Feynman, on the inconceivable nature of nature


NOVA had a couple of good programs on Richard Feynman that I wish I had — it had never occurred to me to look at YouTube to see what people might have uploaded.

I ran into this one:

Richard Feynman struck my consciousness with the publication of his quite humorous autobiography, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman. I thought it was a wonderful book, full of good character portraits of scientists as I saw them in my undergraduate days, only more famous ones. He followed that with What Do You Care What Other People Think?

By then, of course, Feynman was one of my heroes. His stories are useful in dozens of situations — his story of joining the samba bands in Rio testify to the joy of living, and the need for doing new things. Brazil was also the place he confronted the dangers of rote learning, when students could work equations perfectly for examples in the book — which they had memorized — but they couldn’t understand real world applications, such as describing how the sunlight coming off the ocean at Ipanema was so beautiful.

Feynman wrote about creationism, and about the dangers of voodoo science, in his now-famous essay on “Cargo cult science” — it’s so famous one has difficulty tracking down the facts to confirm the story.

Feynman’s stories of his wife, and her illness, and his love for her, were also great inspirations. Romance always gets me.

I failed to track him closely enough. During the run of the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, we had the misfortune of having scheduled a hearing in Orlando on January 30 (or maybe 29), 1986. We had hoped that the coincidental launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28 might boost our press response. Of course, the Challenger exploded. Our hearing went on as planned (we had a tough schedule to meet). The disaster affected our staff a lot, those who were in Florida, and the rest of us in Washington where many of us had been on the phone to Florida when the disaster occurred.

Feynman’s appointment to the commission studying the disaster was a brilliant move, I thought. Our schedule, unfortunately, kept me tied up on almost every day the Challenger commission met. So I never did walk the three blocks down the street to meet Feynman, thinking there would be other opportunities. He was already fatally ill. He died on February 15, 1988. I missed a chance of a lifetime.

We still have Feynman’s writings. We read the book aloud to our kids when they were younger. James, our youngest and a senior this year, read Surely You’re Joking again this summer, sort of a warmup to AP physics and his search for a college.

And we still have audio and video. Remembering Feynman makes even the most avidly atheist hope for an afterlife, just to get a chance to hear Feynman explain what life was really all about, and how the universe really works.

Other notes:

Tip of the old scrub brush to Charismatic Megafauna.

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7 Responses to Feynman, on the inconceivable nature of nature

  1. Pam says:

    It’s not the theme; just the stupid snapviews. I suspect that is interfering with some readers.

    Snapview is a horrible interuption.

    Check dashboard | presentation | extras to see what you have checked or unchecked.

    Like

  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Okay — how many of you use Opera?

    (May have to move to yet another template . . .)

    Like

  3. Pam says:

    I saw no problems in Firefox but Opera is showing those lousy SnapShots on some links (used to be SnapView or maybe something new).

    Under your dashboard is something called “extras”. That can be turned off.

    Like

  4. bernarda says:

    Ed, it is various links and is irregular. Sometimes they start flashing and won’t connect and other times the flashing stops and the connection works.

    Sometimes if I am patient and wait a while or try more than once they work.

    Like

  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Links foul up now? All links, or just the YouTube links?

    I use Firefox myself — it works well; the problem IE users had with display seems to be gone . . . a blogger can’t win!

    Like

  6. bernarda says:

    Your links cause strange behavior on my Firefox browser, and there is no way I am going to use IE. They worked well before your change in format.

    However, “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out” is also on youtube(until the BBC pulls it?).

    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=the+pleasure+of+finding+things+out&search=

    I have read the Feynman books you mention and they are delightful.

    Like

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