Richard Feynman once said: ‘You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing – that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.’
‘No one was more adept at making science fun and interesting than Richard Feynman,’ Bill Gates said a few years ago after he bought the film rights to the 1964 Messenger Lectures by the celebrated American physicist. The BBC filmed the series of seven lectures, delivered at Cornell University under the collective title of The Character of Physical Law, a year before Feynman received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his part in the development of quantum electrodynamics.
One of the most imaginative and charismatic scientists of the 20th century, Feynman argues that the importance of a physical law is not ‘how clever we are to have found it out, but . . . how clever nature is to pay attention to it’ and looks at the elegance and simplicity of all scientific laws.
After Gates bought the film rights, he made the lectures were made freely available. ‘Feynman worked hard during his life to popularize science, so I’m sure he’d be thrilled that now anyone, anywhere in the world, can just click a button and experience his lectures,’ Gates said at the time.
Here’s a real treat, before the days of exotic locations or cgi in science programmes, just Feynman in action: