Richard Feynman : The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out

19 Feb

” We had Encyclopaedia Britannica at home. And even when I was a small boy he (father) used to sit me on his lap, and read to me from the Encyclopaedia Britannica. And then we would read say about Dinosaurs, and maybe it would be talking about the brontosauraus or something, and it would say something like, or the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and it would say something like, this thing is twenty-five feet high, and the head is six feet across, and so he would stop always and say “Let’s see what that means. That would mean that if he stood in our front yard, he would be high enough to put his head through the window, but not quite because the head is” oh, a little bit too wide, that it would break the window as it came by.” Everything we read would be translated as best as we could, into some reality, so that I learned to do that, and everything I read I try to figure out what it really means, what it’s really saying, by “translating” and so I used get read the encyclopaedia, when I was a boy, but with translation you see, so it was very exciting and and interesting to think there were these animals, of such magnitude. I wasn’t frightened that there would be one coming in my window as a consequence of this, I don’t think, but I thought it was very very interesting, and that they all died out, and at that time nobody knew why. ”

― Richard P. Feynman

The brilliant scientist talking about early initiation and scientific temper. I think it must be one of gifts of parenting to instill wonder and foster a child’s imagination. It must be one of life’s true pleasures . I want to share this brilliant documentary about Nobel laureate Richard Feynman for you dear friends.

More on parenting, the great scientist says ” One kid said to me, “See that bird? What kind of a bird is that?” And I said “I haven’t the slightest idea what kind of bird it is.” He says “It’s a Brown-throated Thrush” or something, “Your father doesn’t tell you anything!”. But it was the opposite, my father had taught me, looking at a bird he says, “Do you know what that bird is? It’s a Brown-throated Thrush. But in Portuguese it’s a “Honto La Pero”, in Italian “A Chutera Pikita”, he says “in Chinese it’s a “Chong-ong-tok” in Japanese “Apatara kupudecha” etc. He says now if you know all the languages you wanna know the name of that bird is, and when you finish with all that, he says, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You only know about humans in different places and what they call the bird. Now he says “Now let’s look at the bird and what it’s doing.”. Isn’t that wonderful?

So much of education in these parts is by memory, by rote, if the child is made to know a little bit more by his or her exploration, he or she would sow seeds of ” thinking”, if a child can ” think” it can “discriminate” and take ” decisions” . I think no school teaches how to ” think” . I don’t necessarily mean contemplation, but exploration, “the pleasure of finding things out”..

I wanted to share above extracts for all you parents. I have a young cousin, when was he was a little boy, he had come visiting us with his parents. My little cousin who was 7 or 8 years old then was fond of dancing impromptu. Just as they were about to board the train journey back home. I told him to do a quick dance for me in the railway platform. He jumped on the platform did a quick uninhibited dance for me. We were both overjoyed to the chagrin of his parents 🙂 so dear friends don’t be like me, put a sense of wonder in your child like the great scientist narrates in the talk. My cousin has turned out fine 🙂 Intelligent,smart, plays a sport thanks to his equally intelligent and loving parents. I really think love and imagination can do wonders in parenting. I must mention the caveat that have zero experience of parenting. But I say it from a deep sense of knowing, observation and from my own broken life experience.

The great scientist narrates more from early childhood experiences ” He had taught me to notice things, and one day while I was playing with what we call an express wagon which was a little wagon, which has a railing around it, for children to play with, they can pull around. It had a ball in it–I remember this–it had a ball in it, and I pulled the wagon, and I noticed something about the way the ball moved, so I went to my father and I said, “say, Pop, I noticed something–when I pulled the wagon the ball rolls to the back of the wagon, it rushes to the back of the wagon…and when I’m pulling along and I suddenly stop the wagon, the ball rolls to the front of the wagon, I said “Why is that?” That he says, nobody knows, he says “The general principle is, that things that are moving try to keep on moving, and things that are standing still, tend to stand still, unless you push on them hard.” And he says “This tendency is called inertia, but nobody knows why it’s true.” Now that’s a deep understanding, he doesn’t give me a name, he knew the difference between knowing the name of something, and Knowing something. Which I learned very early. He went on to say, “If you look close, you find that the ball does not rush to the back of the wagon, but it’s the back of the wagon that you’re pulling towards/against the ball, but the ball stands still or as a matter of fact, from the friction, starts to move forward really, and doesn’t move back.” So I ran back to the little wagon and set the ball up again, and pulled the wagon from under it, and looking sideways, and seeing indeed he was right, the ball never moved backwards in the wagon when I pulled the wagon forwards, it moved backward relative to the wagon, but relative to the sidewalk, it moved forward a little bit, it just that the wagon caught up with it. So, that’s the way I was educated by my father, with those kinds of examples and discussions. ”

I also love the way the great scientist phrases these experiences  ” No pressure, just lovely, interesting discussions.”

On his thoughts on Nobel prize and honors , the great man says ” I don’t know anything about the Nobel Prize, I don’t understand what it’s all about or what’s worth what, but if the people in the Swedish Academy decide that X, y or z wins the Nobel Prize then so be it. I won’t have anything to do with the Nobel Prize… it’s a pain in the… I don’t like honors. I appreciate it for the work that I did, and for people who appreciate it, and I know there’s a lot of physicists who use my work, I don’t need anything else. I don’t see that it makes any point that someone in the Swedish Academy decides that this work is noble enough to receive a prize – I’ve already got the prize. The prize is the pleasure of finding the thing out, the kick in the discovery, the observation that other people use it – those are the real things, the honors are unreal to me. I don’t believe in honors, it bothers me, honors bother, honors is epaulettes, honors is uniforms, my papa brought me up this way.”

I think little bit of irreverence is fundamental part of science and discovery. Yours truly had little bit of that DNA. As a teenager wrote a paper on string theory just by reading books by Michio Kaku and Jennifer Trainer. The books were borrowed from a older friend. My teacher scolded me, if only you studied your regular books, was deeply embarrassed, had the yin lacked the yang..

But loved the “pleasure of finding things out”. I guess  this may well have been the alternate name of my blog. I never lament casually but also yearn the pleasure of finding things out 🙂

There is much more in this fine documentary. The scientists views on atom bomb, his teaching and physics. I hope you like the observations of the brilliant and humorous scientist. I leave you with a quote by the great man ” “In general, we look for a new law by the following process: First we guess it; then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right; then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is — if it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong.”

Sometimes feel science should have more say in society. So much of humbug could be exposed and nullified. I pray you keep little bit of science alive in your child. I learnt if you like arts then you must try little bit of science and vice versa, then our beliefs and thoughts have a sense of roundedness. Its also fun to explore the opposite.

Hope you like this brilliant talk of great man. May your children be next Richard P Feynman( without the Bomb)! Or Steve Jobs Or Elon Musk! Hope you have a lovely day! Thank you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: