Feynman’s Science Poetry

February 1st, 2003

Here are beautiful, inspiring, big-picture thoughts about the value of science, from the father of nanotechnology, Nobel laureate physicist Richard P. Feynman:

…I would like not to underestimate the value of the world view which is the result of scientific effort. We have been led to imagine all sorts of things infinitely more marvelous than the imaginings of poets and dreamers of the past. It shows that the imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man.

For instance, how much more remarkable it is for us all to be stuck — half of us upside down — by a mysterious attraction to a spinning ball that has been swinging in space for billions of years than to be carried on the back of an elephant supported on a tortoise swimming in a bottomless sea… I hope you will excuse me if I remind you of this type of thought that I am sure many of you have had, which no one could ever have had in the past because people then didn’t have the information we have about the world today.

For instance, I stand at the seashore, alone, and start to think:

There are the rushing waves
mountains of molecules
each stupidly minding its own business
trillions apart
yet forming white surf in unison.

Ages on ages
before any eyes could see
year after year
thunderously pounding the shore as now.

For whom, for what?
On a dead planet
with no life to entertain.

Never at rest, tortured by energy
wasted prodigiously by the sun
poured into space.

A mite makes the sea roar.

Deep in the sea
all molecules repeat
the patterns of one another
till complex new ones are formed.

They make others like themselves
and a new dance starts.

Growing in size and complexity,
living things,
masses of atoms,
DNA, protein,
dancing a pattern ever more intricate,
out of the cradle,
onto dry land,
here It is standing:

atoms with consciousness;
matter with curiosity.

Stands at the sea,
wonders at wondering:

I, a universe of atoms,
an atom in the universe.

The same thrill, the same awe and mystery, comes again and again when we look at any question deeply enough. With more knowledge comes a deeper, more wonderful mystery, luring one on to penetrate deeper still.

Never concerned that the answer may prove disappointing, with pleasure and confidence we turn each new stone to find unimagined strangeness leading on to more wonderful questions and mysteries — certainly a grand adventure!

It is true that few unscientific people have this particular type of religious experience. Our poets do not write about it; our artists do not try to portray this remarkable thing. I don’t know why.

Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe?

This value of science remains unsung by singers: you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it.

This is not yet a scientific age.

Feynman made this speech to the National Academy of Sciences — in 1955!

I read this in a great book of Feynman thought: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out and the Meaning of It All.

7 Responses to “Feynman’s Science Poetry”

  1. comment number 1 by: ip address

    please post more comments, I will visit this site again

  2. comment number 2 by: Marco Mahler

    Adding my science poetry:

    From “Fields”

    there’s so much beauty in science that alliances
    collapse and perhaps
    cease to be abstract
    and become one with my wife
    alive i dive into solitude again and there’s no end
    cause without infinity nothing exists
    so i persist

    the senses perception is past conception will last
    the vast ignorance, delivers the difference
    between reflecting gases in front of dark space and the sky

  3. comment number 3 by: AD

    Hello. I just wanted to give a quick greeting and tell you I enjoyed reading your material.

  4. comment number 4 by: HGH

    Thank you, I just wanted to give a greeting and tell you I like your website very much.

  5. comment number 5 by: Tuhin Bhowmick

    Hi, Just wanted to say, a genius needs no definition, cuase they are born to defy them…

    ..Richard p Feynman, a genius at his best..Will definitely like to see more about him, keep up the good work.

  6. comment number 6 by: Google

    I for one would certainly be interested on how this pans out. Another “feature” that can be handy is “trackbacks”. They are a form of a reference.

  7. comment number 7 by: Google

    for what is the button “decode”
    Search Google