A road map for Feynman’s adventures in the land of gravitation
Dipartimento di Matematica, Università di Salerno, Via Giovanni Paolo II, 84084, Fisciano, Italy
2 INFN Sezione di Napoli, 80126, Via Cinthia, Naples, Italy
Accepted: 13 August 2021
Published online: 26 August 2021
Richard P. Feynman’s work on gravitation, as can be inferred from several published and unpublished sources, is reviewed. Feynman was involved with this subject at least from late 1954 to the late 1960s, giving several pivotal contributions to it. Even though he published only three papers, much more material is available, beginning with the records of his many interventions at the Chapel Hill conference in 1957, which are here analyzed in detail, and show that he had already considerably developed his ideas on gravity. In addition, he expressed deep thoughts about fundamental issues in quantum mechanics which were suggested by the problem of quantum gravity, such as superpositions of the wave functions of macroscopic objects and the role of the observer. Feynman also lectured on gravity several times. Besides the famous lectures given at Caltech in 1962–1963, he extensively discussed this subject in a series of lectures delivered at the Hughes Aircraft Company in 1966–1967, whose focus was on astronomy and astrophysics. All this material allows to reconstruct a detailed picture of Feynman’s ideas on gravity and of their evolution until the late sixties. According to him, gravity, like electromagnetism, has quantum foundations, therefore general relativity has to be regarded as the classical limit of an underlying quantum theory; this quantum theory should be investigated by computing physical processes, as if they were experimentally accessible. The same attitude is shown with respect to gravitational waves, as is evident also from an unpublished letter addressed to Victor F. Weisskopf. In addition, an original approach to gravity, which closely mimics (and probably was inspired by) the derivation of the Maxwell equations given by Feynman in that period, is sketched in the unpublished Hughes lectures.
© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to EDP Sciences, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2021