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Some of Richard Feynman's Wonderfulness

Here is some especially good Feynman stuff from the book Perfectly Reasonable Deviations From The Beaten Track:

Page xix: Feynman wanted to marry, but worried he was being too impulsive. So he marked a day on his calendar a few months ahead and planned only to propose if he still felt the same way on that day. It's wonderful how he was willing to second guess his own judgment in an area where he knew he might make mistakes. In the event, he still felt the same way and proposed on the marked day. It must have been very tempting to propose early since he felt so strongly. After a few weeks of feeling like that he could have thought, "I have waited. I still feel the same. Nothing is going to change. I've done my experiment. I should propose now." But Feynman had the integrity to wait. One of the things Feynman told us about science is that it helps us to avoid fooling ourselves, which is normally very easy. It's also easy to fool yourself when you're in love, so I think it was very wise of him to wait the full duration.

Page xix:
Of my father's many skills, this willingness to play the fool—and to let me think he could be completely outfoxed by my clever thinking—was the one that shaped my childhood more than any other.

I [Feynman's daughter] was simply unaware for many years that he was revered as a supreme intellect.
Feynman's humility is impressive. He didn't even mention his status to his children. Many people, including Feynman, have said we should not trust in authorities and experts, or take them too seriously. Feynman once defined science as belief in the ignorance of experts. But Feynman took this attitude much further than most people. He really didn't want to listen to authorities, or have anyone listen to his. And he wouldn't even passively let it happen if people wanted to treat him as an authority; he made a genuine effort to prevent it.

Of course, some people won't listen to Feynman no matter what he says about how they should use their own judgment. Rather, they have completely ignored what he said so they can treat his every word as revealed truth. :)

Page xx: Feynman taught his daughter some shortcuts an alternate approaches for solving math problems. Her teacher scolded her for not solving the problems in "the right way". Feynman went to speak to the teacher, who didn't know who Feynman was and treated him like an idiot. The teacher even accused Feynman of not knowing anything about math. Finally Feynman stopped biting his tongue. In the long run he had to teach math to his daughter personally. His humble attitude is admirable, as well as his involved parenting.

Page 373: Feynman's last words before he died in 1988 were: "I'd hate to die twice. It's so boring."

Elliot Temple on April 5, 2008


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