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Smartbits. The Essense of All the Scientific Knowledge in One Statement by Feynman

Nick Oleksyn
co-founder at Rendors

If all scientific knowledge were lost in a cataclysm, what single statement would preserve the most information for the next generations of creatures?

Doesn’t it feel like an impossible question? The body of science is so vast that people spend their entire lifetimes studying what seems like tiny droplets of an ocean. Those who are familiar with the history of science probably have a hunch that one possible answer to the question above has something to do with the atomic nature of all existing matter. But the idea of atoms dates back to Greek philosopher Democritus (400 BC). So, just saying that everything consists of tiny particles would mean ignoring almost 2500 years of scientific progress.

One of the most remarkable scientific geniuses of the last century, Richard Feynman was asked this question and his answer is full of elegance and simplicity:

All things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another

Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman

According to Feynman, in this one sentence, “there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.” 

His answer is more than just a fun trivia fact. I think if we follow Feynman’s recipe and apply “a little imagination”, we can see a similar pattern not only in the microcosm of elementary particles but even in the world of human interactions. Doesn’t it remind human affairs: constant movement, attraction when apart, and repulsion when too close? 

On one hand, Feynman gives us an example of what it looks like to boil something enormously complex down to its essentials. On the other hand, he invites us to contemplate the structure and patterns of things that surround us. He was a brilliant educator who knew that being effective in his role requires inspiring creative imagination and curiosity. 


Ways to learn more about Richard Feynman's life and work:

Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman

"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman