Surely You’re joking Mr Feynman

Surely You’re joking Mr Feynman (1985) by Richard Feynman is a very interesting collection of tales by Richard Feynman. Feynman won the Nobel Prize in 1965 and also worked on the Manhattan project.

The book has stories about Feynman growing up in Brooklyn, his travels and of course his science. It’s odd but somehow the book conveys the feeling of getting to know Feynman. Feynman’s straight talk about how he relates to people and things is fascinating.

Feynman talks about fixing radios as a child, cracking safes at Los Alamos, picking up women, Brazil, education, being hypnotised and various other things. Feynman’s brilliance is also cleverly revealed. There are also some great quotes about the way scientists need to work:

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.

I would like to add something that’s not essential to the science, hut something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you’re talking as a scientist. I am not trying to tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your girlfriend, or something like that, when you’re not trying to be a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We’ll leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen

This kind of fantastic honesty is present in some areas of science, particularly physics, where things can be tested fairly simply. In areas of science that deal with more complex systems and where proof is often statistically derived it all becomes much harder to avoid fooling ourselves and hiding and using tricks becomes very quickly a slippery slope.

At any rate, Feynman’s book is a fun read that offers some insight into Feynman. I’ve read the book a number of times over the years and still find new things in it each time I read it.


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