Richard Feynman – a guy worth reading

Recently finished Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character)

Immediately said, “Wow, this guy is fantastic. The kind of person I want to be when I grow up.”

What did Richard Feynman do, that made me like him so much?

  • He was a genius but made things simple, clear, and understandable, especially to the layman
  • He made his work enjoyable, like a game, yet it was obvious how hard he worked
  • He loved to think and not just accept the claims of “experts”
  • He was so good at what he did – top of his field – yet he was always joking and making fun of people, mostly himself

Some of my favorite quotes from one of the best scientists in the world

Mischief, joking around, and how much fun he had

People often think I’m a faker, but I’m usually honest, in a certain way – in such a way that often nobody believes me!

These new filing cabinets were an immediate challenge, naturally. I love puzzles. One guy tries to make something to keep another guy out; there must be a way to beat it!

Dumb things smart people say and do

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.

All the time you’re saying to yourself, “I could do that, but I won’t” – which is just another way of saying that you can’t.

There were a lot of fools at that conference – pompous fools – and pompous fools drive me up the wall. Ordinary fools are all right; you can talk to them, and try to help them out. But pompous fools – guys who are fools and are covering it all over and impressing people as to how wonderful they are with all this hocus pocus – THAT, I CANNOT STAND! An ordinary fool isn’t a faker; an honest fool is all right. But a dishonest fool is terrible! And that’s what I got at the conference, a bunch of pompous fools, and I got very upset. I’m not going to get upset like that again, so I won’t participate in interdisciplinary conferences any more.

Not giving a damn about what people expect

You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.

So I got this new attitude. Now that I am burned out and I’ll never accomplish anything, I’ve got this nice position at the university teaching classes which I rather enjoy, and just like I read the Arabian Night for pleasure, I’m going to play with physics, whenever I want to, without worrying about any importance whatsoever.

I was always dumb in that way. I never knew who I was talking to. I was always worried about the physics. If the idea looked lousy, I said it looked lousy. If it looked good, I said it looked good. Simple proposition.

Art, education, and getting the most out of life

I understood at last what art is really for, at least in certain respects. It gives somebody, individually, pleasure. You can make something that somebody likes so much that they’re depressed, or they’re happy, on account of that damn thing you made!

Finally, I said that I couldn’t see how anyone could be educated by this self-propagating system in which people pass exams, and teach others to pass exams, but nobody knows anything.

So MIT was good, but Slater was right to warn me to go to another school for my graduate work. And I often advise my students the same way. Learn what the rest of the world is like. The variety is worthwhile.

Fortunately, Feynman wrote many books, and he’s the subject of lots more. So lots to study.

This is one guy whose success I want to study, break down, and reverse engineer. Surely worth emulating.