Was Feynman an atheist

The taming of the infinite

No other famous physicist - with the possible exception of Einstein - have so many anecdotes and sayings come down to us as Richard Feynman. One of them is: “Science is like sex. Sometimes it makes sense, but that's not why we do it. ”Feynman, handsome and married three times, was great at both. He had success with women and even more so in science, where he was considered a genius from a young age. A newspaper once even called him "the smartest man in the world." When his wife at the time found out about it, she sighed: "Hopefully not, because the world would not be able to take it."

Indeed, modesty was not one of Feynman's distinctive traits. When he gave his legendary physics lectures at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in the 1960s, which were later published as a book, he took it for granted that lecturers and professors should take notes. Because there were hardly any students recently. Most of them had gradually left the classroom because they were unable to follow the lecturer's thoughts. For generations of physicists, "The Feynman Lectures of Physics" has been considered a standard work that has lost none of its appeal even decades after it was published. "In the meantime, Feynman's lectures are quoted almost like biblical verses," says the science historian Ernst Peter Fischer, "for example when you want to refer to what can be found in Book I, Chapter 37." Specifically, it deals with fundamental problems in quantum mechanics Feynman strove to understand throughout his life. Without the hoped-for success. "I am convinced that no one really understands quantum mechanics," he admitted. "You can only get used to them."

Richard Feynman was born in New York on May 11, 1918. His parents had immigrated from Eastern Europe and, as he said, Jews "converted" to atheism. As a child he was particularly interested in broken radios, which he repaired for little money, and in puzzles. “Every puzzle mankind had devised had to find its way to me. Every crazy joke that people invented - I knew them. ”In 1935, Feynman, who had already mastered differential and integral calculus at the age of 15, began studying mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). But since it wasn't enough for him to roll over formulas that had no relation to reality, he switched to electrical engineering and finally studied physics.

In 1942 he earned his doctorate with a thesis on quantum mechanics at Princeton University. He was then recruited for the Manhattan project to build the US atomic bomb. Here he was given the task of calculating the range of the bomb, which at that time was very laborious without a computer. At the same time, for fun, he cracked the safe in which the greatest secrets of atomic research were stored, which otherwise only Robert J. Oppenheimer and a few generals knew. In addition, Feynman discovered his passion for drumming in Los Alamos, preferably on bongos. With another percussion instrument, the pan-like frigideira, he even won a samba competition during a stay in Brazil.

As a physicist, Feynman hovered in spiritual spheres that were inaccessible to others. He also had the extraordinary ability to see the solution of even the most abstract problems, as it were. In 1949 he succeeded in reformulating quantum electrodynamics (QED), which describes the interaction of light and matter. It originally comprised a series of equations, the solution of which resulted in infinitely large numerical values. Feynman's brilliant idea was to translate the countless interactions between atomic particles into clear images that have since been called “Feynman diagrams”. “These images were beginning to emerge in my head,” he said. "They became a kind of shorthand for the processes that I tried to describe physically and mathematically." In doing so, he succeeded in transforming the disruptive infinities into finite numbers. For his work on quantum electrodynamics, which is now considered the best-confirmed physical theory, Feynman and two other quantum researchers received the Nobel Prize in 1965. He was a little irritated, he mocked afterwards, that as an opponent of the monarchy he had received this award from the hands of a king.

Feynman gave a literally prophetic lecture on December 29, 1959 at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society at Caltech. The title was: “There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom” - “There's a lot of space below.” Anyone can do big things, but making them smaller is an art, said Feynman, who, for example, had in mind all 24 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica to print on a pin head. For this purpose, each printed page would have to be reduced 25,000 times so that a point at the end of the sentence would have a diameter of 32 atoms. At the end of his lecture, he promised the first one who succeeded in doing this, $ 1,000. Feynman also believed that it was possible to reduce the size of computers and other electronic devices, which were still the size of a cabinet at that time, to atomic dimensions. Because, he explained: "The principles of physics do not speak against the possibility of moving things atom by atom." He used the living cell as a model for miniaturization, in which enormous amounts of information are stored in a very small space. Today, Feynman's lecture marks the birth of nanotechnology, although the new discipline was only named 25 years later by the Japanese engineer Norio Taniguchi.

In 1986 Feynman was appointed to a commission that investigated the crash of the US space shuttle "Challenger", in which seven people were killed. It emerged that the rubber seals of the solid rocket rockets lost their elasticity due to the freezing cold during take-off, which ultimately triggered the catastrophe. In the final report of the commission, Feynman sharply criticized the management of NASA, which had ignored all warnings from engineers to postpone the start. And he added: "Successful technology assumes that a sense of reality comes before advertising, because nature cannot be fooled."

At the age of 60, Feynman discovered a rare tumor that could initially be surgically removed. But after a few years the cancer returned. This time Feynman renounced treatment and accepted the diagnosis as if it were fate. On February 15, 1988, he closed his eyes forever in Los Angeles. His last words were, “I wouldn't want to die twice. It is so boring."

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