How Richard Feynman’s Diagrams Almost Saved Space

An anonymous Slashdot reader shares a fond remembrance of Richard Feynman written by Nobel prize-winner Frank Wilczek, describing not only the history of dark energy and field theory, but how Feynman’s influential diagrams “embody a deep shift in thinking about how the universe is put together… a beautiful new way to think about fundamental processes”.
Richard Feynman looked tired when he wandered into my office. It was the end of a long, exhausting day in Santa Barbara, sometime around 1982… I described to Feynman what I thought were exciting if speculative new ideas such as fractional spin and anyons. Feynman was unimpressed, saying: “Wilczek, you should work on something real…” Looking to break the awkward silence that followed, I asked Feynman the most disturbing question in physics, then as now: “There’s something else I’ve been thinking a lot about: Why doesn’t empty space weigh anything?”
Feynman replied “I once thought I had that one figured out. It was beautiful…” then launched into a “surreal” monologue about how “there’s nothing there!” But Wilczek remembers that “The calculations that eventually got me a Nobel Prize in 2004 would have been literally unthinkable without Feynman diagrams, as would my calculations that established a route to production and observation of the Higgs particle.” His article culminates with a truly beautiful supercomputer-generated picture showing gluon field fluctuations as we now understand them today, and demonstrating the kind of computer-assisted calculations which in coming years “will revolutionize our quantitative understanding of nuclear physics over a broad front.”


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