|Quotes • Headscratchers • Playing With • Useful Notes • Analysis • Image Links • Haiku • Laconic|
"If that's the world's smartest man, God help us."—Lucille Feynman, on Omni magazine naming her son the world's smartest man.
Drummer, lockpicker, artist, teacher, and raconteur... who also won a Nobel Prize for his work on quantum electrodynamics. Richard Feynman was considered one of the greatest scientific minds since Einstein. Even more than his contributions to science (which are numerous and varied), though, he is best remembered today as a personality, an irreverent, skeptical, iconoclastic embodiment of what a real scientist ought to be.
Born in Far Rockaway, New York in 1918, Feynman showed a passion for science at an early age. Much of his bedroom was taken up with electrical apparatus, and he often made pocket money by fixing radios. He attended MIT, and had nearly finished his postgraduate work at Princeton when he was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project.
As the youngest group leader at Los Alamos, he was often sought out by the older, more eminent scientists as a sounding board, because he was one of the few young physicists who wasn't too awestruck to disagree with them. During this time, he also became skilled at picking locks and breaking into safes, usually by guessing or stealing the combination. He would later brag that he had opened safes containing the greatest treasure of all time: the secrets of the atomic bomb.
This scientist's life provides examples of:
- Absent-Minded Professor - Mostly averted, although he did have trouble telling left from right.
- It's rather funny to think that he opposed for years the theory of parity violation in weak interactions - which, simplifying very much, states that you can tell left from right at a subatomic level.
- Casanova - Who says all scientists are nerds?
- Einstein Hair - a mild case. During the Challenger investigation, he had to be reminded to comb it by another commissioner.
- Famous Last Words - "I'd hate to die twice. It's so boring."
- Hard on Soft Science - Very much. That is, he was interested in such areas and was very annoyed to discover that beyond the neurophysiology starts the endless swamp of speculations he as a physicist just could not take seriously. And then managed to convey his opinion on the matter to surprising number of people.
- Morton's Fork - he escaped the draft by flunking the psychological evaluation, and nicely sent-up Catch-22 when he found out he failed, in a letter to the army board.
- It should be noted that he didn't intentionally flunk, he simply answered honestly. For instance, when the psychologist asked if he thought people stared at him, he said, "Yeah, probably a few staring right now," referring to the small room with people waiting who have nothing else to look at. The psychologist said that was "narcissistic tendencies with paranoia".
- Mouthful of Pi - He wanted to memorize Pi up to the 762nd digit, at which point there is a string of six nines in a row, so that he could say "...nine nine nine nine nine nine, and so on" and thus mislead people into thinking Pi was a rational number. This misconception is amplified by the fact that up to that point, the longest string of repeating digits is only 3 digits long. This sequence has been named the Feynman Point in his honor.
- Nerds Are Sexy - possible Trope Codifier.
- Obfuscating Stupidity - or perhaps "Obfuscating Innocence." His memoirs live this trope.
- Sarcastic Confession: He perpetrated a prank in his fraternity, and to find out who did it, the fraternity president asked each member in turn to swear his innocence. When it was Feynman's turn to swear (after a bunch of other members swore their innocence), he admitted his guilt, but everyone chalked it up to sarcasm and it didn't occur to them that he never swore that he was innocent, or did anything but say the exact opposite.
- Sucky School - He hunted down a lot of the dumb gobbledygook displacing any real science from the education once it was brought to his attention. Wrote Lucky Numbers, O Americana, Outra Vez!, Judging Books by Their Covers.
The main purpose of my talk is to demonstrate to you that no science is being taught in Brazil!
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Feynman was the Red to Julian Schwinger's Blue.
- The Rival - Many of his colleagues found him abrasive and unprofessional, but his two greatest rivals were Julian Schwinger (with whom he, along with Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, shared the above-noted Nobel,) and Murray Gell-Mann.
- Theme Tune - This was written about him.