What did Richard Feynman mean when he said, "Without mathematics, physics would be a few weeks behind schedule"?

Updated on : January 21, 2022 by Evan Griffiths



What did Richard Feynman mean when he said, "Without mathematics, physics would be a few weeks behind schedule"?

I do not know your quote, but let me quote the pertinent observations of Bill Gaede from his website Eng in relation to mathematics in physics:

“They usurp big titles like 'physicist' and 'scientist', but don't be fooled. The members of the establishment are simply mathematicians. Mathematical physicists have become the priests of the modern world, listening to your petty confessions about how you think the world works and then making it clear to you, telling you how the Universe "really" works. Authority no longer emanates from the Bible. Now flow from variables, equations and numbness

Keep reading

I do not know your quote, but let me quote the pertinent observations of Bill Gaede from his website Eng in relation to mathematics in physics:

“They usurp big titles like 'physicist' and 'scientist', but don't be fooled. The members of the establishment are simply mathematicians. Mathematical physicists have become the priests of the modern world, listening to your petty confessions about how you think the world works and then making it clear to you, telling you how the Universe "really" works. Authority no longer emanates from the Bible. Now it flows from variables, equations, and numbers.

However, it turns out that mathematics is NOT the language of physics or science. In fact, mathematics has absolutely nothing to do with physics and very little to do with science. Mathematics is a language like Mandarin is a language. Would it make any sense to say that Mandarin is the language of physics? A mathematician has no more authority to draw conclusions about the physical world from a set of functions than a medieval priest had to prescribe indulgences according to his particular interpretation of the Bible. In fact, mathematics is a language that makes people stupid. By definition, a stupid person is someone who has no common sense, and all relativists, Mechanics and string theorists freely admit that they have long since abandoned their collective common sense. A mathematical physicist is an individual who has put all his faith in equations at the expense of rationality. He no longer has the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy. The layman follows suit and holds him in high esteem simply because the mathematician is a celebrity.

Do not misunderstand. I am not saying that there is something wrong with the equations and functions that mathematicians use to describe physical phenomena. I'm saying they are irrelevant. You can describe the motion of a ball with a set of symbols ... but only if you know first that the invisible entity is a ball. If what your equation describes really looks like a spring or rubber band, or we are inadvertently describing the signal propagating along a barber's pole, your equation doesn't make sense ... "

Well, first of all, I can't find that quote.

Also, it is incorrect English: "behind" is not a construction found in English.

(Update October 25: The OP was translating "la fisica sarebbe indietro di alcune settimane", so the construction falls from Italian => English).

Maybe you meant something like "Without math, progress in physics would only be delayed a few weeks," but I can't find that (or anything like that) in Feynman's writings.

What he said is this:

For those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to convey
a real feeling in terms of beauty, the deepest beauty of nature.

Keep reading

Well, first of all, I can't find that quote.

Also, it is incorrect English: "behind" is not a construction found in English.

(Update October 25: The OP was translating "la fisica sarebbe indietro di alcune settimane", so the construction falls from Italian => English).

Maybe you meant something like "Without math, progress in physics would only be delayed a few weeks," but I can't find that (or anything like that) in Feynman's writings.

What he said is this:

For those who do not know mathematics, it is difficult to convey
a real feeling in terms of beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature ...

If you want to learn about nature, appreciate nature, it
is necessary to understand the language that it speaks in.

Dr. Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law (1965), ch. 2


People who are intimidated by math tend to forget how skilled Feynman was at it. At Princeton, his talent in mathematics stood out even among other elite physicists. Remember, this was a man who, in high school, was learning calculus on his own from Woods' Advanced Calculus, a book written for college juniors!

Cf: Richard Feynman on the differences between mathematics and physics

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