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Feynman Lectures On Computation 1st Edition

15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0738202969
ISBN-10: 0738202967
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Richard P. Feynman was raised in Far Rockaway, New York, and received his Ph.D. from Princeton. He held professorships at both Cornell and the California Institute of Technology. In 1965 he received the Nobel Prize for his work on quantum electrodynamics. He died in 1988.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Westview Press; 1 edition (July 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738202967
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738202969
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #322,823 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard P. Feynman was born in 1918 and grew up in Far Rockaway, New York. At the age of seventeen he entered MIT and in 1939 went to Princeton, then to Los Alamos, where he joined in the effort to build the atomic bomb. Following World War II he joined the physics faculty at Cornell, then went on to Caltech in 1951, where he taught until his death in 1988. He shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 1965, and served with distinction on the Shuttle Commission in 1986. A commemorative stamp in his name was issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 2005.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Howard Schneider on November 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This reference is derived from Feynman's lectures at Caltech between 1983-1986 for the course 'Potentialities and Limitations of Computing Machines'. This small volume introduces computers as a file clerk performing his tasks, moves on to show how the 'file clerk' can be built out of simple gates, how the gates can be built out actual transistors, discusses essential issues in computation theory such as computability and Turing machines, and then discusses essential issues in information theory such as data compression. The physics of computing from a thermodynamics context is then considered. If the general reader ignores the gas equations, this chapter is fairly easy to read and enlightening. The next chapter continues with a discussion of quantum mechanical computers. The final chapter discusses how real transistors function at the atomic level and fabrication techniques for real integrated circuits. Lectures given by invited experts on computer science topics such as vision, robots, expert systems, etc, are not included. Although this reference does not discuss alternative architectures for computation, such as the ones found in the brains of animals, this reference is ideal to introduce the motivated general reader to the concept of computation and the techniques used in commercial computers.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Jill Malter on November 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
Yes, I think you can teach the theory of computation from this book. And you can learn it from this book. Some of the material isn't all that recent, but much of it doesn't need to be.

35 years ago, if one were teaching a course on the theory of computation, I'd have recommended Minsky's book (it came out in 1967). That was a great text. Nowadays, there are numerous choices. But one could still use books that originally came out well before Feynman's notes, such as Lewis & Papadimitriou or Hopcroft, Motwani, and Ullman.

The question boils down to the quality of what is in the book, as well as what material it has that other books do not, and what material it is missing that most other texts have.

This book is quite readable and preserves much of Feynman's teaching style. So let's look at what it is missing. First, it doesn't talk much about real neurons. Of course, even Minsky doesn't dwell much on that, and other computation books avoid that topic too. But now, there's a more serious omission. Feynman spends something like two pages on grammars! If you were using Lewis and Papadimitriou (first edition) there would be a chapter of over 70 pages on context-free languages alone. As a teacher or a student, would you really want to miss all that?

No, as a student, you would have to read up on all that material elsewhere. And as a teacher, you would have to use another book or write your own notes. That material is too much a part of most required curricula.

But that doesn't take away from the value of the book when it comes to the rest of the material.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Of course, 'brilliant' is what you'd expect from Feynman. These lectures, originally presented in 1983-6, capture a number of the most fundamental, esoteric concepts in computing. Since Feynman is doing the explaining, however, the ideas come across clear and strong.

Chapter 3, on the basic theory of computation, introduces not only the Turing machine, but also the basic idea of what things can and can not possibly be computed and why. He also explains the "universal" machine, and the meaning of universality that mathematically steps up from any one machine to all machines. The next chapters discuss coding theory. That has body of knowledge has since become pervasive in our every-day lives, even if it's never visible. After that two chapters present the physical limits to computation, and how computation can approach those limits using quantum mechanics.

This includes the superfically odd idea of reversible computation. I say odd because, for example, knowing that two numbers add up to six doesn't tell you whether the two were five and one, zero and six, or some other combination. You normally can't run addition backwards from the sum to the summands, so standard addition is said to be irreversible. Reversibility gives amazing properties to a system, however, and things like the Toffoli gates show how it can be implemented.

The only disappointments in this book come from the very beginning and very end. The beginning describes what a computer is, as if the reader had never heard of computers before. I guess that basic level is still needed, but is no longer needed at the college level. The very end describes silicon technology, as it was known in the early 1980s.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By on March 4, 1998
Format: Hardcover
The Feynman lectures on Computation (volume 1) takes into account an all-encompassing view of the underlying theories of computer science and electrical engineering as it relates to computer systems development. Volume 1 sets a solid foundation for advanced topics in the field and I would highly reccommend the book for any freshmen EE or CS student wishing to see what the next few years have in store for them. Being a computer systems engineer, I can't wait until volume 2 is released.
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