Richard Feynman on Knowing Something and Certainty

When we look to figure out how something works in first person, we become more intimate with how it works and add multiples of value to our own capacity to think about problems. Filtering through our own lens encourages exploration and an open mind.

Richard Feynman was a practical thinker, he enjoyed working from first principles and personal reasoning to understand how things came to be. He says:

“There’s all kinds of myths and pseudoscience all over the place. I may be quite wrong, maybe they do know all these things, but I don’t think I’m wrong. You see, I have the advantage of having found out how hard it is to get to really know something, how careful you have to be about checking the experiments, how easy it is to make mistakes and fool yourself.

I know what it means to know something, and therefore I see how they get their information and I can’t believe that they know it. They haven’t done the work necessary, haven’t done the checks necessary, haven’t taken the care necessary. I have a great suspicion that they don’t know, that this stuff is and that they’re intimidating people.”

To know something for ourselves, we need to do the work necessary to figure it out. Delegating thinking or assimilating the ideas of someone else, or as often is the case, many others, does not a full picture make ― it most likely makes a Franken-pastiche.

With the added discomfort of still not knowing what we think.

We should look to ourselves to investigate rather than fear what others say or hold ourselves to their statements. Because even in science, there are no certainties. As Feynman says:

“Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty — some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain.”

“We absolutely must leave room for doubt or there is no progress and no learning. People search for certainty. But there is no certainty.”

“I have approximate answers and possible beliefs in different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything.”

A life lived from curiosity and desire to learn new things is much more interesting and enjoyable than a life of assumed answers that might not hold up to closer scrutiny.


How we think about things has a transforming effect on what we do. Choosing what we read and think about is a great place to start.

Every Sunday, I share a curated list of new posts, articles around the web, and books I’m reading on topics ranging from business, technology, culture, creativity, philosophy, and psychology. 

The spirit of curiosity, a desire for connection, and an understanding of our personal culture shape what we do in the world. The best way to learn things is to do them habitually ― hence Learning Habit.

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