Saturday, July 04, 2015

Feynman Graphic Novel

A couple weeks back I finished working through Logicomix, a graphic novel of the life of Bertrand Russell. Today I finished another graphic novel on Feynman.

1. Richard Feynman was an incredibly colorful character, a typical genius. Unusually for such geniuses, he was a showman. He had the strange knack of taking things that very few people could understand and boiling them down with incredible clarity and panache.

I've read and blogged about some of his life. For example:
I've read the better part of his book, QED, but I don't think I've blogged about it. I have a few more of his books, including the third volume of the lectures he gave at Cal Tech from 1961-63, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, and Six Not So Easy Pieces.

2. But I would say that if you want somewhere to start, this graphic novel is the place. It has the essential framework... his beginnings that led him to MIT... his early interactions with bedrocks of Twentieth Century physics like Einstein, Niels Bohr, von Neumann, Wheeler, Bethe, etc... how he went to Princeton for grad work and was tapped for the Manhattan Project.

There's the story of his first wife Arlene, who died in the middle of the Manhattan Project. Hints at his womanizing were given. There was the development of his famed Feynman diagrams. He received the Nobel Prize in physics along with two other individuals who helped shape the fundamentals of "quantum electrodynamics" (QED).

In the graphic novel, Feynman reduces the fundamental components of quantum theory to 3. First, you need to know the amplitude of a photon going from one place to another. Then you need to know the amplitude of an electron going from one place to another.  Then you need to know the amplitude of an electron absorbing or emitting an electron.

3. The graphic novel also incorporates the key books and lectures Feynman gave, including the ones I mentioned above. There's the double slit experiment. There's his quirky personality... how he picked safes at Los Alamos... how his friends locked him in a room until he would write up his QED findings... how he took repeated vacations around the world... was offered immense sums of money to be wooed by various institutions but in the end stayed at Cal Tech... how he dramatically showed everyone in a press conference why the Space Shuttle exploded.

I think the most interesting part of this graphic novel to me was the fact that Feynman didn't always understand the equations of others and the various physicists often didn't fully understand each other's work. There was often a period where someone would show that two physicists were really saying the same thing in different ways.

Very well done!

1 comment:

Brannon Hancock said...

Glad you enjoyed it. I want to get around to reading it