Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman
Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman

Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman

The Phi Beta Delta fraternity had almost collapsed the year before, because there were two different cliques that had split the fraternity in half. There was a group of socialite characters, who liked to have dances and fool around in their cars afterwards, and so on, and there was a group of guys who did nothing but study, and never went to the dances. Just before I came to the fraternity they had had a big meeting and had made an important compromise. They were going to get together and help each other out. Everyone had to have a grade level of at least such-and-such. If they were sliding behind, the guys who studied all the time would teach them and help them do their work. On the other side, everybody had to go to every dance. If a guy didn’t know how to get a date, the other guys would get him a date. If the guy didn’t know how to dance, they’d teach him to dance. One group was teaching the other how to think, while the other guys were teaching them how to be social. (Location 347)

Tags: favorite

Note: trading skills - social and intellectual

But you have to have absolute confidence. Keep right on going, and nothing will happen. (Location 553)

So MIT was good, but Slater was right to warn me to go to another school for my graduate work. And I often advise my students the same way. Learn what the rest of the world is like. The variety is worthwhile. (Location 886)

Note: Learn from a number of different sources. Variety is important

IN THE GRADUATE College dining room at Princeton everybody used to sit with his own group. I sat with the physicists, but after a bit I thought: It would be nice to see what the rest of the world is doing, so I’ll sit for a week or two in each of the other groups. (Location 969)

Note: moving seat for the dinner - it would be nice to see what the rest of the world is doing

What I had intended to do was to find out whether they thought theoretical constructs were essential objects. The electron is a theory that we use; it is so useful in understanding the way nature works that we can almost call it real. I wanted to make the idea of a theory clear by analogy. In the case of the brick, my next question was going to be, “What about the inside of the brick?”—and I would then point out that no one has ever seen the inside of a brick. Every time you break the brick, you only see a surface. That the brick has an inside is a simple theory which helps us understand things better. The theory of electrons, is analogous. (Location 986)

And, just like it should in all stories about philosophers, it ended up in complete chaos. (Location 997)

They had wasted all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes. (Location 1029)

Tags: warehouse for facts

Note: do not waste time learning that which can be easily looked up

But that was my big moment: I gave a seminar in the biology department at Harvard! I always do that, get into something and see how far I can go. (Location 1094)

Note: Get into something and see how far you can go!

The world is so different at that scale that you can pick up water and hold it! (Location 1350)

And then I thought to myself, “You know, what they think of you is so fantastic, it’s impossible to live up to it. You have no responsibility to live up to it!” It was a brilliant idea: You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing. It wasn’t a failure on my part that the Institute for Advanced Study expected me to be that good; it was impossible. It was clearly a mistake—and the moment I appreciated the possibility that they might be wrong, I realized that it was also true of all the other places, including my own university. I am what I am, and if they expected me to be good and they’re offering me some money for it, it’s their hard luck. (Location 2706)

It was effortless. It was easy to play with these things. It was like uncorking a bottle: Everything flowed out effortlessly. I almost tried to resist it! There was no importance to what I was doing, but ultimately there was. The diagrams and the whole business that I got the Nobel Prize for came from that piddling around with the wobbling plate. (Location 2740)

Tags: metaphor

Note: The uncorking of a bottle, everything flowed effortlessly

“Don’t you know how to square numbers near 50?” he says. “You square 50—that’s 2500—and subtract 100 times the difference of your number from 50 (in this case it’s 2), so you have 2300. If you want the correction, square the difference and add it on. That makes 2304.” (Location 3056)

I had a way of having adventures which is hard to explain: it’s like fishing, where you put a line out and then you have to have patience. (Location 3555)

So Nick the Greek was really an educated character. He was a very nice and engaging man. I thanked him for the explanation; now I understood it. I have to understand the world, you see. (Location 3712)

When you’re young, you have all these things to worry about—should you go there, what about your mother. And you worry, and try to decide, but then something else comes up. It’s much easier to just plain decide. Never mind—nothing is going to change your mind. I did that once when I was a student at MIT. I got sick and tired of having to decide what kind of dessert I was going to have at the restaurant, so I decided it would always be chocolate ice cream, and never worried about it again—I had the solution to that problem. Anyway, I decided it would always be Caltech. (Location 3776)

Tags: decisions, newsletter, favorite

So I wrote them back a letter that said, “After reading the salary, I’ve decided that I must refuse. The reason I have to refuse a salary like that is I would be able to do what I’ve always wanted to do—get a wonderful mistress, put her up in an apartment, buy her nice things. . . . With the salary you have offered, I could actually do that, and I know what would happen to me. I’d worry about her, what she’s doing; I’d get into arguments when I come home, and so on. All this bother would make me uncomfortable and unhappy. I wouldn’t be able to do physics well, and it would be a big mess! What I’ve always wanted to do would be bad for me, so I’ve decided that I can’t accept your offer.” (Location 3794)

Since then I never pay any attention to anything by “experts.” I calculate everything myself. When people said the quark theory was pretty good, I got two Ph.D.s, Finn Ravndal and Mark Kislinger, to go through the whole works with me, just so I could check that the thing was really giving results that fit fairly well, and that it was a significantly good theory. I’ll never make that mistake again, reading the experts’ opinions. Of course, you only live one life, and you make all your mistakes, and learn what not to do, and that’s the end of you. (Location 4113)

Note: dont trust all data or believe everything experts say. do the calculations for yourself

understood that to sell a drawing is not to make money, but to be sure that it’s in the home of someone who really wants it; someone who would feel bad if they didn’t have it. This was interesting. (Location 4302)

Tags: art

My businessman friend Dudley Wright saw the drawing and I told him the story about it. He said, “You oughta triple its price. With art, nobody is really sure of its value, so people often think, ‘If the price is higher, it must be more valuable!’” (Location 4400)

Tags: art

Note: nobody knows the price of art

“I need to know what you mean by ‘acceptable to the community.’ Nothing is accepted by everybody, so what percentage of the community must accept something in order for it to be ‘acceptable to the community?’” (Location 4422)

Note: nothing is accpeted by everybody

I started to say that the idea of distributing everything evenly is based on a theory that there’s only X amount of stuff in the world, that somehow we took it away from the poorer countries in the first place, and therefore we should give it back to them. But this theory doesn’t take into account the real reason for the differences between countries—that is, the development of new techniques for growing food, the development of machinery to grow food and to do other things, and the fact that all this machinery requires the concentration of capital. It isn’t the stuff, but the power to make the stuff, that is important. But I realize now that these people were not in science; they didn’t understand it. They didn’t understand technology; they didn’t understand their time. (Location 4553)

“But we have to have a receipt.” “I told you how much it cost. If you don’t trust me, why do you let me tell you what I think is good and bad about the schoolbooks?” There was a big stew about that. Unfortunately, I had been used to giving lectures for some company or university or for ordinary people, not for the government. I was used to, “What were your expenses?”—“So-and-so much.”—“Here you are, Mr. Feynman.” I then decided I wasn’t going to give them a receipt for anything. After the second trip to San Francisco they again asked me for my ticket and receipts. “I haven’t got any.” “This can’t go on, Mr. Feynman.” “When I accepted to serve on the commission, I was told you were going to pay my expenses.” “But we expected to have some receipts to prove the expenses.” “I have nothing to prove it, but you know I live in Los Angeles and I go to these other towns; how the hell do you think I get there?” They didn’t give in, and neither did I. I feel when you’re in a position like that, where you choose not to buckle down to the System, you must pay the consequences if it doesn’t work. So I’m perfectly satisfied, but I never did get compensation for the trips. It’s one of those games I play. They want a receipt? I’m not giving them a receipt. Then you’re not going to get the money. OK, then I’m not taking the money. They don’t trust me? The hell with it; they don’t have to pay me. Of course it’s absurd! I know that’s the way the government works; well, screw the government! I feel that human beings should treat human beings like human beings. And unless I’m going to be treated like one, I’m not going to have anything to do with them! They feel bad? They feel bad. I feel bad, too. We’ll just let it go. I know they’re “protecting the taxpayer,” but see how well you think the taxpayer was being protected in the following situation. (Location 4830)

The consul said, “Make a list of the people you would like to invite, and we’ll make a list of the people we are inviting. Then I’ll come to your office and we’ll compare the lists to see if there are any duplicates, and we’ll make up the invitations . . .” So I made up my list. It had about eight people—my neighbor from across the street, my artist friend Zorthian, and so on. The consul came over to my office with his list: the Governor of the State of California, the This, the That; Getty, the oilman; some actress—it had three hundred people! And, needless to say, there was no duplication whatsoever! Then I began to get a little bit nervous. The idea of meeting all these dignitaries frightened me. (Location 4949)

I had a certain psychological difficulty all the way through this period. You see, I had been brought up by my father against royalty and pomp (he was in the uniforms business, so he knew the difference between a man with a uniform on, and with the uniform off—it’s the same man). I had actually learned to ridicule this stuff all my life, and it was so strong and deeply cut into me that I couldn’t go up to a king without some strain. It was childish, I know, but I was brought up that way, so it was a problem. (Location 4962)

Note: there is no difference between a man with a uniform on or off

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that. (Location 5563)

So I have just one wish for you—the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and 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. (Location 5626)

Note: try to maintain integrety in your work