by Richard Feynman (May 10, 2013)
I have a friend who is an artist, and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “Look how beautiful it is” and I’ll agree. And he says: “you see, as an artist I can see how beautiful this is, but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing.” And I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe, although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is, but I can appreciate the beauty of a flower.
At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there. The complicated actions, which also have a beauty. I mean, it’s not just beauty at this dimension of one centimeter, there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions. The inner structure, also the processes, the fact that the colors and the flower are evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting. It means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: Is this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which with science, knowledge, only adds to the excitement, and mystery, and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.
If you expected science to give all the answers to the wonderful questions about what we are, where we are going, what the meaning of the universe is, and so on, then I think you could easily become disillusioned and look for some mystic answer to these problems. How a scientist can take a mystic answer, I don’t know, the whole spirit is to understand… Well, never mind that, I mean I don’t understand that.
The way I think of it is that we are exploring, we’re trying to find out as much as we can about the world. People say to me “Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?” No I’m not, I’m just looking to find out more about the world, and if it turns out there is a simple ultimate law that explains everything, so be it. That would be very nice to discover. If it turns out it’s like an onion with millions of layers, and we’re just sick and tired of looking at the layers, then that’s the way it is. But whatever way it comes out, nature is there and she’s going to come out the way she is. Therefore, when we go to investigate it, we shouldn’t pre-decide what it is we’re trying to do except to find out more about it.
You see, one thing is: 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. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything, and there are many things I don’t know anything about. But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things. By being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose which is the way it really is as far as I could tell possible. It doesn’t frighten me. And so altogether I can’t believe the special stories that have been made up about our relationship to the universe at large because they seem to be too simple, too local, to provincial. The Earth, he came to the Earth! _One_ of the aspects of God came to the Earth, mind you. And look at what’s out there, it isn’t in proportion.
Anyway, it’s no use arguing, I can’t argue it. I’m just trying to tell you: with the scientific view, with my father’s view that we should look to see what’s true and what may not be true. Once you start doubting, which to me is a very fundamental part of my soul, is to doubt, and to ask. When you doubt and ask, it gets a little harder to believe.