Roving Reporter George Packard Returns from Vacation

Bumba, editor-in-chief of Bumbastories, raised his head and grunted as George Packard strolled into the Bumbastories newsroom.

“So George,” he sighed, “Did you bring back any stories, any SCOOPS, from your European vacation? Did you obtain any inside information on the refuge situation in Greece and Macedonia, any good interviews, reports from the field. Anything on the current  financial crisis? Any scoops, George? Any Breaking News?”

“Well. Nothing you could call a scoop, Bumba. But definitely…….”

“George, please don’t tell me you brought back some photos of the beach again. Don’t tell me you found a scoop on the beach. I can’t run that story again. This isn’t funny, George. Look. Here I am. Your employer. Paying you an honest wage in expectation of some decent journalism here and there……”

“Wait a second, there, Bumba. Last time I looked you’ve never paid me any sort of honest wages. In fact, according to my latest calculations, the sum total of all my wages here at Bumbastories is a big fat zero, like nothing, like nada. Zilch. Gurrnisht.”

“Honest wages is what I said. Where’s the honest work, huh George?”

George walked over to his desk, which was across the aisle from Bumba’s, and sat down in his old office chair.

“I was thinking, my dear editor, of doing a piece on physics: a little piece on Richard Feynman. I’ve been reading some of his lectures….”

Bumba commented; “Yeah I once saw some Utubes and Teds about him. Yeah, Feynman’s an interesting guy. Not a bad story, George. Go with it. Quite a guy, he was.”

The Character of Physical Law, by Richard Feynman, MIT Press 1965 ; A Book Review by George Packard

Richard Feynman, the famous, celebrated and beloved theoretical physicist, Nobel Prize winner and a Bronx/Queens alumnus, also happened to have been a magnificent teacher. Several of the great scientists have seen it as their duty to explain science to the public. They are true teachers. And we thank them.

Certainly we must thank Feynman for his clear and illuminating instruction. The Character of Physical Law presents seven lectures delivered to a class of MIT college students in1965 about this most interesting of subjects: What is the nature, the character, of the laws that describe nature?

Feynman takes as his example, his starting point, perhaps the greatest of the physical laws, Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. Early in the book, Feynmann lets us know that in order to fully understand these laws you need the math, that there is no getting around the math. He explains that the lay person can read books that claim to explain physics without the math. The poor reader goes from book to book but is always stymied, always runs up against a wall. (A personal note: This reviewer can definitely attest to that wall!) Anyhow, Feynman gives it to us straight: “It can’t be done”. The laws of the universe are written in math.

Without much difficult math, though, and without too many diagrams, Feynman explores Newton’s Laws and then addresses the concept of symmetry and the relation of symmetry to these universal laws. He talks passionately about the process of science: the need to test theory via experiment and careful verification. Feynman is a scientist through and through. Quantum physics, Feynman’s strong suit, is at last introduced and Feynman is once again blunt (but benevolently so), as he explains that quantum physics can’t be understood. Without much apology or further introduction he presents the now-familar saga of the double slit experiment. Here, I must say that I’ve read better and clearer explanations elswhere. The graphics could have been better. Otherwise this is a terrific little book.

There are several passages in this book that I did not understand. Nonetheless it was a delightful read. Feynman is able to capture the gist of an argument. He is able to explain physics in words we all can understand. (I speak in the present tense, but Richard Feynman died in 1988). He is able to communicate with his mercurial style and with his welcome New York accent, some of the beauty, the delight if you will, of the science of physics and of this great natural world of which we are a part.

Fighting  Losing Battle But Having a Lot of Fun Trying to Win!

Finally, a song to set us on our way. It’s Brownie McGee’s Fighting  Losing Battle But Having a Lot of Fun Trying to Win, an fitting cover for our math studies, and good advice for any “artist” out there.

A pleasant week to all!