Author Topic: I discovered something inadvertently interesting about Feynman!  (Read 3572 times)

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Offline Neutral Milk

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This is a strange understanding I came to while listening to Feynman, and is entirely about my way of interpreting Feynman's work and not at all what Feynman may have intended. It inadvertently says a lot about context and our limited understanding of people when reading autobiographic works. It's neat that this realization came out of reading a pair of books that were about the wonders that come with deeper understanding.

It is also important to realize that this is me remembering now what I felt about a book I listened to 6 months ago.

I had previously listened to the unabriged audio version of "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"

I found the book fascinating, but found one thing strange about Feynman's character.. He didn't talk too much about his first wife, except to explain a few of her jokes and to explain that she was in the hospital. He has a few anecdotes about her, and he does not say much about her after he discusses the story of her death. He does mention that he didn't seem to feel very sad about it (he speculates this is because they had been prepared for it, as they knew it was coming) until a few months later when he realizes she would have liked a hat (or something) in a store window.

Those of you who read this book or "What do you care..." will remember these anecdotes.

Anyway, at the time it struck me that Feynman seemed somewhat cold hearted. He clearly (this is my perspective then) didn't care much for this first wife of his. She was someone from his past but not a very important character in his life.

I loved Feynman from reading this book, thought he was a fascinating character, but this one facet of his personality really bothered me.

Today I began listening to "What do you care what people think?". Boy was I wrong about him.

The book recounts his entire time with this first wife of his, in beautiful detail. At the end of her life he recounts the events in almost the exact same way as he had in the other book, although focusing more on her family and less on Los Alamos. Now I was listening to virtually the exact same story but the context was so different I felt like it was about a completely different person.

Basically the point of all this is that I had never before realized how limited autobiographies (or biographies) are. I probably thought I did, but never had it been presented to me in such a concrete, emotionally tangible way. I thought I understood a good bit about Feynman, but I really had no idea, and I probably still don't understand him at all now.

Most of what is in these books comes from his point of view, except for a few letters written by other people. These short letters with tiny glimpses on Feynman from the outside again provide a completely different take on the guy!

I'm harping on Feynman because this is where the insight came, but I feel certain this can be expounded onto any other author who writes self referential non-fiction.

In retrospect it seems terribly obvious, and I'm sorry it isn't that fascinating of an insight, but it was to me today. Hopefully I keep this in mind next time I finish a work of non-fiction.

Offline whitedevilbrewing

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Re: I discovered something inadvertently interesting about Feynman!
« Reply #1 on: July 15, 2008, 08:23:08 PM »
Genius clears up this aspect of his personality a lot too. 

Offline Neutral Milk

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Re: I discovered something inadvertently interesting about Feynman!
« Reply #2 on: July 15, 2008, 08:27:24 PM »
Genius clears up this aspect of his personality a lot too. 

Which aspect? His relationships with others as opposed to with his work?

Offline DaveTheReader

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Re: I discovered something inadvertently interesting about Feynman!
« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2008, 08:29:49 PM »
I don’t find this at all strange. Many of Feynman’s writings are actually writings about Feynman by students and others who knew him or listened to his lectures. He was quite a character. For example, he had a proficiency for safecracking. He was so good at it that he accepted challenges to open safes. He got so good at it that he would sit and read a magazine for a while, then quickly walk over and crack the safe. This was at Los Alamos during the Manhattan project. After the first fission explosion, Trinity, Feynman played the bongo drums.

He was a complex character.

I have written a number of posts, that I didn’t actually post; I simply felt that they were too private. If you think of a book as having a conversation with a reader, then there may be things that you don’t want to tell the reader.

The big insight I got from Feynman was in his six lectures. He said that Physics was very badly taught. Physics teachers taught the way they had been taught. In other words, you start out with inclined planes, levers and so forth. Most people lose interest in Physics at that point. That is exactly what happened to me. Feynman taught differently and much more interestingly.

Of course there are people who are completely insensitive: autistic, Aspberger’s syndrome, sociopaths etc. I don’t think that Feynman was one of them from what I have read.

Offline whitedevilbrewing

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Re: I discovered something inadvertently interesting about Feynman!
« Reply #4 on: July 15, 2008, 08:31:17 PM »
Genius clears up this aspect of his personality a lot too. 

Which aspect? His relationships with others as opposed to with his work?

Definitely has that; I was thinking specifically with how he dealt with his first wife's death.

Offline Neutral Milk

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Re: I discovered something inadvertently interesting about Feynman!
« Reply #5 on: July 15, 2008, 08:38:53 PM »

Of course there are people who are completely insensitive: autistic, Aspberger’s syndrome, sociopaths etc. I don’t think that Feynman was one of them from what I have read.


I guess it didn't come out right, I didn't mean insensitive as a general characteristic, I meant about this person in particular.

After listening to the first book I felt (obviously incorrectly) they had a loveless marriage, which didn't really seem to fit with the kind of person I felt Feynman to be.

Offline DaveTheReader

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Re: I discovered something inadvertently interesting about Feynman!
« Reply #6 on: July 15, 2008, 09:00:05 PM »
I don’t find it strange that a technical person doesn’t let you know himself or herself personally. This isn’t insensitive, it just means that they have the job of teaching Physics or Math or whatever. On the other hand, if you are insensitive: autistic, Asperger’s syndrome, sociopaths etc., what better way to hide it than to be in a technical field. I am told that computer programming is filled with Asperger people. As a programmer, I wouldn’t deny this.

I think that it would have been interesting to have Feynman as a teacher. I think he was at Caltech. I found his book QED quite interesting.

Have you found out if he was skeptical and or atheist. I don’t know the answer, so, I am asking.
Maybe I should read some more about him or by him.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger_syndrome  // Asperger’s syndrome

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Feynman  //Feynman

« Last Edit: July 15, 2008, 09:05:00 PM by David Neises »

Offline Neutral Milk

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Re: I discovered something inadvertently interesting about Feynman!
« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2008, 09:04:23 PM »
Have you found out if he was skeptical and or atheist. I don’t know the answer, so, I am asking.
Maybe I should read some more about him or by him.

From what I understand he wasn't skeptical in the sense that he was involved in debunking, but it's clear that he didn't buy into any pseudoscience. He was skeptical in the same sense any good scientist is skeptical.

He mentions going to Sunday School at his Temple when he was 14, and almost being elected President at some organization for the kids there, and how the authorities at the church didn't like that because he was already an outspoken atheist by then.

Offline heliocentricra

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Re: I discovered something inadvertently interesting about Feynman!
« Reply #8 on: July 15, 2008, 09:31:15 PM »
He most definitely was a skeptic. I saw a documentary about him that has footage of him at this New Age retreat. This one guy sitting on a pillow asks him what he thinks about the possibility of anti-gravity machines, and Feynman says, "You're sitting on one right now." Brilliant.

Offline whitedevilbrewing

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Re: I discovered something inadvertently interesting about Feynman!
« Reply #9 on: July 15, 2008, 09:32:06 PM »
"It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil — which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama."


-F


*re: the religion thing

Offline susande

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Re: I discovered something inadvertently interesting about Feynman!
« Reply #10 on: July 16, 2008, 04:36:17 PM »
I'm familiar with your thoughts on this, NeutralMilk. I have not read What do you care.., but I also got an awkward impression of his relationship with his first wife when I read Surely you're joking... This probably isn't a very noble generalization, but my thoughts were almost like "wow, he's this great and intelligent guy, but he must have married his first wife 'because it's just something one does' and not because they had a real connection". I had sort of forgotten about it now, but I am of course glad to hear that they in fact did have a loving relationship. :)
I'm not just sure.. I'm HIV positive.

Offline Apeiron

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Re: I discovered something inadvertently interesting about Feynman!
« Reply #11 on: July 17, 2008, 09:15:31 AM »
I cannot relate to your position at all, but that may well be because I read the second book right after the first. When I started reading your post I was - wait for it! - yes, baffled. I remembered how Feynman spoke about his first wife, and how he clearly loved her very much. Then you reminded me that what I remembered was probably from the second book. Still, I can't remember having that impression from the first book either.

Offline MikeHz

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Re: I discovered something inadvertently interesting about Feynman!
« Reply #12 on: July 22, 2008, 11:22:39 AM »
I cannot relate to your position at all, but that may well be because I read the second book right after the first. When I started reading your post I was - wait for it! - yes, baffled. I remembered how Feynman spoke about his first wife, and how he clearly loved her very much. Then you reminded me that what I remembered was probably from the second book. Still, I can't remember having that impression from the first book either.

Same for me. I read "Joking" first, and clearly recall having the impression that he greatly loved his first wife.
"It's easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled." Mark Twain

Offline spiney

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Re: I discovered something inadvertently interesting about Feynman!
« Reply #13 on: July 25, 2008, 10:43:43 AM »
In a way, although growing up in Queens, Feynman was a bit like James Clark Maxwell, who used to poke everything mechanical, and ask "but what's the go of it?".

http://www.victorianweb.org/science/maxwell/banerjee.html

In one Feynman biog - Gribbin's, I think - it's mentioned that he started to fix radios by "figuring out" how they worked, you could see if a wire off or tube not glowing, then he got into simple cct theory ........

http://www.maths.manchester.ac.uk/~avb/micromathematics/2006/08/downward-spiral-of-physics.html (scroll down a bit!).

As has been pointed out - I forget who/where - you couldn't do that now! Taking apart a modern day tv set or computer just reveals a small number of inscrutable black rectangles ...............

(added) I seem to remember he got special compassionate leave from Manhattan Project, to visit 1st wife Arline, while she was dying .......

http://billkerr.blogspot.com/2005/05/richard-feynman.html
« Last Edit: July 25, 2008, 01:30:41 PM by spiney »

Offline Neutral Milk

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Re: I discovered something inadvertently interesting about Feynman!
« Reply #14 on: July 25, 2008, 02:00:38 PM »
In one Feynman biog - Gribbin's, I think - it's mentioned that he started to fix radios by "figuring out" how they worked, you could see if a wire off or tube not glowing, then he got into simple cct theory ........

http://www.maths.manchester.ac.uk/~avb/micromathematics/2006/08/downward-spiral-of-physics.html (scroll down a bit!).
This is discussed in detail in "surely you're joking"

Quote
As has been pointed out - I forget who/where - you couldn't do that now! Taking apart a modern day tv set or computer just reveals a small number of inscrutable black rectangles ...............

(added) I seem to remember he got special compassionate leave from Manhattan Project, to visit 1st wife Arline, while she was dying .......

http://billkerr.blogspot.com/2005/05/richard-feynman.html
Yes, but the way I read "Surely you're joking" he seemed to be doing it more out of "it's the right thing to do" rather than out of romantic love. Turns out this was a false impression.

 

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