All three volumes of The Feynman Lectures on Physics are now online.
August 25, 2014 3:48 PM   Subscribe

The Feynman Lectures on Physics All three volumes of The Feynman Lectures on Physics are now online. A fantastic resource for anyone interested in Feynman or physics in general. (Previously, when the first volume was available.)
posted by citizenoftheworld (24 comments total) 131 users marked this as a favorite

We need this. Now people need to read them. Please youth of America, read this rad shit. Before it's too late.
posted by Splunge at 3:52 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]

Holy shit. So rad. I'll be back in about 10 years!
posted by nevercalm at 3:58 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]

Best thing ever.
posted by aroweofshale at 4:10 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]

So they online for good?
posted by cjorgensen at 4:16 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]

I hope so since they specifically deny the right to download them for offline use.
posted by citizenoftheworld at 4:18 PM on August 25 [3 favorites]

Maybe someone should carve them into stone just in case civilization collapses and our eventual descendents can read them and realize they are dumb asses like me who dont get physics. Because it would too bad if that feeling was lost.
posted by shothotbot at 4:20 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]

shothotbot, as a dumbass English major I would have to say, "Surely You Are Joking, Mr. Feynman," and "The Meaning of it All" should be required reading for anyone who wants to breathe. I would also suggest watching the lecture where he explains why the first shuttle blew up. They rest is too mathy for for me, but I will give these a try.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:21 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]

Well, I'm no physics major but since this is my first FPP, I'll do my best to answer any questions anyone might post here :-)
posted by citizenoftheworld at 4:22 PM on August 25

Excellent, and about time. And maybe now that this is out of the way, they can get around at last to publishing the really important stuff, namely Feynman's later lectures: "Mainly Bongos" and "Mainly How to Meet Chicks (Parts I - IX)." (Just kidding. I love the guy.)
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 4:23 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]

...The concept of a molecule of a substance is only approximate and exists only for a certain class of substances. It is clear in the case of water that the three atoms are actually stuck together. It is not so clear in the case of sodium chloride in the solid. There is just an arrangement of sodium and chlorine ions in a cubic pattern. There is no natural way to group them as “molecules of salt.”


brb demanding refund on all previous physics classes
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:34 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]

Feynman is not my hero.

I got a big red set of Feynman's lectures as a single-digit-th birthday present. I cherish my copy because of the memories it holds, and someday I will finish working through it. But his memoirs and letters have no place on a decent person's bookshelf, and it took me much too long to admit that to myself.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 4:45 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]

Will this be comprehensible to someone who barely scraped by in high school physics? Because I want to learn.
posted by echocollate at 4:54 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, years ago I asked a question about using these to learn physics. I never actually got around to doing so, but it's fantastic to see the in-the-works new edition that Mr. Gottlieb mentioned actually completed, and free to boot. If you're curious about actually "using" these lectures as a serious learning tool, there's some great advice in those answers (much of which involves "get another physics text too" and "prepare to learn a lot of calculus to boot," mind you.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:01 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]

But his memoirs and letters have no place on a decent person's bookshelf

This is absurd and hyperbolic. One can enjoy Feynman's command over physics and narrative while still recognizing that some of his private behavior---and indeed, some of his published and well-rehearsed anecdotes, read with a modern eye---are very problematic.
posted by Mapes at 5:28 PM on August 25 [7 favorites]

If we were to go down that road there would be few books on the bookshelf.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:55 PM on August 25 [5 favorites]

1. The single most important sentence in the library: the world is made out of atoms.

2. Nobody understands Quantum Mechanics!

3. If you have never seen one of his filmed lectures or listened to one of his taped lectures, I suggest it is very useful to do so at least one time. Before I had this idea of him as this near-perfect genius and physics brilliance just flowed out of his throat like he was Cicero the Orator. He was a genius but he made bunches of mistakes and his accent was the same as Norton on The Honeymooners. If you look at the years and places of birth you see that Art Carney and Richard Feynman were almost schoolmates.
posted by bukvich at 6:02 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]

This is a fantastic resource, although I do think that they should be supplemented by more 'modern' textbooks such as Griffiths.
posted by schopenhauer at 6:27 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure why you mention his accent in the same vein as his making bunches of mistakes. Is the assumption that people who sound like working-class New Yorkers cannot be brilliant physicists?
posted by narain at 6:41 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]

I think The Character of Physical Law is just brilliant and should be required reading in high school science classes. More than anything it conveys his unique ability to both understand the intricacies of how things worked along with a powerful capacity for abstraction.
posted by vacapinta at 2:40 AM on August 26

I'm not sure why you mention his accent in the same vein as his making bunches of mistakes. Is the assumption that people who sound like working-class New Yorkers cannot be brilliant physicists?

Well, bukvich clearly didn't make that assumption, in my opinion, but others have, and weren't too shy about it, either:
He often affected a Brooklyn attitude and accent, and Pauli, who was a great physicist and who liked Feynman very much, once said to me, "Why does this intelligent young man talk like a bum?" It was true, he did talk like a bum. ...
posted by jamjam at 8:23 AM on August 26

*goes over to bookshelf to check both volumes, bought in 1977 for first year of physics/astrophysics degree, still present and correct*

Good, they are. I haven't read them in over thirty years, but it's comforting to know they're still there.
posted by Decani at 8:59 AM on August 26

I love these books - I replaced my much-worn paperback versions with the commemorative "Definitive Edition" a few years ago. Even if you don't care for the math, you might try this chapter in particular:

Volume 1 Chapter 22. Algebra
  22-1 Addition and multiplication
  22-2 The inverse operations
  22-3 Abstraction and generalization
  22-4 Approximating irrational numbers
  22-5 Complex numbers
  22-6 Imaginary exponents

Yes, let one of the founders of quantum electrodynamics walk you through simple addition. And then multiplication, division, taking square roots, and wondering what it means to take the square root of -1. What number, multiplied by itself, gives -1? This chapter ends with what Feynman describes as "the most remarkable formula in mathematics", tying together integer numbers, geometry, and algebra in a remarkable way.

Also fun in Volume 1:
Chapter 35. Color Vision
Chapter 36. Mechanisms of Seeing
Somewhat far off the beaten track, much more heuristic and accessible.

Volume 1 Chapter 46. Ratchet and pawl
More challenging stuff, using simple mechanical analogs to set the stage for complex and fundamental ideas about entropy and statistical mechanics. (Basically, if every specific interaction at the atomic level is reversible, why is there an arrow of time?)

And then, if you want to whet your teeth on something deep and wonderful and mysterious - almost mystical - try this:

Volume 2 Chapter 19. The Principle of Least Action
Feynman is famously associated with this class of problems, and the chapter is glorious:
When I was in high school, my physics teacher—whose name was Mr. Bader—called me down one day after physics class and said, ‘You look bored; I want to tell you something interesting.’ Then he told me something which I found absolutely fascinating, and have, since then, always found fascinating...
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:25 AM on August 26 [5 favorites]

Will this be comprehensible to someone who barely scraped by in high school physics?

As it happens, I read vols. 1 and 2 this year. My understanding of the math was a slowly, sadly declining curve. I remember my basic calculus, but you really need a good grasp of differential equations to get through it.

But just read the text! You'll get a lot out of it even if you don't follow the math. Plus, as RedorGreen says, ch. 22 is a mind-blower and doesn't require any advanced math, only some careful reading.
posted by zompist at 2:42 PM on August 26

Also: I realise that some of Feynman's anecdotes are problematic. I don't think it changes the fact that this particular body of work is an amazing resource to have on the internet, though.
posted by aroweofshale at 11:11 PM on August 26

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