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Richard Feynman, Prelude in Eb minor and Meaning of It All Public Lecture by Vladimir Chaloupka May 10, 2012 6:30 – 8:00 PM Geballe Auditorium PAA 102, Physics/Astronomy building

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Lecture by Feynman


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Richard Feynman, Prelude in Eb minorand Meaning of It All

Public Lecture by Vladimir ChaloupkaMay 10, 2012 6:30 – 8:00 PM

Geballe Auditorium PAA 102, Physics/Astronomy building

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On the eve of what would have been Richard Feynman’s 94th birthday, and at the conclusion of the “Feynman year” at the UW, the lecture will celebrate his wisdom, love of life, love of science and love of doubt. We will recall Feynman’s distaste for formal pomp and circumstance, Physics Nobel Prize and all, and we shall acknowledge his passion for drumming as well as his regrettable attitude towards classical music. Some rare as well as not-so–rare clips and still images will be shown and discussed. Feynman’s “Central Mystery of Quantum Mechanics” will be formulated for poets and musicians, and – maybe - physicists will appreciate it from a new point of view. A suitable choice for an advance reading might be the Study Guide[1] for Feynman’s “Meaning of It All” that was chosen as the UW Common Book for 2011/2012. For the most part, the lecture will be lighthearted, but when we do get serious, we will illustrate what is perhaps the single most important sentence from that Guide: Richard Feynman “was an extraordinary human being, and to study the complexities of his life will help you to deal with the complexities of your own.”

[1] Please see www.phys.washington.edu/users/vladi/CommonBook

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CV of VC:

Vladi Chaloupka was born in what is now the Czech Republic, when it was under Nazi occupation. He grew up in the country subsequently dominated by the Soviet Union. In 1968 he experienced a “shock and awe” invasion, and escaped to Switzerland. There he obtained his PhD in Physics from the University of Geneva, and worked as a particle physicist at CERN. In 1975 he moved to the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California, and in 1981 he came to the University of Washington. After a career in experimental elementary particle physics, he is now working on merging his life experience with his three passions: science, music and human affairs, into one coherent whole. At the University of Washington, Dr. Chaloupka is Professor of Physics, Adjunct Professor at the School of Music, and Adjunct Professor at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies.

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Richard Feynman, Prelude in Eb minor and Meaning of It All

Richard Feynman would have hated this lecturePrelude in Eb minor ???

“Classical music – music in the European tradition – he found not just dull but positively unpleasant. Above all it was the experience of listening that he could not stand.”

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But maybe not.

What he hated was the pomp and snobism, but he was keenly interested in learning new things, and maybe he would have appreciated the complex issues of music notation we will briefly discuss, as well as the use of music for very complex purposes.

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Intro: Feynman and Bach

Feynman Facts Illustrated.

Selected Issues in (some) Depth:

Central Mystery of Quantum Mechanics

Grand Tour: At Home in the Universe

Doubt and Faith; Science and Religion

Bach Prelude in Eb and Chopin Etude in C#

Meaning of It All

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Vladimir (Vladi) Chaloupka

At the University of Washington, Dr. Chaloupka is Professor of Physics, Adjunct Professor at the School of Music, and Adjunct Professor at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies.

(and he also is, BY FAR, the most modest professor on campus …)

After a career in experimental elementary particle physics, he is now working on merging his life experience with his three passions: science, music and human affairs, into one coherent whole.

Note: This is not just a compilation of Feynman quotes and reminiscences. This is a celebration of what I believe is the Feynman spirit: a substantial Feynman-inspired lecture, with some original and perhaps controversial views. We will carefully distinguish the views of:

1) Richard Feynman2) VC

And views of VC are not necessarily shared by the assistants: Vladi’s students Alexa Erdogan, William Fortney, Cameron Gerholt, Linda Thanh Duong, Eduardo Chiprez, Monica Torres and Austin Hackett.

nor by the Physics Dept. or by the UW

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Feynman Facts, Illustrated

Richard Phillips Feynman was born on May 11, 1918 in New York. By the age of 15 he taught himself differential and integral calculus.

As a boy, Feynman taught himself to repair radio sets. Here he describes his interaction with an unfriendly customer:

[the guy] says: "What are you doing? You come to fix the radio, but now you're only walking back and forth!" I say, "I am thinking!". Then I said to myself , "All right, take the tubes out, and reverse the order" ... so I changed the tubes around, stepped to the front of the radio, turned the thing on, and it's as quiet as a lamb: it waits until it heats up, and then plays perfectly - no noise. When a person has been negative to you , and then you do something like that, they're usually a hundred percent the other way, kind of to compensate. He got me other jobs, and kept telling everybody what a tremendous genius I was, saying, "He fixes radios by thinking!" The whole idea of thinking, to fix a radio - a little boy stops and thinks, and figures out how to do it - he never thought that was possible.

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He obtained his PhD from the Princeton University; his biographer James Gleick wrote: " At twenty-three ... there was no physicist on earth who could match his exuberant command over the native materials of theoretical science." When Feynman gave his first seminar at Princeton, Albert Einstein came to listen. In WWII Feynman joined the Manhattan project building the first nuclear weapons; at age 24 he was appointed a group leader at Los Alamos.

Feynman and the Bomb:

“Soon [others] will be able to do to Columbus, Ohio, what we did to Hiroshima. And we scientists are clever – too clever – are you not satisfied? Is four square miles in one bomb not enough? Just tell us how big you want it!”

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In 1965 he received the Nobel prize for his fundamental contribution to Quantum Electrodynamics - the “QED” theory that explains, in Dirac words, "much of physics and all of chemistry“.

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Gradually, Feynman developed an extraordinary teaching ability (witness the famous "Feynman Lectures on Physics" and the Oerstead Medal. With his easily recognizable accent of a "philosopher from Brooklyn", he mixed the most advanced concepts in physics with jokes, clever ideas and deep insights into human condition.

On the first day of class, Scott recalled, "in the hall, there were 183 new freshman and a bowling ball hanging from the three-story ceiling to just above the floor. Feynman walked in, and without a word, grabbed the ball and backed against the wall with the ball touching his nose. He let go, and the ball swung slowly 60 feet across the room and back--stopping naturally, just short of crushing his face. Then he took the ball again, stepped forward, and said: 'I wanted to show you that I believe in what I'm going to teach you over the next two years."

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Alan Harris writes:

"Perhaps my most striking memory of a Feynman lecture was not of one I attended, but of one being prepared for the class ahead of me. I was doing my weekly lab work in the freshman physics lab. At one point, as I walked out into the hall to get a drink of water, I heard a familiar voice coming from the lecture room at the other end of the hall. I peeked in to discover Feynman practicing to an empty lecture hall the lecture he was to deliver an hour or so later. It was a full dress rehearsal, with all the gestures, enthusiasm, and chalkboard notations. The excellent choreography [of his lectures] was no accident. What impressed me so deeply was that here was the world's most famous living physicist taking such care to present this material to lower-division undergraduates."

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Feynman and philosophy

Feynman was openly hostile toward scholarly philosophy, and did not hesitate to express his opinions clearly. There is this story about the whole Philosophy department marching out of the middle of a lecture he was invited to give at some university (there is some evidence that it was in fact the UW Department of Psychology during Feynman’s visit here).. And yet, he was quite a philosopher himself, his "Brooklyn" accent and all. It often seems as if he wanted to show what a "folk-philosopher" can contribute. And indeed - I find myself touched - both intellectually as well as emotionally – more by Feynman's "amateurish" rumbling on imagination, doubt and God, than by learned, scholarly papers and books by specialists. It is a great mind that speaks - as Marvin Goldberger writes in "Most of the good stuff“:

[for Feynman] "it didn't matter what the subject was; everything was challenge to be understood, and usually in a totally unexpected way. He approached problems with the attitude of a brilliant child unencumbered with inhibitions of previous knowledge".

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And part of Feynman attraction to the public, and his problem with the “scholars”, was his plain language.

From “Is Electricity Fire” in “Classic Feynman”:

When Feynman participated in an interdisciplinary conference, the stenographer said to him: “Surely you are not a professor?”. “Why do you think so? “. Well, “when the other fellas talk, I type what they say, but I don’t understand what they’re saying. But every time you get up to ask a question or to say something, I understand exactly what you mean ... so I thought you can’t be a professor.”

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In his "extracurricular activities" Feynman cracked a Mayan code, played bongo drums and planned a trip to Tuva to hear the art of throat singing. In 1986, he helped solve the Challenger space shuttle disaster on live TV during the Committee Hearing.

In addition to the work that was rewarded by a Nobel Prize in Physics (1964), Feynman wrote a short paper that is considered as the foundation of the whole new field of Nanotechnology,

and another short paper that is considered as a foundation of the whole new field of Quantum Computing.

His bongo drumming was competent (and enthusiastic) and his drawing and paintings were interesting (even exhibited and sold …).

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In personal life Feynman was a loving husband, then a wild womanizer, then loving husband again.

Here is how Freeman Dyson describes a 1946 cross-country trip when they were caught up in a storm:

"The hotels were filled to capacity with stranded travelers. We were lucky to find a room which Dick and I could share for 50 cents each. In that little room, with the rain drumming on the dirty window panes, we talked the night through. Dick talked of his dead wife, of the joy he had had in nursing her and making her last days tolerable, of the tricks they played together on the Los Alamos security people, of her jokes and courage. He talked of death with the easy familiarity which can come only to one who has lived with spirit unbroken through the worst that death can do."

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He was modest and self-aggrandizing at the same time.

Feynman's colleague at Caltech and fellow Nobel Prize winner Murray Gell-Mann wrote:

"[Feynman] surrounded himself with a cloud of myth, and he spent a great deal of time and energy generating anecdotes about himself. ... Many of the anecdotes arose, of course, through the stories Richard told, of which he was generally the hero, and in which he had to come out, if possible, looking smarter than anyone else.“

Somewhat strangely, Gell-Mann wrote this in Feynman’s obituary. Most colleagues would choose different occasion for such a reminiscence, or a different reminiscence for such an occasion – but this was Murray Gell-Mann ….

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He was very kind and thoughtful most of the time, but very rude some of the time.

In 1966 a Swedish encyclopedia publisher wrote asking for a photograph of Feynman "beating the drum" to give "a human approach to a presentation of the difficult matter that theoretical physics represents." This was his reply:

Dear Sir,The fact that I beat a drum has nothing to do with the fact that I do theoretical physics. Theoretical physics is a human endeavor, one of the higher developments of human beings, and the perpetual desire to prove that people who do it are human by showing that they do other things that a few other humans do (like playing bongo drums) is insulting to me.I am human enough to tell you to go to hell.Yours, RPF

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A complaint about his behavior, from a Caltech colleague:

Dear Dr. Feynman,I believe that your comments at last week's Physics Colloquium were arrogant, rude, and disruptive. In addition your attitude appeared to encourage students (or post-docs?) sitting near you. Their persistent giggling and snickering was annoying and rude. Please consider this.I remain, however, a great admirer of yours.Sincerely, Heidi Houston.

Feynman replied by an Interoffice memorandum:

Thank you for your observations on my behavior at the Colloquium. You are probably right.---------------------

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… on the other hand:

Feynman's thoughtful reply to a letter from a scholar from the Humanities:

Dear Mrs. Kamp,Thank you for your fan letter.There are certainly more mysteries than knowledge and, perhaps, more ways of finding things out than science. I like science because when you think of something you can check it by experiment; "yes" or "no", Nature says, and you go from there progressively. Other wisdom has no equally certain way of separating truth from falsehood. So I have taken the easy course with easy methods, while [you] are pursuing far more difficult matters with less to guide you.

Good luck with your endeavors.Sincerely, Richard P. Feynman

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And an apology to Swedish people:

And so, you Swedish people, with your honors, and your trumpets, and your king - forgive me. For I understand at last - such things provide entrance to the heart. Used by a wise and peaceful people they can generate good feeling, even love, among men, even in lands far beyond your own. For that lesson, I thank you. Tack![1]

[1] Tack = Thank you in Swedish

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Since 1978, Feynman went through four major surgeries for his cancer, with remarkable courage and equanimity. He died on February 15, 1988.

Richard Feynman was an extraordinary human being, and to study the complexities of his life may help you to deal with the complexities of your own.


End of the Feynman Facts Illustrated

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Central Mystery

Of Quantum Physics……

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Example of Modern Physics: The Central Mystery of Quantum Physics

1) click, click,..

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Example of Modern Physics: The Central Mystery of Quantum Physics

2) No clicks

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Example of Modern Physics: The Central Mystery of Quantum Physics

3) click, click, …

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Example of Modern Physics: The Central Mystery of Quantum Physics

4) No clicks

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So, we conclude (paraphrasing Einstein) that the most incomprehensible thing about quantum mechanics is that it appears to be comprehensible.

Some 30 years ago, physicists (following Feynman) decided to stop agonizing about the mystery of Quantum, and took it as resource to be exploited => the field of Quantum Computing was born.

And we warn you to beware of claims such as:

“We now know that the moon is demonstrably not there when nobody looks.”Quantum Physics says goodbye to reality.

Your observation not only creates a current reality, it also creates the history appropriate to that reality."

And especially: do not take seriously concepts such as:

Knocking on Heaven’s doorBeing on the threshold of reading His thoughts

The God Particle

These are signs of arrogance, ignorance or just a bad taste, and some would say blasphemy.

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Grand Tour: At Home in the Universe

the extremely small:       antiprotons, quarks, neutrinos, ...

the extremely large:      Sun / galaxies / superclusters of galaxies

the extremely fast:      Einstein's Special Relativity: simultaneity/spacetime

the extremely massive:      Einstein's General Relativity: Black Holes

And, in the middle of all scales, the extremely complex:      Molecular Biology / human brain / Art of Fugue

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Slide to keep in mind during the Tour

It is a great adventure to contemplate the universe beyond man, to think of what it means without man - as it was for the great part of its long history, and as it is in the great majority of places. When this objective view is finally attained, and the mystery and majesty of matter are appreciated, to then turn the objective eye back on man viewed as matter, to see life as part of the universal mystery of greatest depth, is to sense an experience which is rarely described.

Richard Feynman

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Tracks of “elementary particles” (proton, anti-proton, electron, positron , …) in a liguid hydrogen Bubble Chamber.

Size of an anti-proton is about 0.000,000,000,001 m.

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Fig. 19: Marvelous Molecular machines.

Left: “spontaneous” assembly and disassembly of a microtubule.

Above: a kinesin molecule[sic] walks[sic] along a microtubule, carrying an organelle

Both pix from inside(!) a cell of dia ~ 0.000,010 m

See http://multimedia.mcb.harvard.edu/anim_innerlife_hi.html

And recall spliceosome, topoisomerase, aminoacyl tRNA synthetase, ribosome,…

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Our Sun, 8 light minutes away, about 1,400,000 km in diameter (cf. Earth 12,000 km dia)

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Stars orbiting a black hole (with a mass of 3.6 million Suns) in center of Milky Way, 26,000 light years away. (You have to view this in the slide show mode to see the animation.)

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The Andromeda Galaxy:

2 million light years away. The most distant object visible by naked eye (you have to know where to look, and find a really dark place, but the experience is very much worth it!)

Note: for details on when and how to see Andromeda, see

http://www.physics.ucla.edu/ ~huffman/m31.html

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Each white dot represent a galaxy (with about 100 billions stars each) as determined by the measurement results of the “2df galaxy survey”. Note the distance scale.

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Black hole (2.6 billion Suns) at the center of galaxy M87, 54 million light years away. The faint yellow cloud is the galaxy itself; the visible dots are globular star clusters (see next slide).

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Globular cluster Omega Centauri

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Hubble Ultra Deep Field, with galaxies up to 13 billion light years away

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Only one thing comes to mind:

• Psalm 19.1• [For the choir director; a psalm by David.] The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky displays what his hands have made.

and this comes to mind of believer and an (educated) unbeliever alike

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In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, "This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed"? A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Carl Sagan in Pale Blue Dot

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  Science and Religion, Doubt and Faith.“For the student, when he learns about science, there are two sources of difficulty in trying to weld science and reli gion together. The first source of difficulty is this - that it is imperative in science to doubt; it is absolutely necessary, for progress in science, to have uncertainty as a fundamental part of your inner nature.

The second difficulty: “Man is a late comer in a vast evolving drama; can the rest be but a scaf folding for his creation? … [The scientific views] appear to be so deep and so impressive that the theory that it is all arranged simply as a stage for God to watch man's struggle for good and evil seems to be inadequate.”

   It is our responsibility as scientists, knowing the great progress which comes from a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, the great progress which is the fruit of freedom of thought, to proclaim the value of this freedom; to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed and discussed; and to demand this freedom as our duty to all coming generations.“

Richard Feynman

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Science and Spirituality (as seen by VC)

• Science is compatible with Faith. • Example: Francis Collins, Director of NIH:• Slide 1: “Almighty God, who is not limited in

space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time.”

• Slide 2: “God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that creative plan included human beings.”

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• Slide 3: “After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’ (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the moral law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.”

• Slide 4: “We humans used our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement.”

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But the principal aspect of evolution is suffering.

Carl Sagan:

“In many nonhuman mammals, brothers and sisters of the same litter compete for access to nipples; often, there is a least competent infant, unsuccessful in elbowing its way to a nipple —the runt of the litter, who becomes progressively weaker with each failed attempt to nurse. Such competitions weed out the weak. Concern about cruelty and suffering doesn't, so far as we know, enter into it.”

So, are you really comfortable with a God using Evolution as His tool?

Note that this is not “Problem of Evil”, this is Problem of Suffering”.

(And then you perhaps feel some empathy towards the consistent creationists!)

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• So science is compatible with Faith • (or rather: Faith “can” be made compatible with

Science if you try hard enough, and if you interpret the Scriptures flexibly enough)

• But Science does not emphasize Faith• Science emphasizes the importance of Doubt

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Important Note:

Feynman was a non-combative atheist. Recall, from the end of our Common Book: "I don't agree [with religion], and I will not ridicule it, and I won't argue it." In this he is similar to Einstein or even to the (old) Darwin, and very different from the "New Atheists" such as Dawkins (The God Delusion), Harris (The End of Faith ) or Hitchens (God is not Great).

"Today we cannot see whether [physics] contains frogs, musical composers, or morality - or whether it does not. We cannot say whether something beyond it like God is needed, or not. And so we can all hold strong opinion either way".

(R. Feynman)

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Spirituality by the Road Less Taken(Summary by VC)

The worldview that Science inspires (does not prove or provide, just inspires):

Not faith, but spirituality

Not traditional, revealed religion: too arrogant – “Man was created to God’s image”

Not secular humanism: too arrogant – “Man is the measure of everything”

Instead: Deep, humble spirituality, valuing Doubt and loving Search

In short: in this view, traditional religions are NOT too spiritual or too humble;but rather: they are NOT SPIRITUAL ENOUGH, and TOO ARROGANT(they “know” the truth already.)

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Excerpt from Prelude in E-Flat MinorFrom Disturbing the Universe by Freeman Dyson

As a mathematically inclined child born into a musical family, I was intrigued by the intricacies of musical notations long before I developed any real understanding of music. At an early age I found my father's copy of Bach's forty-eight Preludes and Fugues for the well-tuned piano, and studied carefully the arrangements of sharps and flats in the key signatures. My father explained to me how Bach worked his way twice through all the twenty-four major and minor keys. … [I was] fascinated by double sharps and double flats. Why is there a special sign for a double sharp but none for a double flat? My father did not know … . I was giving him a hard time with my questions. I noticed that Prelude No. 3 in C-sharp major is the first one that has double sharps in it, and Prelude No. 8 in E-flat minor is the first one that has a double flat. ..I asked my father to play No. 3 and No. 8 so that I could hear what double sharps and double flats sounded like. I never grew tired of hearing the delicious sound of that B double flat[1] in Prelude No. 8. Quite apart from its unique key signature and its double flat, it is also outstanding musically. It is pure Bach, and yet it carries a distinctive intensity of feeling that foreshadows Beethoven[2].

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[1] This “delicious sound of B double flat (Bbb)” is in fact identical to that of the ordinary A – in fact, that is exactly what it is [DEMO]. In measure 26 of the Prelude in E-flat minor (with its six flats) Bach modulates to E Major which normally has four sharps. The chord E G# B [DEMO] and the sequence E B A G# [DEMO] in the key of E Major is therefore rendered as Fb Ab Cb and Fb Cb Bbb Ab in the key of Eb minor. This is not to be confused with the expert discussions of the difference between for example D# and Eb – in this case, the piece simply modulates to the key of E Major.[2] In Vladi’s opinion, a much better comparison of this great Bach (1685-1750) piece than Beethoven (1770-1827) is with the Etude # 7 in C sharp minor, from Etudes Op. 25 by Frederic Chopin (1810-1849). Both pieces have the structure of a duet between the right hand and the left hand [DEMO] and both have the same melancholy but intense feeling. If anything, it is the Bach piece is closer to modern sensitivity, although Chopin is heartbreaking in its sentimental expression.

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J.S.Bach Preludio in Eb minor (#8 from Well Tempered Clavier Book I, BWV 853)

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Frederick Chopin Etude in C# minor

(an extract from Op. 25 #7)

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Back to Freeman Dyson:

I used to talk a great deal with my father, especially during the early years of the war, about the morality of fighting and killing. Many years later I was reminded of these discussions between me and my father when I read the transcript of Oppenheimer's security hearing. The dramatic climax of the three-week hearing came near the end, when the physicist Edward Teller appeared as a witness for the prosecution and confronted Oppenheimer face to face. Teller was asked directly whether he considered Oppenheimer to be a .security risk. He answered with carefully chosen words: "I thoroughly disagreed with him in numerous issues and his actions frankly appeared to me confused and complicated. To this extent I feel that I would like to see the vital interests of this country in hands which I understand better, and therefore trust more. …. By lending his voice to the cause of Oppenheimer's enemies, [Teller] had lost not only the friendship but the respect of many of his colleagues. He was portrayed by newspaper writers and cartoonists as a Judas, a man who had betrayed his leader for the sake of personal gain. A careful reading of his testimony at the trial shows that he intended no personal betrayal. He wanted only to destroy Oppenheimer's political power, not to damage Oppenheimer personally. But the mood of that time made such fine distinctions meaningless.

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In the summer of 1955 I rented a big house in Berkeley for my growing family. The house that we rented for the summer stood on the hill over looking the Berkeley campus. … One Sunday morning we went for a walk up the hill, leaving the house open as usual. When we came back through the trees to the house, we heard a strange sound coming through the open door. The children stopped their chatter and we all stood out side the door and listened. It was my old friend from long ago, Bach's Prelude No. 8 in E-flat minor. Superbly played. Played just the way my father used to play it. For a moment I was completely disoriented. I thought: What the devil is my father doing here in California? We stood in front of our Berkeley house and listened to that prelude. Whoever was playing it, he was putting into it his whole heart and soul. … We waited until the music came to an end and then walked in. There, sitting at the piano, was Edward Teller. We asked him to go on playing, but he excused himself. He said he had come to invite us to a party at his house and had happened to see that fine piano begging to be played. We accepted the invitation and he went on his way. That was the first time I had spoken with him since our encounter six years earlier in Chicago. I decided that no matter what the judgment of history upon this man might be, I had no cause to consider him my enemy.

Freeman Dyson in Disturbing the Universe

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………… So, what is the Meaning of It All?

Remarkably enough, the summary of the Feynman 1963 Lectures at the UW was given eight years earlier, in Feynman's address ("The value of science") to the 1955 autumn meeting of the National Academy of Sciences. It was the kind of address usually given by Nobel Prize winners; this one was given full ten years before winning the prize in 1965. It contains, often word per word, the most important parts of the text of our Common Book. The ending of the addresses the question of "the meaning of it all":

"Through all ages of our past, people have tried to fathom the meaning of life.  They have realized that if some direction or meaning could be given to our actions, great human forces would be unleashed.  So very many answers have been given to the question of the meaning of it all.  But the answers have been of all different sorts, and the proponents of one answer have looked with horror at the actions of the believers in another ........


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What, then, is the meaning of it all? If we take everything into account - not only what the ancients knew, but all of what we know today that they didn't know - then I think we must frankly admit that we do not know.

Now you may feel a sort of a disappointment: after great headline

“What is the Meaning of It All?”you are told

“I don’t know”

But Feynman’s “I don’t know” is loaded with meaning. He continues:

I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.

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We are at the very beginning of time for the human race.  It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems.  But there are tens of thousands of years in the future.  Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on.  It is our responsibility to leave the people of the future a free hand. 

Richard Feynman

To which I add: yes, there are tens of thousands of years in the future – but only if we don’t cut it short by our own foolishness. This is the topic of a major new course on Science and Society I am teaching, and all I can tell you today is that I think Feynman would likely agree. He approvingly quoted the Buddhist teaching:

To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven; the same key opens the gates of hell.

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Closing on the conclusions: a “poem in prose” by James Gleick:

[Richard Feynman] taught himself how to hold a crowd with his not-jazz, not-ethnic improvisational drumming, and how to sustain a two-handed polyrhythm of not just the usual three against two and four against three but - astonishing to classical musicians - even seven against six and thirteen against twelve. He taught himself how to write Chinese, a skill acquired specifically to annoy his sister and limited therefore to the characters for "elder brother also speaks". ... He taught himself how to discourage autograph seekers and refuse lecture invitations, how to hide from colleagues with administrative requests, how force everything from his field of vision except for his research problem of the moment, how to hold off the special terrors of aging that shadow scientists, then how to live with cancer, and how to surrender to it."

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And we give the last word to Richard Feynman himself, with an excerpt from his "science poem“ that starts with:

... I stand here at the seashore, alone, and start to think.

The poem ends with:

Out of the cradle onto dry land here it is standing:

atoms with consciousness; matter with curiosity.

Stands at the sea,wonders at wondering: Ia universe of atomsan atom in the universe.