Cargo Cult Science

by RICHARD P. FEYNMAN

Some remarks on science, pseudoscience, and learning how to not fool yourself. Caltech’s 1974 commencement address.

During the Middle Ages there were all kinds of crazy ideas, such as that a piece of rhinoceros horn would increase potency. (Another crazy idea of the Middle Ages is these hats we have on today—which is too loose in my case.)  Then a method was discovered for separating the ideas—which was to try one to see if it worked, and if it didn’t work, to eliminate it.  This method became organized, of course, into science.  And it developed very well, so that we are now in the scientific age.  It is such a scientific age, in fact, that we have difficulty in understanding how­ witch doctors could ever have existed, when nothing that they proposed ever really worked—or very little of it did.

But even today I meet lots of people who sooner or later get me into a conversation about UFO’s, or astrology, or some form of mysticism, expanded consciousness, new types of awareness, ESP, and so forth.  And I’ve concluded that it’s not a scientific world.

Most people believe so many wonderful things that I decided to investigate why they did.  And what has been referred to as my curiosity for investigation has landed me in a difficulty where I found so much junk to talk about that I can’t do it in this talk. I’m overwhelmed.  First I started out by investigating various ideas of mysticism, and mystic experiences.  I went into isolation tanks (they’re dark and quiet and you float in Epsom salts) and got many hours of hallucinations, so I know something about that.  Then I went to Esalen, which is a hotbed of this kind of thought (it’s a wonderful place; you should go visit there). Then I became overwhelmed. I didn’t realize how much there was.

Source: Cargo Cult Science