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Richard Feynman Was Wrong About Beauty and Truth in Science


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Richard Feynman

Credit: Sotheby's

The American physicist Richard Feynman is often quoted as saying: 'You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity.' The phrase appears in the work of the American science writer K C Cole, although I could not find other records of Feynman writing or saying it. We do know, however, that Feynman had great respect for the English physicist Paul Dirac, who believed that theories in physics should be both simple and beautiful. 

Feynman was unquestionably one of the outstanding physicists of the 20th century. In the area of philosophy of science, though, like many physicists of his and the subsequent generation (and unlike those belonging to the previous one, including Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr), Feynman didn't really shine—to put it mildly.

As the German theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder has pointed out, there is absolutely no reason to think that simplicity and beauty are reliable guides to physical reality.

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