a great suspicion that they don’t know, that this stuff is

and they’re intimidating people.

I think so.
I don’t know the world very well but that’s what I think.

Carl Feynman and Michelle Feynman – The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Perhaps the sad reality is that established religions, educational institutions, the welfare state and the mainstream media actively discourage independent thinking and actively encourage group think so that society willingly embraces ignorance [and servitude] because it is too frightened to “live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing”.

[Starting at 48:08 in the Horizon program]

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 certainty about different things, but I’m 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, and what the question might mean.

I might think about it a little bit and if I can’t figure it out, then I go on to something else, but I don’t have to know an answer, I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is so far as I can tell.

It doesn’t frighten me.

Carl Feynman and Michelle Feynman – The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

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7 Responses to Richard Feynman on Pseudoscience and Uncertainty

  1. Jim Coyle says:

    Mr.Feynman; I just read your piece about psuedo-science and your comments about not knowing everything about anything. If you know everything life must be boring. I feel that as soon as you know everything about anything you are now offically stupid. Thanks for the great article.

  2. tallbloke says:

    Reblogged this on Tallbloke's Talkshop and commented:
    Valuable insight from a great scientist.

  3. tchannon says:

    Those who would like more Fenyman will find a link on the co-mod’s blog to the official archive at Caltech where more of the lectures have been made free access online.

  4. tchannon says:

    Whoops, wrong blog. That was for the Talkshop, I am not a moderator here.

  5. hunter says:

    Sort of describes a lot of those studies showing that AGW causes “X” in theocean/crops/weather/health/etc./etc/etc/.

  6. Bob Weber says:

    Excited to see this. ‘The Pleasure of Finding Things Out’… what a pleasure to find!

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