Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Feynman's "Ode to a Flower": an animation

You must have heard Richard Feynman's monologue on the beauty of a flower from the scientist's viewpoint.

It was aired at the very beginning of the interesting 1981 BBC program The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.

But this may be the first time when you're encouraged to watch this animation that was created on the background of Feynman's wise words.

Incidentally, a language question: is Feynman's pronouncement of the word "interesting" the most common way to do so in the U.S. English? I believe that e.g. Leonard Susskind says the word in the same way but it's still rare. Is it some kind of a New York City accent?

In the monologue above, Feynman forgot to say that science also allows you to do various things with the flower which make us very happy. For example, you may squeeze an orange juice out of it: :-)

Via Maria Popova (a neat Christmas gift I received from Peter F., in a box)


  1. z square artpicturesJan 2, 2013, 7:38:00 PM

    stop taking money from the gun lobby terrorists

  2. big deal. some people that don't know what they are talking about call him the greatest physicist of the second half of the 20th century. one of the greatest? of course but he didn't get that famous because of his ability to do physics. most of the others on his level don't come close to being as popular as he did.

    i did some comments before about the way people from Harvard and Cambridge talk and people talking about other scientists...they talk in a similar way he does...too much bullshiting. this is why i said some other time that Nima is more serious than others in this aspect because he doesn't say bullshit poems besides that 'i will shoot myself stuff'.

  3. Feynman certainly had a New York accent but I would go farther and say he had a Queens accent or even a Far Rockaway accent. There are significant variations in the way different New Yorkers pronounce their English words. Many of Feynman’s pronunciations are different from mine. I have a Northern California accent with a twinge of Texas thrown in.

    Most Americans slur their words more than Feynman. He is very easy to understand because of his distinct enunciation of every syllable. This is a prime characteristic of New York accents. I like it.

  4. the kind of way he wants to talk. no matter if you speak english, greek or chinese all the "poets" talk in a similar way.

  5. Hi Lubos. Have you ever seen this video ? I find it beautiful

  6. Am I now also - in addition to everything else - sending boxes to people in my sleep!?! %-O

  7. Mr. Feynman was not the typical boring scientist ! He was a very interesting character, with a lot of hobbies outside physics.He also loved flirting with women !! :)

  8. Dear Lubos:

    To answer your question, yes, Feynman's pronunciation of "interesting" is non-standard, but for this particular word I think it's more a matter of enunciation rather than his (pronounced) New York (Queens) accent in this short clip.

    That sort of enunciation is something that comes through very clearly in his lectures, particularly the more formal ones like the Messenger lectures. This type of speaking was discussed previously in TRF, I think in the comments on the film of the Omega-minus discovery. It was the sort of burnished but characteristically American English that was common in documentaries and news stories in the 1950's and 1960's. Hearing it brings back vivid childhood memories.

    As for Feynman's thoughts expressed in this short clip (which I like very much), you can find the same things expressed in his musing on "The whole universe in a glass of wine", which can be found at the end of the third lecture in Volume I of the Feynman Lectures on Physics. Here is the excerpt:

    It's damn impressive to me that in an introductory sequence in which he did some very sophisticated physics, he also took time out to present his cogent philosophy of how physics relates to everything we understand about the world and our place in it.

  9. Very interesting!

    But I've got to set the record straight. The real story is that the work of Arte "Wolfgang" Johnson had a seminal influence on Feynman. He even went so far as to adopt some of his linguistic mannerisms, unfortunately with only limited success — in particular he couldn't roll his rs. But mainly he found stupidity hard to master. So, curiously enough, and as Feynman himself freely admits, he was a rather limited character in some important respects! :)

  10. I think I must have said here before that I have met Feynman in my professional life twice. The first was at an Erice school in 1964. I was young and not much impressed, because he was trying to teach us the eightfold way ( the fashion at the time) in his own way.

    The second was in a theoretical workshop in Crete in 1982. (It was the time of QCD dominating the attention of the theorists and I presented the experimental case). I have to say I was very impressed though he was talking of QCD on his own terms. He was like a child enjoying himself enormously, going down a canyon taking 8 hours with a bevy of theoreticians discussing physics with him all the way down.

    I remember he was entranced by a tree growing in the region with very symmetrical leaves and sweet smelling flowers, though I do not remember his exact musings.

  11. George, be sure that Feynman was one of the 5 greatest physicists of the 20th century, independently of whether he was popular or not.

  12. I like it, too. Thanks for the explanation, Gene! Isn't it remarkable that pieces of a city may sustain distinct accents? Well, maybe it is normal. After all, NYC is as many people as the Czech Republic and it's probably the people's group size that decides about the sustainability of accents, not the territory.

  13. Thanks, Bill! Isn't it a pity that the presenters etc. started to talk differently in recent decades? As far as I can say, the clear enunciation - and more important things - came from the desire to be populist, to flatter the most inclusive "classes" of the viewers possible. It was lost due to the desire not to be "patronizing", perhaps.

    But science TV programs should be patronizing because they should be done by people who know (much) more than the viewers and they have a reason to patronize. Also, they have to be comprehensible. They can't emulate the most casual speech which is really not exceptionally clear because they have to be exceptionally clear. Too bad that there isn't consensus about these simple points today.

  14. Fascinating. I was in college in early 70's when his partons were in the latest papers and I had no idea what that might turn into. I had the 1971 edition of his lectures but like too many spent too little time to really get it and far too little to become an experimentalist or even to be still follow enough to get the double entendres when MGM gave us Quark in the 80's.
    Happy to see you are here posting again. I wish I had met him. Alas I was not studious and focused enough to have the chance to be " not much impressed". Not that I can or would complain because life has been kind to me.
    The 71 FLOP edition went missing a wife ago but now due Amazon and the better side effects of "computer disease" the latest edition will be at doorstep soon.

    Hope you will share if you recall more.
    Happy new year to y'all.

  15. we all know who was the best of the first half of the twentieth century and personally i have not given that title to Feynman. and even in the first half Einstein is not far far more popular than Dirac just because he was better in physics if he was but for different other reasons. i am sure you know the reasons better than me since you know how they worked better. and Dirac was a no bullshit guy.

    i am not saying that we don't need guys like Feynman, i am saying that after they get the right to talk, almost every single one of them say many things that they shouldn't and they should be promoting science and not poetry. the point was that he became much more popular because of his talks, poems, quotes, way of life etc.

    greatest 10 - i don't even know if he belongs there, top 20...maybe

  16. I have no idea what you want to say.

    For example, Feynman was no poet and he didn't promote poetry, in this monologue or otherwise: the very purpose of the monologue about the flower is to point out that the scientific approach to the world is superior over the "poet's approach", so he's not promoting "poetry". But of course that he must use similar words on beauty etc. because the beauty is the topic he is addressing.

  17. You are absolutely correct in your estimation of Feynman's contribution. He was great in thinking outside the box in physics.

  18. I have a Feynman true anecdote from that workshop. You can find it in my reply to this blog entry :

    If you go to this next blog entry towards the end of my reply you will see the second one of my two Feynman stories from that workshop,

  19. One of the more distinct San Francisco accents is known as the North Beach accent. It is somewhat akin to accents that I heard decades ago in Lower Manhattan. Both areas have a strong Italian heritage and this, no doubt, accounts for the similarity.

    Sadly, these colorful differences in pronunciation are slowly fading. The media are homogenizing our speech.

  20. Thanks. The second link is also fascinating in pointing out still another unexplained correlation between the sun and observed gamma decay rates. I followed up and found that the researchers have turned this into a patent application to predict solar flares. They are asserting apparently substantial data supports this seeming precognition by the sun.
    I am skeptical but the research article is behind a pay wall so I left it at that. Of course if the explanation is some BSM particle I think someone should write a book dubbing the new particle as the "Sun God" particle and the new interaction can be added to the Feynman diagram by attaching a small sun symbol to the incoming line :-)

  21. seriously Lubos? this is the best you can think?

  22. Apologies, George, I have no idea what you're dissatisfied by so I can't make you satisfied. I've been a Feynman admirer for something like 25 years and this blog itself has pointed a consistent and positive picture of Feynman for more than 8 years, too.