Today we will talk about a scientist who was an extraordinary man, known as a teacher, lover, master safe cracker (who stole papers of Manhattan Project), fan of Las Vegas’s strip clubs, exceptional liar, musician, artist and probably the most brilliant, influential, and iconoclastic figure in his field in the post-World War II era.
How does one define a role model? A prodigy, hard-worker, achiever, winner in the field one is interested in, right? Well in that case the Nobel Prize winner theoretical Physicist Richard P. Feynman is a perfect candidate as role model to physicists. He was dangerously smart and an exceptional teacher. But underneath everything we generally know about him as a scientist, he had a curios and alarmingly mischievous mind that knew no boundaries.
First let me just mention some of his works:
During World War II Feynman was recruited to serve as a staff member of the U.S. atomic bomb project at Princeton University (1941-42). At Los Alamos he became the youngest group leader in the theoretical division of the Manhattan Project. Feynman remade quantum electrodynamics and he was co-awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965 for this work, which tied together in an experimentally perfect package all the varied phenomena at work in light, radio, electricity, and magnetism. Also he was a member of the Rogers Commission, the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Feynman has been credited with pioneering the field of quantum computing and introducing the concept of nanotechnology.
Enough with the facts already! Now lets talk about the wisdom he left behind!
While stealing papers of Nuclear bombing, you should leave mysterious clues: Feynman was a master of desk wiping, lock picking and safe cracking. He even used to think about the mentality and psychology of the safe owner to crack faster. He once cracked three safes of Manhattan project and left certain clues as a mysterious mastermind. Why? Oh just for the fun of course!
If you have to lie, lie with full confidence: It doesn’t matter if what you are saying is absolute truth or not. Even if you are unsure, don’t show it. Just go through it in full throttle judging the situation. Example- Feynman once got on stage and recited a jibrish with just the few words he knew in a foreign language. When one doubtfully asked if it was wrong, he replied that the man didn’t understand the depth of the recital!
If you’re in Vegas and short in money, act as drunk friends of the strippers: I don’t even have the courage and experience to explain this one.
Love what you do and do what you love: In his own words- “Physics is like sex: sure it may give some practical result, but that’s not why we do it.”
Know yourself, find where you belong and embrace your faults: “I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”
“That’s the trouble with not being in your own field: You don’t take it seriously.”
“All the time you’re saying to yourself, ‘I could do that, but I won’t,’–which is just another way of saying that you can’t.”
And most important of all- don’t lie to yourself: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Even after being a dashing lover and romantic husband, Feynman was a phenomenal teacher (yes, this man was everything one wishes to be). His series of books The Feynman Lectures on Physics is perhaps the most popular physics book ever written which Nature described the book as having “simplicity, beauty, unity … presented with enthusiasm and insight”.
Although he had experimented with LSD and Marijuana just because he was curious about the effects, he was was a damn fine fellow when it came to the meaning and purpose of life. To him the purpose was knowledge as he had described, “I was born not knowing and have had only a little time to change that here and there.”
A boy who knew how radios work, a student who invented his own mathematical symbols for better understanding, an undergraduate who stole a door, the only scientist who watched Atom Bomb test (Trinity test) without wearing glasses, and the only scientist ever who had asked a reporter if he can refuse the Nobel Prize because he didn’t like to answer too many phone calls – Mr. Feynman had lived a life that we live in 4 or 5 lives summed up together. Why? For the glory of knowledge of course! He was an unique personality beyond rules and paths.
Thus like many many other students of physics, if I’m asked about my role model, it is none other than R. P. Feynman- a man who understood very very early that one should focus on understanding instead of just knowing things. Reading about all his life and life’s works one wonders what an honour it would have been to see him once face to face. The man who must have been the only one to appear in the world of Physics with such energy and brilliance.
In his precious word, a person should live a life “where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.”