That voice!

feynman by Arenamontanus
Feynman’s Character of Physical Law Lectures:
[Via Cosmic Variance]

Everyone and their niece is emailing me that I should post these. (And Aatish in comments.) And a good thing, too, because it usually takes at least half a dozen emails before I will do anything at all.

In 1964, Richard Feynman gave the Messenger Lectures at Cornell, aimed at a general audience. They were later collected into The Character of Physical Law, a great little book with a depressingly boring cover. Feynman-worship is often overdone, but man, the guy could lecture. And he knew a lot about physics!

The good news is that Bill Gates has now put the full video of the lectures online, as part of Project Tuva. I had to update some software to view them on my Mac, but it seems to be working now.

Lecture Five is about the arrow of time. If you skip ahead to the 18th minute or so, you’lll hear Feynman explain the Boltzmann Brain argument.


It has been so long since I heard that accent. What a great speaker and lecturer. I remember sitting in on one of the lectures he gave in Freshman physics when I was at CalTech. There were two tracks of Freshman physics then, one for students on the engineering/physics path and one that was ‘easier’, for the rest of us. Feynman taught the hard one.

Now I was happy to be in the easier class. I was going to be a biologist and only took the class because it was required. Two years of physcs from some of the best physicists in the world. I vividly remember Ricardo Gomez (who sadly died 12 years ago) jumping around the blackboards, with longish white hair bobbing in the air. Hard to understand (He was from Colombia) sometimes but very infectious enthusiasm.

Anyway, back to Feynman. The first week of my Freshman year, several people in the easy class were sure they deserved to be in Feynman’s. So, CalTech, in its wisdom, allowed them to transfer in. Usually after a week or so of Feynman, they transfered back. Sometimes CalTech knew what it was doing.

But, with the right subject and pitched towards a wider audience, he was just amazing. I can’t be certain which of his lectures it was that I attended. (I want to say it was one about how if one assumed that instead of photons producing light there were darkons that produced dark, none of the basic laws were altered. ) Anyway, I just remember that wonderful voice.

Another former Techer also discusses these videos. You will need to have MS Silverlight installed but it is for a great cause. I remember him with long hair and a few more wrinklles but there was only one person in all of Southern California at that time, I think, that sounded like he did.

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