More Feynman

I highly recommend you read this book.

_The Meaning of It All_ page 44
I think that science and moral questions are independent. The common human problem, the big question, always is "Should I do this?" It is a question of action. "What should I do? Should I do this?"
That's exactly what I say about morality. I say the question is "How to live?" or "How should I make decisions?" or "What decisions should I make?" or "How should I choose?" Feynman's question is the same one.

_The Meaning of It All_ pages 49-50
The government of the United States was developed under the idea that nobody knew how to make a government, or how to govern. The result is to invent a system to govern when you don't know how. And the way to arrange it is to permit a system, like we have, wherein new ideas can be developed and tried out and thrown away. The writers of the Constitution knew the value of doubt ... The government of the United States is not very good, but it, with the possible exception of the government of England, is the greatest government on the earth today, is the most satisfactory, the most modern, but not very good.
That's what I think about the US government too. And this is more evidence that Feynman read Popper. He's making a main point from The Open Society and Its Enemies. Also, today, I heard Feynman's sister on youtube saying that Feynman read a lot of books.

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Feynman on Psychoanalysts

_The Meaning of It All_ pp. 114-115
Who are the witch doctors [of today]? Psychoanalysts and psychiatrists, of course. If you look at all of the complicated ideas that they have developed in an infinitesimal amount of time, if you compare to any other of the sciences how long it takes to get one idea after the other, if you consider all the structures and inventions and complicated things, the ids and the egos, the tensions and the forces, and the pushes and the pulls, I tell you they can't all be there. It's too much for one brain or a few brains to have cooked up in such a short amount of time.

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Feynman on Education

"Cargo Cult Science", by Richard Feynman
But then I began to think, what else is there that we believe? (And I thought then about the witch doctors, and how easy it would have been to check on them by noticing that nothing really worked.) So I found things that even more people believe, such as that we have some knowledge of how to educate. There are big schools of reading methods and mathematics methods, and so forth, but if you notice, you'll see the reading scores keep going down -- or hardly going up -- in spite of the fact that we continually use these same people to improve the methods. There's a witch doctor remedy that doesn't work. It ought to be looked into; how do they know that their method should work? Another example is how to treat criminals. We obviously have made no progress -- lots of theory, but no progress -- in decreasing the amount of crime by the method that we use to handle criminals.
Schools say they know how to educate people. Feynman says they don't! They are like witch doctors who claim powers they can never demonstrate if you investigate it carefully.

-- Elliot Temple

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Feynman on Soap Advertisements

In his Lectures on Computation, at the very end of the chapter on Coding and Communication Theory, Richard Feynman writes:
Such developments will transform the future. Movies will be cleaned up, too -- optical fibers, for example, are now giving us overcapacity. The soap ad will appear with absolute clarity. It seems that the technological world progresses, but real humanistic culture slides in the mud!
Ads work because people like them; people voluntarily choose to respond to ads by buying the product, or increasing their opinion of the quality of the company or product. Being anti-ads is being anti-humans; it's thinking that people with a different approach to life dumb are wrong, and declaring their values to be mud. Maybe they are mistaken, but Feynman hasn't given any argument that they are, nor has Feynman made any attempt to help or enlighten them. He's just insulting them harshly.

I do think people are sometimes insufficiently skeptical of claims made in ads. Perhaps often. But that's bad reason to trash those people. Who cares about their choice of soap brands? It's not important. There are much more important issues to worry about, like whether they use soap to violently wash out their child's mouth, or not. Let's not compare people to mud unless they do something seriously bad.

Further, the assertion that we are sliding into the mud claims human culture is getting worse. In other words, Feynman claims that people used to evaluate companies and products better, but now, due to advertising, they have gotten dumber. Feynman gives no explanation of how advertising cripples judgement.

Feynman is saying that, in some "humanistic" sense, primitive cultures with no achievements to speak of were better than modern culture with its spaceships, skyscrapers, science, and also moral achievements like giving women the vote, reducing prejudices, and creating unprecedented law and order and peace. I think that's out of character for Feynman and I'm unaware of him saying this anywhere else. Instead he, for example, understood the extreme gullibility of primitive cultures that formed cargo cults. Not only in the case of cargo cults, but also in general, people in the past were far more gullible, not less. One can't be too gullible to achieve all the things we've achieved. One reason is that, as Feynman says, science is what we've learned about how to avoid fooling ourselves; not fooling yourself is a big part of not being gullible.

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