My sense of Richard Feynman is that his reputation as a towering scientist of the 20th century rests largely on the fruits of his attachment to uncertainty, and second thoughts. These almost suggest a lack of conviction, though it’s precisely the uncertainty and second thoughts that defined his fertile conviction in scientific enquiry itself.

Recent events brought Feynman to mind, mainly in the form of a slight if persistent peripheral distraction, like someone at the back of the room repeatedly putting up a hand to get a word in...

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