He was giving the interviewer a masterclass in critical thinking
. The masterclass is in
framing the correct question
. Not being lazy with language, because science needs the correct question to arrive at the correct answer.
If the interviewer had asked 'How do magnets repel or attract each other?' (And not 'Why') he'd have had a different answer. You can even sense the interviewers difficulty in framing the question. Feynman doesn't make it easy for him either, he's probably had the question so many times from undergrads.
Feynman seems to be saying that understanding things isn't always easy, you have to put the work in and study.
If you can't or won't, then there is no answer - you just have to trust the people who know.
Brilliant answer! Perfectly points out the frustration (and sometimes futility) in explaining something when definitions are not common and much is left up to personal experience and subjective understanding. Imagine how little there would be to argue about if everyone had the same
understanding of the meaning of words
Onigorom: The phenomenology of attracting/repelling magnets is more intriguing than any answer that a natural scientist can provide.
This is the reason why Feynman does not argue 'scientifically' but philosophically.
If Feynman seems to suggest that there is no satisfactory explanation on the phenomenological level then all kinds of explanations may become appropriate.
St. Augustine claimed that it is love that lets a stone fall to ground
More Feynman interviews:
How a Train Stays on a Track
(not as simple as you thought)
Knowing the name of something vs. KNOWING something
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