In these Messenger Lectures, originally
delivered at Cornell University and recorded for television by the BBC, Richard
Feynman offers an overview of selected physical laws and gathers their common
features into one broad principle of invariance. He maintains at the outset
that the importance of a physical law is not “how clever we are to have found
it out but…how clever nature is to pay attention to it” and steers his
discussions toward a final exposition of the elegance and simplicity of all scientific
laws. Rather than an essay on the most significant achievements in modern
science, The Character of Physical Law
is a statement of what is most remarkable in nature. Feynman’s enlightened
approach, his wit, and his enthusiasm make this a memorable exposition of the
scientist’s craft. The law of gravitation is the author’s principal example.
Relating the details of its discovery and stressing its mathematical character,
he uses it to demonstrate the essential interaction of mathematics and physics.
He views mathematics as the key to any system of scientific laws, suggesting
that if it were possible to fill out the structure of scientific theory
completely, the result would be an integrated set of mathematical axioms. The
principles of conservation, symmetry, and time irreversibility are then
considered in relation to developments in classical and modern physics, and in his
final lecture, Feynman develops his own analysis of the process and future of
Like any set of oral reflections, The Character of Physical Law has special value as a demonstration
of the mind in action. The reader is particularly lucky in Richard Feynman—one
of the most eminent and imaginative modern physicists.
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