The Please of Finding Things Out - Richard Feynman

If Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman? is steak, this is a burger. Where Surely You're Joking is a fairly-well constructed deliberate volume, this is a collection of odds-and-ends, mostly transcripts of talks. It's a little uneven, unfocused and repetitive. In many ways, though, I think it captures Feynman more honestly than the more organised book, through its lack of preparation and polish.

This is another "read while in hospital" book, and it worked pretty well - clearly much more pop-sci than physics, despite a couple of relatively technical chapters, and the discombobulated structure actually makes it a bit easier to dip in and out of.

Feyman's discussion on how science relates to other areas feels blinkered by his approach to the philosophy of science. He has a particular model of science as being centred on doubt, performing experiements, and ideally spotting patterns. The usual induction and deduction, and this gives you knowledge. Science has a mechanism that works, why do we want any of that messy philosophical stuff?

Science is based on doubt, but he doesn't doubt science. Philosophy can interrogate the parts of science that science cannot interrogate itself, but Feynman seems to miss the wood for the trees.

He also has much disdain for soft/social sciences, since they fail to produce the reliable, reproducible results of e.g. physics. What I find telling is that he never seemed to want to fix the area. My suspicion is that it's a difficult problem, and while the results are unimpressive, he couldn't do any better. After all, I don't image a man like Feynman would be able to stand by idly if they see something they care about badly broken, and know how to fix it.

So, it's an unintentional portrait with subtlety, of a man blinkered by his own deep focus. Despite all this, Surely You're Joking remains the superior book, although for some reason I don't have a book review of it.

Posted 2022-05-04.