samskivert: Feynman Lectures on Computation – Richard P. Feynman (3)

11 June 2001

I started reading this book with the resolve to do all of the problems suggested by Feynman at various points along the chapters. This made it a slow and energy consuming process because the problems he suggests tend not to be simple exercises. My resolve started to break down as eight months had gone by and I was only half way through the book. This was compounded by the subject matter of the later chapters which was far closer to physics than computation. I enjoyed Feynman’s take on computer organization, computing and coding theories, in which I have some background. I struggled through his discussion of quantum computers and the wacky concept of the thermodynamics of computation. He rounds out the book with a discussion of the physics of the devices we currently (well, in the 1980s) use to build computers. That final chapter was a welcome relief from the previous two as it required less background in quantum physics. Other than A Few Easy Pieces and A Few Not So Easy Pieces, this is the only technical work of Feynman’s that I’ve read and it is a pleasure and a challenge to follow along as he sweeps intuitively through vast tracts of math, physics and logic on his way to some particularly interesting observation or other. I’m also amazed at how interested someone can be in computers and how much thinking they can do about them without actually giving any thought to what can be done with them. Recommended if you’re a fan of Feynman, not so much if you’re looking for novel discourse on computation.

©1999–2015 Michael Bayne