Richard Feynman interviews

I've come across some interviews of physicist Richard Feynman for the first time and am very charmed and stimulated. This is a profound and dynamic speaker who deigned to share his humor and mind with the public. The results are fantastic -- intuitive but scientific explanations of phenomena and I thought I'd post a couple of favorite clips.

On fire, or how trees come mostly from the air ("Trees come out of the air? They surely come out of the gr... no, they come out of the air."):

I love this next one, also from the early 80s, for its profundity on the nature of scientific explanation:

This final one is from the mid 70s and I typed up a quote from it, in case it might come in handy for an intro. philosophy class:

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing, than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything, and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here. I might think about it a little bit, if I can’t figure it out I go to something else.

But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose … which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell. Possibly.

-- Richard Feynman

Enjoy

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Funny, I've known of this guy for a while

(#201722)

and knew he was a scientist but, for the life of me, never had the curiosity to check him out.

Thanks for the links. I watched 1-10 and smiled a lot...his enthusiasm is "catchy".

It is better to get what you want than it is to be right. -me

Glad you liked it corky

(#201768)

I wish there was something similar on the TV here since I agree it could be infectious.

We should all force our nephews to watch this sort of thing.

A man of varied interests too

(#201721)

Rent Genghis Blues. It's a fascinating documentary about Tuvan throat singing, and it features some tape of Feynman.

"I don't want us to descend into a nation of bloggers." - Steve Jobs

Huh. I saw Ghengis blues when it came out

(#201769)

I guess i didn't know who Richard Feynman was at the time.

I was interested to find out that the main blind character, Paul Pena, lived about 3 blocks away from me at the time in San Francisco's colorful mission district.

Bummer.

(#201623)
aireachail's picture

Based on the title, I clicked on this diary expecting to watch a 20+ year-old vid of the great physicist in conversation with a redheaded, starry-eyed and overly precocious kid.

Pretty much anyone could've handled those interviews

(#201628)

Even my red-headed youthful self hopefully could've kept my trap shut enough to just let the guy ramble his way through interesting topics.

And I'm still starry-eyed! Look at this fawning diary!

My first draft

(#201634)
aireachail's picture

of that comment went,

Based on the title, "Richard Feyman interviews catchy" I clicked on this diary...
Of course, I rejected it as too obvious.

ahem

(#201637)

Of course I thought trees came from the ground and not the air, so whaddo I know.

The funny thing about Feynmann

(#201594)
HankP's picture

was that since he was a very un-traditional type of person many people outside of science found him easy to dismiss. But he was brilliant, his invention of the deceptively simple looking Feynmann diagram is a case in point. Another example was when he served on the panel investigating the space shuttle Challenger disaster, in place of a long and complex discussion he used some O-ring material and a glass of ice water to very simply demonstrate that the material simply didn't work at freezing temperatures.

I blame it all on the Internet

Totally agree.

(#201715)

And I don't know about you, but that ice water demo thing is harder to pull off than people might imagine.

I've tried that kind of approach in IT and people hate it unless you load it up with humor and charisma, but not mockery.

Feynman could pull it off.

I am not a pessimist. I am an incompetent optimist.

Great Man

(#201717)
M Scott Eiland's picture

We were lucky to have him with us as long as we did.

I loved this story from the wiki:

Feynman was sought out by physicist Niels Bohr for one-on-one discussions. He later discovered the reason: most physicists were too in awe of Bohr to argue with him. Feynman had no such inhibitions, vigorously pointing out anything he considered to be flawed in Bohr's thinking. Feynman said he felt as much respect for Bohr as anyone else, but once anyone got him talking about physics, he would become so focused he forgot about social niceties.

The Forvm could certainly do worse than to declare Dr. Feynman our patron (insert word for secular saintlike figure here)--he lived his life in a way that matches our mission statement, if not always how we run matters in practice.

The universe may well have been created without a point--that doesn't imply that we can't give it one.

Feynman relentlessly pursued his colleagues' wives

(#201742)

to the ruination of several of their marriages. Flamboyant to the point of narcissism, he probably suffered from mild autism or Asperger's Syndrome. He frequented prostitutes, reduced relationships with women to mere seduction and philandering. He screwed up pretty much every relationship in his life and he married a dying woman to anger his mother. Beyond merely unique, he relished the consternation and annoyance of his colleagues and could suck the air out of a room unless he was in front of it.

That's an unfair description...

(#201841)

...and mean-spirited too.

he married a dying woman to anger his mother

Really? How would you or anybody know that?

reduced relationships with women to mere seduction and philandering

Well, this is a reference to a period after the death of his first wife. So he didn't exactly feel ready to go searching for a life partner again. Can you blame him? I sure can't.

he relished the consternation and annoyance of his colleagues

You say that as if it were a bad thing. He was a scientist and he didn't want ideas to petrify. Wanted to shake things up. Wanted to call things by their name instead of drowning them in jargon. He was right.

could suck the air out of a room unless he was in front of it

Yeah, well, you go and win a Nobel and then play Mr. Humble. Right. The guy was human. Give him a break.

I am not a pessimist. I am an incompetent optimist.

Uh, coz I read the biography?

(#201855)

which I linked to below? As he got older, Feynman just got more cynical, certainly more cruel, though from his days on the Manhattan Project, he showed a more than healthy disrespect for protocol, the sanctity of other people's marriages and the idea of locked safes.

I have often said fame is harder to handle than fortune. A Nobel Prize is a bit of both, but I don't remember anyone who parlayed his Nobel into a beach house and a long sybaritic, drug-addled stint in the tropics. Feynman was not merely human, there was the strong stench of the unwashed monster to him.

Languages come easily to me. I've succeeded at almost everything I've tried, and I've been accused of genius all my life. It doesn't make me one, and I know enough about myself to reject the notion as fawning attempts at ingratiation or awestruck cargo cultists who can't see the preparation which goes into the appearance of making the difficult look easy. I reject the notion of genius. Fortune favors the prepared: intelligence will never take you as far as hard work, there are a thousand little truisms which point to the same fundamental truth. I would rather be thought a good man than a wise one.

The biography does not support everything you say.

(#201968)

And even if it did, who the heck wrote the biography? A mind reader?

No, you don't know why he married his first wife. You just don't.

You are also judging not just a guy with fame, but a guy who was one of those responsible for the bomb. Feynman knew what the bomb meant. So he turned to hedonism (in the late 50's and 60's, no less, hardly unique behavior). Big deal.

The women he bedded were adults and knew what they were doing.

Feynman was not merely human, there was the strong stench of the unwashed monster to him.

Christ, where do you get this deep knowledge of a guy you never met?

I reject the notion of genius. Fortune favors the prepared: intelligence will never take you as far as hard work, there are a thousand little truisms which point to the same fundamental truth. I would rather be thought a good man than a wise one.

Well, this discussion isn't about you. Fortune favors the prepared, but also the lucky, the rich, the beautiful.

I am not a pessimist. I am an incompetent optimist.

Opinions, like anuses: everyone's got one.

(#201976)

Slagging Gleick the biographer, who seems to have done his homework, avails you nothing. You're no mind reader yourself. Feynman was everything I said he was, and more. Avail yourself of the book: I've provided the link. Clearly you have not read it.

All this weeping and moaning about the terrible nature of the atomic bomb is so much bathos and malarkey and you goddamn well know it. Feynman was a manipulative monster, and a borderline sociopath with overtones of Asperger's. There wasn't an honest bone in his body.

Many people were responsible for the bomb. Feynman was responsible for opening the safes, a rather irresponsible thing to do, no matter how much fun you might think it might be. Everyone was in a race for the bomb, and they're still at it in places like Iran. I hear Burma is interested, too. Other men associated with the bomb were also philanderers, Einstein was another. Einstein was a horrible father and husband. He also stood foursquare in the way of progress, loudly and ignorantly denying quantum physics.

It's true, this discussion is not about me. I attempted, in my own feeble way, to present my biases. I do not believe in Geniuses. You shouldn't either. Hero worship does not become anyone. A man is what he does, and a few elegant experiments and glib metaphors do not make anyone less-responsible for their interaction with other people.

Dude

(#201979)
HankP's picture

absent murder or some other heinous crime, I usually refrain from character assassination unless I've met someone personally. All the bad things you've stated only show Feynman to be human, not a monster.

And I'm afraid you're incorrect, there are geniuses. Galileo, Newton and Einstein are the most used examples, but there are plenty more that aren't famous. I'm sure most of them had character defects as well, but it doesn't change the fact that they saw things no one else did.

I blame it all on the Internet

And also, it was a phase. After he met his last wife

(#202054)
mmghosh's picture

"To be human", heh. I take a dim view of humanity

(#201987)

and always have. You have called me on the carpet for pointing out his "humanity". If by humanity, you mean to attenuate Feynman's flaws, you have failed miserably.

I am contemptuous of excuse-makers, anyway. Feynman reduced human relationships to a sly game, a game at which he cheated. There is no denying his accomplishments, but great accomplishments in one realm do not sit in one pan of the scales as a counterweight to great failures in the other pan.

Both sides now. You may fawn over Feynman: most people who met him did. But those who knew him talked to Gleick: those who knew him were less star-struck, especially the people involved in the marriages he ruined.

Quid autem est aeterna memoria? nil nisi vanitas. Quid igitur est, in quo studium collocari oportet? Hoc unum, mens justa et actiones communioni accommodatae et sermo mendacii ex et animi adfectio prompta ad amplectendum quidquid contingit ut necessarium, ut familiare, ut ab ejusmodi principio et fonte promanans.

What is eternal fame? Nothing but vanity. But what should concern us all? Only this, a just soul, action in betterment of the community, speech which never lies and a welcoming mentality to see all that happens as reasonable and necessary, flowing from the fountain of a similar and common origin.

Now Marcus Aurelius was a wise man. Wiser than me or you. I'll take his words over pretty much anyone else's.

Hey, I've read Meditations.

(#202147)

You would kind of guess that given my sig.

Marcus was right. But Feynman wasn't Paris Hilton. He got into physics because he liked it. Fame came to him by his success at it, and his passion for explaining it to others.

I have read a lot of his course material and the clarity is unique and refreshing. It has influenced a lot of my approach to technical subjects.

I don't fawn. I am grateful to a mind who showed me the way to approach a broad class of problems, not the way to approach broads.

I've got a touch of Asperger's myself. The fact that you use that as an insult and associate it implicitly with sociopathic behavior really says a lot more of you than it says of Feynman.

You read a book and you think you know the guy. You don't know anything. You know what the author, for whatever reason, wanted you to know.

An author who chose a man of fame to further his own, I might add, and who stood much to gain by focusing on sex and drugs. We are not talking about a disinterested party. We are talking about someone who would make more money by trashing Feynman than otherwise.

I am not a pessimist. I am an incompetent optimist.

I don't see any carpet here

(#202070)
HankP's picture

the discussion was about Feynmen being a brilliant physicist and excellent teacher (and he was both of those things). No one called him a moral exemplar or implied that he was because he was a brilliant physicist. I make no apologies for his personal life, I don't know enough about him to do so. But even if he was the monster you think he was (and I think you're overdoing it) that doesn't affect what he was good at.

I blame it all on the Internet

Look, all I was doing was adding some depth to the portrait

(#202131)

and if I've said negative things about someone you admire, none of them are untrue, if Gleick is to be believed. You can't have it both ways: teachers who sleep with their students are abusing their authority. Men who take advantage of their colleagues' wives out at Los Alamos do tend to stink up the joint. Feynman was a contemptible person, if a brilliant scholar and teacher.

I have his published lectures, a gift from a woman who knew him and slept with him while he was in California. She also gave me Dava Sobel's Longitude. A remarkable woman, a teaching geologist. Over time, we've given each other many books and traded many stories.

If you want to know why I don't like Feynman, (though I do respect his obvious intellect and pedagogy), here's where it gets sorta personal and confessional in nature. My old man was a college professor after we came back to the States. He slept his way through about half the females in his Freshman English class every year. I suppose it was all consensual: one of them taught me to make perfect pie crust. Much of my life was lived in reaction to my old man and his lovely intellect and pedagogy.

Well, now you know. More biases revealed.

I guess

(#202133)
HankP's picture

I tend to limit my admiration, which may not come across in comments. As cynical as I am, I don't really know anyone that I'd care to model my personal life after.

I blame it all on the Internet

Mostly I modeled mine orthogonally to those I hated.

(#202139)

We always learn more from failure than success.

That must be my problem

(#202158)
HankP's picture

I don't really hate people, just what they do. But I'm far from perfect myself.

I blame it all on the Internet

We were discussing whether Feynman is a moral exemplar

(#202075)

It was implicit in MScott's suggestion that Feynman be something of a patron saint for the site.

We're discussing whether to praise Feynman for

-- his disdain for authority and associated conventions of deference

-- having the courage to live with uncertainty

-- searching out a variety of mind-expanding experiences

-- valuing clear thinking and abhorring jargon-filled thought

-- valuing teaching and communicating ideas to the public (as exemplified by the linked videos).

And I say we should praise Feynman, in a moral sense, for these things and hold him up as an exemplar, even if he had failings in other areas.

One Can Believe That Elizabeth I. . .

(#202161)
M Scott Eiland's picture

. . .was the greatest of the English monarchs without approving of executing religious dissenters. Isaac Newton was a vindictive recluse with rather bizarre religious beliefs--and the world would be a far lesser place had he never lived.

The universe may well have been created without a point--that doesn't imply that we can't give it one.

I guess I have a different definition for "Moral Exemplar"

(#202077)
HankP's picture

just because some things about a person are admirable doesn't mean all things about a person are admirable. The failings brought up by Blaise are hardly unique to Feynman or most other accomplished people. I guess I'd call him more of a "Scientific Exemplar" or a "Rational Exemplar" than involving his personal life in this. Isaac Newton was from all accounts a despicable human being - vain, self-important and vengeful - but his accomplishments are impossible to discount because of his personal failings.

I blame it all on the Internet

I cannot agree

(#202148)

I think there is a deep moral value to speaking clearly instead of concealing knowledge (or ignorance) behind jargon. This fight is a good fight, and due to my work it is practically a part of my daily routine.

I also think there is a deep moral value to seeking the truth in the face of authority. It requires courage. Most institutions fight tooth and nail against the disclosure of truth. NASA wasn't the inquisition, but everybody else in the panel felt political pressure Feynman simply ignored, and rightly so.

I refuse to let the word "morality" be circumscribed to the bedroom, as the right does.

I'll take a sinful Schindler over a dozen celibate Catholic priests, any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Especially Sundays.

I am not a pessimist. I am an incompetent optimist.

Who's circumscribing?

(#202159)
HankP's picture

I don't care what he did in the bedroom either, but if he was a louse in his personal affairs it makes him a person who had some very good characteristics and some very bad ones. Like most people.

I blame it all on the Internet

I get that.

(#202162)

My point is that he also was a moral exemplar in some domains that happen to be important.

I don't really care what he did in the bedroom, or with whom, no matter how outraged Blaise may be about it.

I am not a pessimist. I am an incompetent optimist.

Who's outraged? Sounds like you're outraged

(#202191)

that I'm pointing out a few additional aspects of the man's life. Want hagiography? Even St Augustine drank and screwed his way through his youth. Spare me all this clucking and fussing: you may excuse a man his faults, but don't deny they exist.

"A few additional aspects"

(#202407)

Calling a man a monster and sociopath, just for starters, well exceeds the threshold for "few additional aspects".

And since I am not a Catholic, I don't give two figs about St Augustine's sexual escapades. In fact I barely find consenting sexual behavior of any kind to be related to the concept of morality.

For what is morality but a structure to determine right from wrong behavior? To the extent the structure attempts to arbitrarily impose behavior under the weakest of pretexts, it simply exposes the obsessions of those who would impose it.

True morality should be close to universal, and sexual habits are universal neither through time nor geography.

I am not a pessimist. I am an incompetent optimist.

That's not right

(#202419)
HankP's picture

I don't care what an unmarried individual does with their sex life, but if someone's made a commitment through marriage you'd expect them to either keep to their commitment or end the marriage rather than cheat. I do think cheating on one's spouse is an immoral thing to do - it doesn't make someone a monster, because it's quite common among humans, but it's still not behavior that people should simply get a pass on.

I blame it all on the Internet

It hardly matters, M A. Here's morality in a nutshell

(#202410)

Morality is who you are when nobody's looking, or who you are when you can away with something by dint of persuasion or power over others.

Ethics is me telling you "That's wrong".

Feynman leveraged his fame and intellect to horrible ends. That's me, saying Feynman was unethical. You seem to feel his sins are outweighted by his virtues. That's your ethics in operation, and neither of us is Right or Wrong.

In future, stick to the correct vocabulary. Feynman's morals were sadly lacking by my lights, if not yours. But it's our ethics which make those judgment calls.

He was flamboyant

(#201785)

and not good at relationships, but I never heard any accusations of adultery. Got a cite for that?

The other day I heard that ignorance and apathy are sweeping the country. I didn't know that, but I don't really care.

His biography.

(#201812)

a book report over here.

On Amazon, use our button if you want to get it.

Interesting

(#201854)

I haven't read that one, although I did enjoy his autobiography, which (predictably enough) made no mention of adultery.

Well, adulterer or not, I still enjoy his physics lectures.

The other day I heard that ignorance and apathy are sweeping the country. I didn't know that, but I don't really care.

See?

(#201746)
M Scott Eiland's picture

Told you he'd make a good patron not-saint for this place! :-P

The universe may well have been created without a point--that doesn't imply that we can't give it one.

Seriously....

(#201758)
Bernard Guerrero's picture

"Beyond merely unique, he relished the consternation and annoyance of his colleagues" is like a motto for The Forvm.

Truly...

(#201836)

The Forvm's finest:

To Annoy and to Constern

I am not a pessimist. I am an incompetent optimist.

Yes He Was

(#201718)

I don't know about the patron idea. Your intent is sound enough, but there are a few more figures I can think of.

Possibly more of a hall of fame model?

I have always wanted to set up a section called "The Forvm Consensus". This would be a page or topic heading or something (I am not clear on it), where we would list people and topics we essentially agree on all around.

I think it could be of some value, because we don't agree easily on much.

I am not a pessimist. I am an incompetent optimist.

I don't mind the idea....

(#201880)
Bernard Guerrero's picture

...but that's gonna be a really small list, especially if you're looking for 100% agreement.

Maybe a page list "Yea" or "Nay" on various questions, ranked by degree of homogeneity?

Consensus is not unanimity

(#202163)

Arbitrarily speaking, I would set it at something like 90% agreement.

I am not a pessimist. I am an incompetent optimist.

Gotcha. :^)

(#202059)
Bernard Guerrero's picture

BTW, there's a survey utility built into the site. Ask Hank if you don't see it. I'll go back to SurveyMonkey and take a look, it's been a while.

"Do you have a map of the

(#201589)

"Do you have a map of the cat?"

(Search for "A Map of the Cat?")

The artist he speaks of elsewhere in that -- Jerry Zorthian -- was a Pasadena, CA institution. He had some property in the San Gabriel Mountain foothills at the top of Lake Avenue called Zorthian's Ranch, upon which he had constructed some interesting structures and scupltures. He and his family lived there, of course, and over the years a number of local artists and assorted characters resided in the three or four separate dwellings up there. They paid rent and they helped Zorthian build his stuff and maintain the place.

The parties were stupendous.

Hah. Thanks for the link

(#201599)

Enjoyed this anecdote:

One time I was in the men's room of the bar and there was a guy at the urinal. He was kind of drunk, and said to me in a mean-sounding voice, "I don't like your face. I think I'll push it in."

I was scared green. I replied in an equally mean voice, "Get out of my
way, or I'll pee right through ya!"

He said something else, and I figured it was getting pretty close to a
fight now. I had never been in a fight. I didn't know what to do, exactly,
and I was afraid of getting hurt. I did think of one thing: I moved away
from the wall, because I figured if I got hit, I'd get hit from the back,
too. Then I felt a sort of funny crunching in my eye -- it didn't hurt much
-- and the next thing I know, I'm slamming the son of a gun right back,
automatically. It was remarkable for me to discover that I didn't have to
think; the "machinery" knew what to do.

"OK. That's one for one," I said. "Ya wanna keep on goin?"
The other guy backed off and left. ...

The next morning, when I got up and looked in the mirror, I discovered
that a black eye takes a few hours to develop fully. When I got back to
Ithaca that day, I went to deliver some stuff over to the dean's office. A
professor of philosophy saw my black eye and exclaimed, "Oh, Mr. Feynman! Don't tell me you got that walking into a door?"

"Not at all," I said. "I got it in a fight in the men's room of a bar
in Buffalo."

"Ha, ha, ha!" he laughed.