Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist
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In 1963—two years before he got the Nobel Prize—Feynman was asked to deliver three lectures to a lay audience at the University of Washington. Now a new generation of readers can sample vintage Feynman on science, religion, morals, and politics. The voice—plain, no-nonsense—is unmistakable; the ideas, too, will be familiar: Feynman is ever the honest and passionate spokesman for science. The first essay, —The Uncertainty of Science,— speaks to the never-ending quest to deepen our understanding of the universe, with the understanding that we can never achieve absolute certainty. Essay two, —The Uncertainty of Values,— takes the strong view that science in and of itself is valueless; it doesn—t deal with good or evil. It’s how you apply what science has learned that engages moral and ethical issues. With little effort, his ideas apply decades later to contemporary national debates concerning cloning, biological warfare, and environmental pollution. Feynman rather gingerly approaches a discussion of religion. He sees no inconsistency in someone being a scientist and also believing in God. At the same time, he posits a hypothetical student who, as he builds a worldview based on the evidence of evolution and the age of the universe, etc., gradually loses faith in a biblical-style God. He does make it clear that the metaphysics of religion are distinct from whatever moral or ethical values are encoded. The final and longest essay, on the —Unscientific Age— may be the one that most speaks to today’s readers: It is a marvelous compendium of the nonsense and danger of dogmas and pseudoscience, from astrology to ESP—with a few lessons in statistics thrown in for scientists as well. One of the charms of the late Feynman is that in his passion to explain he opened his extraordinary mind to full view by the audience. In this case the audience can and should include students of all ages. (Book-of-the-Month Club featured selection)

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1998
ISBN: 0-201-36080-2
Page count: 160pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998