15
$\begingroup$

In a lot of places I find this quote from Feynman:

I would rather have ques­tions that can’t be an­swered than an­swers that can’t be ques­tioned.

However, I cannot find any source of where it appeared written by him or reported by someone who heard him saying it.

Is this quote authentic? Can you give a reference or debunk it? If not Feynman, who said it?

$\endgroup$
2
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Wikiquotes has it under "disputed" ... en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Richard_Feynman#Disputed $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ I had a realization the other day: there are no new ideas. After a small search, I discovered Mark Twain had said essentially the same thing. The first person to think it was, in my estimation, a liar then. It's a good quote, regardless of the origin, and has probably been uttered in mouth and mind for centuries. $\endgroup$
    – Brian
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 16:30

2 Answers 2

7
$\begingroup$

I have my doubts, although Feynman, like many others, expressed similar sentiments. Dennett in the first chapter of Breaking the Spell (2006) writes:"Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned". He attributes the quote to Anonymous, and does not mention Feynman. It appears that the quote's author, Feynman or not, prefers philosophy to religion in this allusion.

Here is what Mermin writes about another "Feynman's" famous quote:"I noticed that not a single one of the Web sites attributing the phrase to Feynman cited a source or hinted at the circumstances under which he had said it... I suspect that it is only Feynman’s habitual irreverence that has linked him in the minds of many to the phrase “shut up and calculate”... Merton has taught us that it is only among the high and mighty that people tend to look... Broaden the search to embrace the low and powerless".

As in Mermin's case, not a single place sporting this quote cites anyone, let alone Feynman, or even tells an anecdote as to how it was said. They do not date too far back in time either.

$\endgroup$
4
  • $\begingroup$ So I must resign to the fact that my favorite quote ever is false :P $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ @gigabytes Don't give up so easily :-) It is conceivable that Feynman said it first, then somebody thought "neat, it fits philosophy and religion", and Dennett heard the modified version. Unlikely, but hope springs eternal. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 23:59
  • $\begingroup$ I think I remember an interview where someone mentions to Feynman an excellent quote of his, but doesnt say it. Maybe someone who knows Feynman well can clear this out $\endgroup$
    – alfred
    Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with society is that people are conditioned to accept bad ideas from people they like and reject good ideas from people they dislike. What is important is the idea itself and not the package it came in. Who would reject “2+2=4” if Hitler said it or accept “2+2=5” if Einstein said it? The quote in question is a stark reminder that rational thought should establish veracity and not appeals to authority or as hominem. The quote is good whether or not it originally came from Feynman or not. It most likely existed long before Feynman as it is a very Socratic sentiment. $\endgroup$
    – Digcoal
    Commented May 3, 2022 at 0:07
11
$\begingroup$

This is all I have found for now:

“You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live, not knowing, than to have answers which might be wrong.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1tKEvN3DF0

as discussed here:

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Richard_Feynman#.22I_would_rather_have_questions_that_cannot_be_answered.22

$\endgroup$

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.