“Energy is eternal delight,” the poet and painter William Blake declared, and the consummate physicist Richard Feynman — born in May 1918 — embodied that credo as far as a human being can in his allotted earthly span. The modern world is sometimes called disenchanted, denuded of magic, because science has annihilated the invisible homeland of the spirits, where angels, demons, and God himself were believed to dwell. But Feynman spoke unabashedly of the wonders and miracles to be found in nature as modern science describes it; the physical world enchanted him because it gave him so much to think about. His mind cavorted as he unlocked some of nature’s most daunting puzzles. The quantum world with its intricate bizarrerie, which upended the established order of classical physics indisputable since Newton, flummoxed an intelligence as monumental as Einstein’s. But Feynman made himself comfortable there, as though it were his native habitat.
Algis Valiunas is a New Atlantis contributing editor and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.