Six Easy Pieces



 Why did I read this book?

I am interested to improve my understanding of the world through science, particularly my understanding of foundational subjects as physics and chemistry. I found this book in a bookstore in Bangalore, India; I read the first chapter and decided to buy it. 

Summary

Richard Feynman explains the basics of physics according to six chapters:

  1. Atoms in Motion. This chapter treats the different spatial organization of atoms when a material is in liquid, gaseous or solid phase. The chapter also explains through which binding forces and principles atoms organize into molecules, touching upon the notion of chemical reactions.

  2. Basic Physics. This chapter starts by explaining the scientific method, and dives into many topics. An interesting realization that came to me was that energy, expressed in different wavelengths, is often classified by humans as separate phenomena—visible light, microwave radiation, radio-waves—whereas it physically speaking is one phenomenon: energy.

  3. The relationship of physics to the other sciences. This chapter explains the role of physics in relationship to biology, chemistry, psychology and geology, and how physics came to be an “elite” body of research.

  4. Conservation of Energy. Feynman explains different forms of energy—gravitational, kinetic, heat, energy contained in a spring. It was fun to apply some basic energy preservation balances from my first year civil engineering classes!

  5. The Theory of Gravitation. Possibly the most question-provoking chapter of the book. As Feynman describes the forces between bodies, I started to ask questions as “Why does our moon not crash into the earth?” or “What is the ratio between gravity and electrical attraction on an atomic scale?” An intriguing calculation, using high-school mathematics, showed me that an object with a speed parallel to the earths surface of  ~8km/s will move into orbit.

  6. Quantum Behavior. Feynman explains through thought experiments, illustrated by sketches, how electrons seem to behave at times like particles and at other times like waves, and how shining light can actually influence the course of observed electrons.

Anecdotes or passages worth sharing:

I made notes on every page of the book, because Feynman’s style and the topic raised many thoughts. Some questions below:

If the universe is expanding, is a logical conclusion that the universe is also cooling because there are fewer stars per volume of universe?

Corollary to the space increase between atoms as a material in gaseous phase heats up; does the space between molecules or the space inside an atom—in short, space change at a different level—occur?

From chapter 4: “Although energy is conserved, nature does not seem to be interested in it; she liberates a lot of energy from the sun, but only one part in two billion falls on earth."