Read Feynman


My impression of Richard Feynman probably comes from the "Feynman Learning Technique" named after him, which is to understand the essence of things and then express it in one's own words, or even teach others. This indicates that one truly understands the knowledge.

I also practice the Feynman Learning Technique in my daily life and find it very effective. It teaches me not to just skim the surface of knowledge or stop at understanding the concept's name, but to further explore the principles behind the concept.

I became more and more curious about Feynman. So half a month ago, I started trying to learn about Feynman. I read a series of related books about him, including autobiographies, biographies, interviews, and other materials. These include "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!", "What Do You Care What Other People Think?", "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out", "The Feynman Lectures on Physics", and "Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman". If you are also interested in Feynman, I recommend reading them in the above order. Among them, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" is the most interesting. It records many interesting stories of Feynman from his youth to becoming a physicist. I recommend reading the edition published by Sanlian Publishing, as the other version, "Don't You Have Time to Think?", is not translated smoothly. However, I do not recommend "Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman" because if you have not received higher education in physics or if you do not have a great passion for physics, you will find it very difficult to read. The layers of physics terminology in the book can be overwhelming. In short, the former book combines humor with occasional physics knowledge, while the latter book combines physics knowledge with occasional anecdotes about Feynman.

Next, I plan to share my thoughts after reading Feynman from several aspects.

Feynman's Early Education#

If I were to recommend books and movies related to homeschooling, for movies, I would recommend "To Kill a Mockingbird," where Atticus teaches children to be honest and kind. For books, I would recommend those related to Feynman, especially those that record his conversations with his father. "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" is one of them. Feynman's father taught him to pursue the essence of things and to dare to question authority. Most importantly, his father was able to make learning enjoyable and engaging.

In the face of curious young Feynman's questions, his father could always turn abstract knowledge into something tangible and meaningful in the real world. While answering questions, he also cultivated Feynman's ability to apply knowledge in practice.

"We had a set of encyclopedias, the Britannica, and he used to sit me on his knee and read to me from the encyclopedia. For example, he would read about dinosaurs, and it would say, 'The dinosaur is twenty-five feet tall and the head is six feet wide.' He would stop reading, and he would say to me, 'Well, let's see what that means. That means that if the dinosaur were standing in the front yard, he would be high enough to put his head through the window of the second floor, but he wouldn't fit through the window because his head is too wide!' That's the way he always was. He always turned the concepts into something that you could touch and see and feel."

The complex world is full of various phenomena, and in order to explain these phenomena, we have abstracted many concepts. When a child asks "why," they are curious about the phenomenon, not looking for a vague concept. Therefore, understanding the principles behind phenomena is far more important than obtaining a concept.

"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You'll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing—that's what counts." (So I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.)

Feynman's Anecdotes#

There are so many anecdotes about Feynman that it would take days to tell them all.

Perhaps because of his father's influence, he loved taking apart various machines and studying them from a young age. He even had a small laboratory in his own home. His specialty was repairing radios. When someone asked him to fix a radio, he would go to their house and instead of immediately getting to work or saying anything, he would stand there and think about the radio. Others thought he was incapable of fixing it. But after thinking for a while, he would adjust two things and fix the radio. This surprising ability to fix radios just by thinking about them spread, and from then on, Feynman became known for his ability to fix radios!

After graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he went to Princeton University for graduate studies. When he first arrived, he was invited to a tea party that he had never participated in before. When someone poured tea for him and asked if he wanted milk or lemon, Feynman casually replied, "Both." This made everyone laugh and that's where the book title came from. While others gave him options A and B, his thinking was to have both. He was truly different from ordinary people.

During his doctoral studies, the 24-year-old Feynman joined the Manhattan Project, which was involved in the development of the atomic bomb. During this period, Feynman also left behind many interesting stories. For example, his correspondence with his love, Arline, was subject to censorship, so he played a game of cat and mouse with the censors. Being fond of puzzles, he knew that physicists liked to use physical constants as passwords, so he cracked the codes of his colleagues' locks and even opened the general's safe. This frightened the general, who quickly informed others to be cautious of Feynman when opening their lockers. Feynman's humor added a lot of fun to the serious and dull atomic bomb research.

Feynman's Spirit#

Maintain curiosity at all times. I think this was nurtured by his family environment, and his father had the greatest influence on him. Faced with various questions, his father neither brushed them off nor condescendingly said, "What does a child know?" Instead, his father patiently guided young Feynman to explore.

Pursue the essence. This is reflected in his view of things. He understood that understanding a concept does not mean truly understanding it. For example, when he visited Brazil, he criticized the Brazilian education system for simply instilling various concepts in students. The students could only explain phenomena using the concepts they had learned, and if the question was phrased differently, they couldn't answer. This approach also influenced his research. The methods he proposed were often concise and directly hit the key points.

Dare to question. During his time in the Manhattan Project, he gained the favor of some physics giants because he dared to voice opposing opinions. This was what the giants liked, as it was through debate that thoughts collided.

Being independent. Once he saw others researching in the same field, he would give up and switch to studying another field. This habit of his caused him to miss out on many almost easily attainable research achievements, such as the violation of parity conservation. However, he did not pursue various honors. This can be seen from his attitude towards the Nobel Prize and his resignation as a member of academies. In his later years, when he participated in the investigation of the Challenger disaster, he, as always, conducted the investigation on his own without the help of officials. In the end, he found the cause through a simple experiment.

After reading these materials, I became deeply fascinated. When I shared this with my friends, I realized that Feynman is considered a physics idol among physics students. It seems that I have been ignorant.

Reading Feynman allows us to get to know an interesting and fulfilling soul.

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