Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Richard Feynman (May 11, 1918)

Feynman was an undisputed genius in physics and other sciences, with many solid accomplishments and a Nobel Prize. People who watched the hearings investigating the Challenger disaster are unlikely to forget the way he convinced everyone that there was a real cause being hidden by NASA: the O-rings that didn't stand up to take-off conditions.

Sometimes I wonder why Feynman had to write books like Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, inventing a clever, quirky, irreverent persona to go with these solid accomplishments. Bongo drums. Lock picking. Rejecting Japanese because different people had to use different levels of language. All kinds of bad-boy stuff. (A really good read!)

Feynman's self-characterization includes being a secular Jew: completely non-believing and non-observant. When he was applying to college in 1939, anti-Jewish quotas in Ivy League schools meant he couldn't get in to many if them, despite his obvious gifts -- he received his education at MIT. Perhaps his flamboyant self-image later in his books owes something to having been rejected earlier. Perhaps not.

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