> nedelja, februar 26, 2006
> komentarjev: 2

Richard Feynman: Letters

"You can't develop a personality with physics alone, the rest of your life must be worked in."

Richard Feynman was a physicist from that extremely tiny, almost singular set of physicists who equally well lay women and exams.

Who would read the letters of some guy named Feynman? It seems indeed rather weird in general to read letters that weren't written for you nor by you. But the story of Feynman and myself is different. He was an admirable chap, a man to be truly reckoned with, a first class and famous physicist, he was. I love him, I dig everything about him, it is like I can't get enough of him, his work excites my imagination, and he has always been funnier than me and even though I will be studying mathematics and physics for the rest of my life, I will never understand it half as much as he did. But that's ok, because he understood a great lot, however he was modest at that:

"I was born not knowing and have only had a little time to change that here and there."

So if I understand half of what he did, that would still mean a lot, because you know: infinity halved is still infinity.
Feynman is my idol, he could be my only idol. I think that makes sense my reading this book.

The book comes with a longer title:
Perfectly Reasonable Deviations From The Beaten Track: The Letters Of Richard P. Feynman. 486 pp. Basic Books (April 5, 2005). ISBN: 0738206369

Richard Feynman. Known for:
- helping develop the atomic bomb,
- inventing the bit of scientific notation later known as the Feynman diagram,
- winning the Nobel Prize in physics (1965) for a discovery he made in his late twenties (1949),
- solving the mystery of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.

So he worked on the Manhattan project of building the atomic bomb that was latter dropped twice on Japan. First, I consider the atomic bomb as one of the greatest utilizations of human knowledge. Regretfully it was eventually used to most harmful means. But we must also try to imagine what would've happened, had the Nazi's made the bomb first; conquered the world? The bomb wasn't dropped on Germany, true, but its development was initiated and at all times ignited by that race, who would build it first.
Years after the WW2 Feynman got very depressed about all that science serving destruction. He stopped believing in anything. He got better only slowly. It's interesting to note how some people are much affected by such things while some may worry only a little. What drives our human touch?

It's an ultimate treat reading about Feynmans endeavors and mischiefs, and also about him meeting other main actors in science, for example Watson the DNA explainer, Einstein the relativist, or Cooper the explainer of super-conductivity, and others. He also met Stephen Wolfram who moved from Oxford to Caltech, and who is not of such good looking posture as Feynman, but of equally sharp mind, I can tell you that. Feynman supervised his PhD. Wolfram was a prodigy in theoretical physics. For the past many years he has been leading Wolfram Research, a highly successful scientific programming company that is best known for Mathematica which is a remarkable thing on its own. I have been smitten by it ever since I put my fingers on it on the rainy day in secondary school in 1995 ... I can still remember. I have used it all the time since and I am still learning it just like on the first day. I have never met anything like it, I don't believe I ever will. It is the "personification" of transcendence for me. The only sad bit it has is namely that it's just a computational platform and not some girl I could hang up with and socialize in a more natural way. But the world is changing and we are changing along.

Weirdnesses. Feynman was a practical joker, a painter, a bongo player, and always a showman. He liked to work out his equations while sitting in strip clubs. He was direct and sincere, but also loved sarcasm:

"Simple questions with complicated answers are always asked by dull students. Only intelligent students have been trained to ask complicated questions with simple answers - as any teacher knows (and only teachers think there are any simple questions with simple answers)."

Feynman spared no words for those who tried to picture him as normal just because beside having done physics he also liked to fool around, for example having played the bongo drums. Here is an example-letter:

The fact that I beat a drum has nothing to do with the fact that I do theoretical physics. Theoretical physics is a human endeavor, one of the higher developments of human beings, and this perpetual desire to prove that people who do it are human by showing that they do other things that a few other humans do (like playing bongo drums) is insulting to me. I am human enough to tell you to go to hell.

Fans, he had many, experts and laymen alike, and he made science sing for them, so his "poems" made them understand even the most complex theories. But they also often felt like "tourists" that visit exotic lands and leave their litter. They would've gleefully followed him anywhere: had he moved on to biology, they would've wished being there and a part of it as well. That is how it is with fans and exceptional individuals who are just plain awesome to be around with.
So I am sure it was nice living by his side. His optimism and great lust for finding things out made moments exciting, and perhaps dull only when he slept. Good news was his constant, and good news is like a good medicine. Life was dear to him and almost dear to anyone around him.
However, one could say this didn't hold for just anybody. Life was dear to those who chose to follow him, or at least not compete against him. But some tried that, and they soon realized they'd been in a wrong field because it was clear that they were not in the same class of intellectual ability as him. They were very troubled by that, and even developed depressions. Feynman performed so much better.
Some fans sent him silly love letters, like this one:

Dear Richard
I've fallen in love with you
From seeing you on "Nova"
I'm so glad you're alive
I appreciate your: wit
You are a feyn-man
Are there lots of physicists with fans?
You have one!

I think I could be silly like this. ("Nova" concerns the one hour long TV interview with Feynman in 1981, titled The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out.)

Physics is a difficult subject requiring objective thinking and staying on the subject without distraction by minor subsidiary things. This is why I hate such things as Google Mail Notifier. Those beeps beeps and subsequent detouring of my mind to new mail will drive me nuts someday. I am all mess already. But why did I install it in the first place? I know I will uninstall it. But Google then released the Sidebar which is a cool tool. I had to install it. God how I hate this!

Picture below: Wov, won't you just look at him, that posture of orgasmic intellect! There is nothing more physically appealing that a sharp intellect. It cuts through heart many times. (But it must be really sharp, for a nicely curved muscly buttock and hooters are hard to meet.)

When his life ended in 1988, many people showed up at his funeral, but aside nothing else come to and end, his spirit endured.

- Professor Feynman, if you could do anything different in your career, what would it be?
- "I would try to forget how I had solved a problem."

Now who should I thank for Feynman's spirit "got" me. I know, it was prof. Podgornik at my university who infected me with that pleasure (of finding things out /for myself/). Thank you n-times!


Komentarji: 2

Blogger ursa:

You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here, and what the question might mean. I might think about it a little bit and if I can’t figure it out, then I go on to something else, but I don’t have to know an answer, I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is so far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me.

Richard Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Just read this a couple of days ago. Still haven't recovered from it.

28/2/06 07:58  
Blogger Bo:

What is shocking about that? I don't understand.

But perhaps you meant to be ironic.

I think he said it nicely. And you must see him saying that: see here.

28/2/06 12:49  

Objavite komentar

<< Nazaj na 1. stran