Progress in science comes when experiments contradict theory

Richard Phillips Feynman


Oct 14, 2020

(8 min read)

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Richard Phillips Feynman et al

“Tell your son to stop trying to fill your head with science — for to fill your heart with love is enough! is a famous quote by Richard Phillips Feynman, an American theoretical physicist particularly known for his contributions to quantum physics, quantum electrodynamics and particle physics, as well as quantum computing and nanotechnology. During his lifetime, Feynman became one of the best-known scientists in the world and he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 for his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, jointly with Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichirō Tomonaga. In a 1999 poll of 130 leading physicists worldwide, by the British journal Physics World, he was ranked as one of the ten greatest physicists of all time. He was also regarded as an eccentric free spirit and with a wicked sense of humour to his work, as exemplified by his two well-known quotes:

“Physics is to mathematics like sex is to masturbation”,


“I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics”.

Richard Feynman was born on 11 May 1918 in Queens, New York to Jewish parents originally from Russia and Poland and as a child he was heavily influenced by both his father — who encouraged him to ask questions to challenge orthodox thinking — and his mother — from whom he inherited the sense of humour that he maintained throughout his life. In 1939 he received his bachelor’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later his PhD from Princeton in 1942.

His PhD supervisor — John Archibald Wheeler (July 9, 1911 — April 13, 2008) — was also an American theoretical physicist, more of a scientist-philosopher, largely responsible for reviving interest in general relativity in the US after World War II. Wheeler is the guy that introduced the concept of wormholes and coined the term “black hole”, and also he pioneered the theory of nuclear fission with Niels Bohr and introduced the S-matrix (the scattering matrix used in quantum mechanics). Wheeler’s well-known quote is:

“The quantum principle shows that there is a sense in which what the observer will do in the future defines what happens in the past — even in a past so remote that life did not then exist, and shows even more, that ‘observership’ is a prerequisite for any useful version of ‘reality”.

What John Wheeler is probably implying in this quote is that an observer in the present moment (i.e. someone or some of us right now and time t=a) could define our past (i.e. life formation on earth 3.5–3.8 billion years ago, time=a-z, with z=3.5–3.8 billion years) by just observing, studying and assuming right now (t=a) that the life began as a prokaryotic organism during the Precambrian Period 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago, and therefore also setting a future (t=a+z) where life indeed originated from bacteria 7–7,6 billion years ago.

Moreover, if this assumption (or quote) is real this could consequently imply that time travel of information is possible and our present moment is just THE cosmic time travel machine we all dreamed about somehow. Additionally, in this scenario it seems that we are just being the messengers or carriers of the information that can affect our past and our future at the same time! In the end our life is somehow a time travel process — i.e. we are born to travel through the years 1976–2066 — and we have come here only to observe and create information…and probably wormholes and black holes are just gateways for this information we constantly create every day, eventually for this information to travel far away, far beyond time and space and back and forward in time (the perfect loop).

But what is time? Well, according to Wheeler:

“Time is what prevents everything from happening at once”. And if time is just order (?) or somehow motion (?) or a process (?), how can we be sure that right now the “correct” reality (loop) is being created?

I guess, Feynman’s quote is the best answer for this question:

“What I cannot create, I do not understand”. In other words, we create, visualise and manifest only what our brain and genes allows us to understand. Therefore, only when our brain (and our experiments) will contradict the old theories, then new progress in science will come…and a new reality will be born for all of us.

And as Feynman beautifully quoted:

“Progress in science comes when experiments contradict theory”. In fact, the assumption that life was created 3.5–3.8 billion years ago and that we must live on average 80–90 years depends exclusively on our understanding of science right now. But other possibilities do exist, yet to be discovered.

But now let’s go back to Richard Feynman’s real life, whatever real is.

Richard during his time at Princeton he married his first wife, that died of tuberculosis just a few years later in 1945. A second marriage followed, in June 1952, but was brief and unsuccessful. Later, on September 1958 the US government sent Feynman to Geneva for a peace conference, where he met Gweneth Howarth. Gweneth who was from Ripponden, Yorkshire and working in Switzerland as an au pair, became his third wife. Before meeting Gweneth Feynman’s love life had been turbulent since his divorce. His previous girlfriend had walked off with his Albert Einstein Award medal and, on the advice of an earlier girlfriend, had feigned pregnancy and blackmailed him into paying for an abortion, then used the money to buy furniture! In fact he wrote:

“Physics isn’t the most important thing. Love is”. So, when Feynman found that Howarth was being paid only $25 a month, he offered her $20 a week to be his live-in maid. Howarth decided to accept Feynman’s offer, and moved in Altadena, California with him. Later in June 1959 Feynman proposed to her. They were married on September 24, 1960, and together they had a son, Carl, in 1962, and they adopted a daughter, Michelle, in 1968.

But Feynman is best known — not for his quotes’ or his love life — but for the Feynman parton diagrams, a visual tool for simplifying particle calculations that forever changed theoretical physics. Following the establishment of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, an initial relativistic theory was formulated for the interaction between charged particles and electromagnetic fields. This needed to be reformulated however. So, in 1948 in particular, Richard Feynman contributed to creating a new quantum electrodynamics by introducing Feynman diagrams: graphic representations of various interactions between different particles. A Feynman diagram is a diagram that shows what happens when elementary particles collide. These diagrams facilitated the calculation of interaction probabilities and embodied a deep shift in thinking about how the universe is put together and therefore the Nobel Prize-winning magic later followed.

He also assisted in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II and became known to a wide public in the 1980s as a member of the Rogers Commission, the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Along with his work in theoretical physics, Feynman has been also credited with pioneering the field of quantum computing and introducing the concept of nanotechnology.

Unfortunately in 1978 Feynman sought medical treatment for abdominal pains and was diagnosed with liposarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Doctors did everything to save his life. They removed a tumor the size of a football that had crushed his spleen and one kidney. He had further operations in October 1986 and October 1987 and later he was again hospitalized on February 3, 1988 because of a ruptured duodenal ulcer causing him a kidney failure. He declined to undergo the dialysis that might have prolonged his life for a few months, so he died on February 15, 1988, at age 69, watched over by his wife Gweneth.

Feynman’s quote about death is:

“There is nothing in biology yet found that indicates the inevitability of death. This suggests to me that it is not at all inevitable and that it is only a matter of time before biologists discover what it is that is causing us the trouble.”

Feynman — a man who understood probably better than anyone else the universe, its particles and its energies — was convinced that death was just a possibility and that going forward we will be able to understand why living on earth is such a time-limiting process, with us living on average only 80–90 years.

But I guess, yes we can live longer and postpone death for a while avoiding as much as possible the death drama, but first we need to accept the following: this fantastically marvellous universe “flying” eternally through time and space where human beings have to struggle for good and evil or love and hate or life and death is just the view our religions have formed, by just setting a terrestrial life prototype only for our genes to eventually “tune” with this prototype. So, in order to change and live longer we must first collectively change this life prototype, for our genes to be tuned to a new paradigm of life where death can be optional.

In the end, we are just trapped energy in a constantly evolving stardust body corroded by hate but invigorated by the power of love. So love is the answer that Feynman was talking about, not science.

Marina T Alamanou


Life Science Consultant 🚀💻💊🔬💉📑📊📈🤖

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