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Feynman And Ayn Rand

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What would Ayn Rand say to what Feynman said in his famous lectures 'We can’t define anything precisely. If we attempt to, we get into that paralysis of thought that comes to philosophers… one saying to the other: you don’t know what you are talking about! The second one says: what do you mean by ‘talking’? What do you mean by ‘you’? What do you mean by ‘know’?'



Edited by William Hobba
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  • 1 month later...

None as far as I am concerned. Her theories for me are about recognition of reality rather than trying to apply a general theory to it. If you want to compare Rand’s ideas to a science I suggest Natural Philosophy and Evolution. But she still isn’t a scientist so much as an advocate for it.

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Lawrence Edward Richard, firstly, welcome. I wondered if you are related to the Lawrence Edward Richard who died in 2011, because a Facebook man of that name stopped posting there at that time and recently that page has started again having posts under that name. I wondered if perhaps you were his son or other relation. Anyway, welcome to Objectivism Online. I enjoy your posts, as so many others here.


I think Rand, as any person in a sensible moment, would squarely object to the statement of Feynman’s as stated, which William Hobba rightly disputed, at the root post of this thread. In its context, which is unknown to me, we might see some better sense to Feynman’s remark. To the remark as it stands here, I would add to Mr. Hobba’s remark that Newton’s definition of Force, as well as its expanded formula by Einstein/Planck, is precise. They are both precise. That the later one is wider in correct application and contains the earlier one in the appropriate physical limit, does not make the later one more precise, but more widely correct. On and on, there is precise definition in physics. The definition of what are canonically conjugate pairs of dynamical variables is precise. The indeterminacy of their precise joint values in the quantum regime is precise. The definition of what is a Feynman Diagram is precise.

Rand praised modern science a lot, but had criticisms of a number of general things being said about science by ’57, quoted from the fictitious book Why Do You Think You Think? (AS 340-41). Also in Atlas Shrugged, she made a couple of criticisms of some particular modern science. Most famously, she criticized Behaviorist psychology, which critique she extend in a later essay concerning Skinner. She indicated what was by her lights a wise attitude towards QM, with its “Uncertainty Principle” so salient with the educated public at the time, through words of the fictional character Dr. Stadler (346). She never returned to QM physics stuff herself, but she put her stamp of approval on all the contents of Peikoff’s 1976 lecture series “The Philosophy of Objectivism” which included his understanding and critique of the “measurement problem” in QM.

Rand’s rejection of Behaviorism and (with Branden) of human instincts (under some prominent meanings) and the subconscious (under some prominent meanings) was under her view in what is usually called philosophical psychology. Her conception of What is a human being? was at odds with those quasi- or pseudo-scientific psychology schematics. 

Rand carried in The Objectivist a serial article on epistemological issues in biology that was authored by Robert Efron, a distinguished neuroscientist (Christoff Koch was a student of his). The title was “Biology without Consciousness” (1968). Rand savaged a paper by philosopher of science Feyerabend in her 1970 essay “Kant v. Sullivan.” Rand’s philosophy has also had some interface with science in her conceptions of what sort of thing could or could not be a cause anything.

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Hello Boydstun

Nice of you to say hello and the friendly feedback.

I became in as much as it is my main consideration in rational argument and used in my Substance Misuse Worker career an Objectivist in 2019 after reading the Fountainhead around Easter of that year. I picked it up in a Charity Shop in North Wales and cherish this battered old book. NO other book has given me so much beauty. I forced my way through Atlas Shrugged over a long period. I remain unconvinced grand political theories and live in much cherished social housing and value my NHS. For a while after reading Fountainhead and beginning Atlas Shrugged I couldn't understand why I kept coming back to a book that said to me (left wing as I was) such shocking truths, or why I found Dagny so beautiful and Hank and Eddie so relatable. In the end I gave in to the fact that beauty exists and to try to treat everyone like they have goodness and good intentions is futile. It also made me value people around me a lot more for their virtues.

The joke is in any conversation I have with my wife, who doesn't read Rand at all, she MAKES RAND'S arguments as if Rand has possessed her. I find her very beautiful anyway, but when I hear her passion when she speaks about right and wrong it is gorgeous.

I had to accept in the end that what I loved turned out for too long to have been told to me rather than realised by me.

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  • 2 months later...

I didn't realise my little post had generated so many further replies.   I thought the original answer I got was satisfactory so didn't pay any more attention to the thread until now.   But to add further context, the Feynman Lectures are very famous textbooks in physics - although written for freshman students, is not generally recommended as a text for such a course, but nearly universally recommended as supplementary reading for the serious thinking student - the one that wants to go beyond the usual textbooks that are more about passing the final exam.   In the opening chapters he discusses the basics of physics and points out we often model things in ways that are good enough for most practical purposes, but when looked at closely are not quite correct.   An example he uses is a flat table and when solving problems of balls rolling on tables etc we can model to great accuracy it as a flat surface from euclidian geometry.   But look at it closely.  If you do that you see the top of the table has molecules evaporating off it and intermingling with air molecules/atoms.   So the surface of a table is difficult to define exactly.   He then moves onto the quote I gave as a further example of this kind of difficulty.   It isn't  really - and I am sure Feynman knew that - he just wanted students to think a bit about the fundamentals of what they are studying.   Like I said the books are best used by the serious student who wants a deeper understanding.

I must also say something about Quantum Mechanics.   Just about all the stuff written at the layman level is rubbish.   A notable exception is Susskind's book:


The worst load of total rubbish I have seen about it is the following:

Evidently school students are actually made to sit through this junk - poor kids - no wonder our education system destroys bright young minds eager to learn - it's a scandal really.

Even better if you have a more advanced background is Ballentine's 'bible' on Quantum Mechanics:


It debunks so many myths, such that there is a measurement problem (there isn't - its an invention of the Copenhagen Interpretation).  It's a must have for anyone that wants to seriously understand it.  It even derives Schrodinger's equation, not postulates it, but derives it, from its true foundation, symmetry - which is the actual foundation of a lot in physics.   I personally hold to what I call a modelling view of QM but that would be another thread in itself - still Ballentine debunks so many myths it truly is a classic.



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