The Meaning of It All
Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist

Book Review

March 2000

Richard P. Feynman, and two others, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 "for their fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with profound consequences for the physics of elementary particles." Quantum electrodynamics is the basis for Michael Crichton's new novel Timeline, where history is studied by direct observation and not just available artifacts.

Humanists claim to be guided by science and the scientific method, but how many of us really know what this means? Unfortunately, many people are intimidated by the large technical jargon that scientists use. Carl Sagan, another great 20th Century scientist, was very concerned that science is viewed as a kind of elite club and perceived to be out of reach to most people.

The Meaning Of It All, Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist (Perseus Books, 1998) is a transcript of three lectures that Feynman presented in April 1963 at the University of Washington in Seattle as part of the John Danz Lecture Series. The titles of the lectures are: The Uncertainty of Science, The Uncertainty of Values, and This Unscientific Age. The entire book is only 122 small pages of fairly large print and yet it describes very eloquently in layman's terms the nature of science, the relationship between science and religion, what science can and cannot do, etc.

The book is obviously a verbatim transcription from an audio recording of the lectures. In places the punctuation is poor, some sentences are incomplete, and some of the constructions are awkward. Nevertheless this is an important book that I recommend to all humanists. It will help you in understanding what science is and what it is not.

--Wayne Wilson