Re: Re: Feynman and I (16/06/18 01:27:15)
This post reminded me of my attempt to make it through the Feynman lectures a few years ago. I didn't make it through very many (maybe 7 or 8) before I realized I'd get more out of it by knowing more math first and I set the project aside, but I remember that question (or perhaps just a similar one) and have hunted it down.
Feynman posed the question in his first lecture: "If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?" in the first of his lectures on physics as a kind of thought experiment to illustrate how much information is packed into his statement. His reply was "that all things are made of atoms--little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another." See link for his that lecture: http://www.feynmanlectures.caltech.edu/I_01.html#Ch1-S2 the rest of his lecture is the other things he claims can be deduced from that information and why he picked it. Those lectures are a fascinating read, more for how he explains things and the approach he takes to solving problems, than the physics itself. So it isn't so much the utility that he was after as efficient encoding of information.
Feynman did a sabbatical one year studying the microbiology or the genetics of the bacteriophage, so he had at least some idea of biology. I haven't read the paper he contributed to, but here's a link to it in the event someone wants to read it
In terms of pure usefulness I think your statement is a good one, though the scientific method itself could also be a good contender.
If I might address the philosophy as an apologist (not for the Greek stuff, but in general)
Greek philosophy is significant, I think, only because it is the first (recorded time in the West at least) that humans started inquiring about cosmogony, and cosmology outside of a religious context. But I agree with you that it isn't particular useful as a subject now. When they realized those were very difficult things to determine answers about, they moved on to human questions like what is a good life, and how should society be organized to foster such a life (politics)--which are also very difficult to find answers to or perhaps implement. There are a few underappreciated gems though: Heraclitus (who I think was on to something), Pyrrho (because a healthy dose of skepticism does one good sometimes, but Pyrrho is skeptical enough that one must start to fight it oneself and find things that can be known), and Diogenes the cynic (mostly because he lived a colorful life and that is a bright spot in an otherwise full subject).
In fairness to philosophy, most of which leaves something to be desired if one is after a definitive answer, most of the non-modern stuff is significant not for its content now, but because of how it changed how humans think about the world. Reading it makes one think not only about what is said, but also the meaning, implications, context, and why it was/is being said. I am always curious about the philosophers that don't get much study, why do some ideas persist and other fade? It cannot be just the ideas, because the Greeks are still around..
Philosophy might be to ideas what science is to the world--a method of weeding out inconsistencies to approximate truth.
There is something interesting in the premise of Feynman's question how to convey the most information in the fewest words.
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