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The Character of Physical Law

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The Character of Physical Law


In these Messenger Lectures, originallydelivered at Cornell University and recorded for television by the BBC, RichardFeynman offers an overview of selected physical laws and gathers their commonfeatures into one broad principle of invariance. He maintains at the outsetthat the importance of a physical law is not “how clever we are to have foundit out but…how clever nature is to pay attention to it” and steers hisdiscussions toward a final exposition of the elegance and simplicity of all scientificlaws. Rather than an essay on the most significant achievements in modernscience, The Character of Physical Lawis a statement of what is most remarkable in nature. Feynman’s enlightenedapproach, his wit, and his enthusiasm make this a memorable exposition of thescientist’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, suggestingthat if it were possible to fill out the structure of scientific theorycompletely, the result would be an integrated set of mathematical axioms. Theprinciples of conservation, symmetry, and time irreversibility are thenconsidered in relation to developments in classical and modern physics, and in hisfinal lecture, Feynman develops his own analysis of the process and future ofscientific discovery.

Like any set of oral reflections, The Character of Physical Law has special value as a demonstrationof the mind in action. The reader is particularly lucky in Richard Feynman—oneof the most eminent and imaginative modern physicists.

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