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One great teacher

  1. Jun 2, 2007 #1
    One great teacher

    “The rules of the game are what we mean by fundamental physics.” This is Richard Feynman speaking and is quoted in his most remarkable book “QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter”.

    This book is a masterful exposition by a master teacher and scientist of quantum mechanics; aimed not at teaching students to do calculations, but at teaching them to understand what's going on behind calculations. Reading this book helps students avoid "a false sophistication which emphasizes technique rather than understanding." Most important, in my estimation, is that it is a book that any lay person can read, understand and enjoy. It will give the rugged individual--undaunted by preconceived notions--an opportunity to appreciate the mysteries and marvels of modern physics.

    Feynman, in my opinion as well as many others, is a master scientist, wonderful human being, and most of all a master teacher.

    There is a layering quality in book publishing that works marvelously for the lay reader. Such individuals as Kant, Einstein, and Darwin write books explaining their original thoughts. A second layer of authors condense and clarify the thoughts of these original thinkers into a form more accessible to the learning student seeking to join the ranks of the experts. Then there is a third level where a person with fine writing skills takes this material and writes a book that is accurate, polished, and readable for the person looking to understand the general aspects of a domain of knowledge without too many complications.

    Richard Feynman is one of those rare creatures who fit all three levels of authorship. Most important to us, who wish to understand without too many complications, Feynman has written a book “QED”, which makes it possible for us to accomplish this task with much pleasure and awe.

    Richard Feynman, now deceased, was a theoretical physicist and professor of physics at MIT gave to his students the following description of what physics is all about:

    “We can imagine that this complicated array of moving things which constitutes “the world” is something like a great chess game being played by the gods, and we are observers of the game. We do not know what the rules of the game are; all we are allowed to do is to watch the playing. Of course, if we watch long enough, we may eventually catch on to a few of the rules. The rules of the game are what we mean by fundamental physics. Even if we know every rule, however…what we really can explain in terms of those rules is very limited, because almost all situations are so enormously complicated that we cannot follow the plays of the game using the rules, much less tell what is going to happen next. We must, therefore, limit ourselves to the more basic question of the rules of the game. If we know the rules, we consider that we “understand” the world.”

    The natural sciences, especially physics, have been very successful at learning the rules of the game. Our didactic (teaching by telling) educational system has been very successful at teaching these rules to their students. The students have been very successful at using these rules and the algorithms and paradigms developed from these rules in developing the high tech economy that we have.

    I suggest that any person wishing to gain a fundamental lay person’s comprehension of quantum physic start with this book. It is comprehensible to most anyone who wishes to know; and has the curiosity sufficient to do the work required.

    P.S.--If a person decides to self-activate their intellect they need access to lots of books. Libraries loan books. My local community college library has a ‘Friends of the Library’ membership that allows me, for a yearly fee of $25, to take out on loan any book I desire.
  2. jcsd
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