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Selected Materials from Book - Classic Feynman by Richard P. Feynman

Classic Feynman by Richard P. Feynman October 10, 2007


Richard P. Feynman re-enforce the way of learning which is by understanding, free thinking, separating facts from opinions, and innovation plus fascination leads to triumph.


There were a lot of things Feynman were good at. Radio mechanic, chemist, artist, musician, decipher, safecracker, professor, physicist, he was not extensive scholars in every fields, but he always tries to understand the concept first, then research and innovate for improvements. His accomplishments perceived to others as if he were a life-long scholar in all that he touched.


I first discovered Feynman through readings of Warren Buffett. I recall someone once said relating to investments “The difference between a good poker player and a great poker player is math apathy.” When asking Buffett about math intuition, he referred to Feynman and said he reads Feynman. Well, if Warren Buffett reads him, so shall I, I thought then. So here I am, after one reading of his book, I now committed to read rest of his writings.

On top of this genuine, down-to-earth, smart, ethical, studious, learner, you will also find a likeable womanizer who is also reasonable, humors and eloquent. Maybe it’s the way he presented himself that had made him so famous.


This book is a compilation of “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” and “What Do You Care What Other People Think?” with few additions. Here is something learned:

Projects Feynman worked on/with: Radios, Metal Plating, Cyclotron, Manhattan project, Artillery Controller, laws of beta decay, discovery of parity law violation, Challenger disaster (was result of Q-Ring and temperature), Quantum physics.


Feynman enjoyed all subject matters regarding science, but avoided humanities and philosophies.


Graduated in MIT then went to Princeton for Graduated program, afterward worked in Caltech.


Give his first seminar about quantum physics regarding electrons radiation reactions in Princeton to a pool of eminent minds of his time including: von Neumann, greatest mathematician; Pauli, famous physicist; and Einstein.


Improve your brain’s efficiency by understanding how it works for you. It works differently for different people. Test it with counting numbers, some can count while reading, talking or looking, others cannot. You can multi-task by using different part of your brain.


Feynman had voluntary for hypnosis, it worked on him. Mind readers did not.


Learned from his father “Have no respect whatsoever for authority; forget who said it and instead look at what he starts with, where he ends up, and ask yourself, ‘Is it reasonable?’”

Feynman: “What do you care what other people think? We should listen to other people’s opinions and take them into account. Then, if they don’t make sense and we think they’re wrong, then that’s that!”


Feynman: “people don’t know what they’re doing, and get insulted when you make some suggestion or criticism.”


Feynman: “I felt like a jerk, because I had passed over the obvious possibility by using circumstantial evidence – which isn’t any good – and by assuming the doctor were more intelligent than they were.”


Arlene, his first beloved wife: “What do you care what other people think?”


Cesar Lattes, director of center for physical research in Brazil, said to Feynman: “Do what’s most convenient for you…”


Feynman comments about Hans Bethe, who is faster in mind math, “It was easy for him – every number was near something he knew.” To do speed math, know a lot of numbers, then applied them in form of math properties. Some numbers are: log(10) base of e = 2.3026, Log(2) base e = 0.69315, e^1 = 2.71828, memorize square root and log tables.

Feynman: “An ordinary fool isn’t a faker; an honest fool is all right. But a dishonest fool is terrible…”


Feynman comments on Jewish learning, “Jews have a history of respecting learning: They respect their rabbis, who are really teachers, and they respect education. The Jews pass on this tradition in their families all the time…”


Feynman: “there’s a principle that a point on the edge of the range of the data-the last point-isn’t very good, because if it was, they’d have another point further along.”


Feynman: how strong do we know something, when we base rest of our idea upon it? “I never pay any attention to anything by ‘experts.’ I calculate everything myself.”


Feynman: “you only live one life: you make all your mistakes, and learn what not to do – and that’s the end of you.”


Feynman on philosophy “I have never heard such ingenious different ways of looking at a brick before.” “… complete chaos…”


Feynman on biology: “it was very easy to find a question that was very interesting, and that nobody knew the answer to.” He learns faster than the students in biology class because “they had wasted all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes.”


Feynman on art: “So the drawing teacher has this problem of communicating how to draw by osmosis and not by instruction, while the physics teacher has the problem of always teaching techniques, rather than spirit, of how to go about solving physical problems.”

Watson and Crick discovered DNA helix.


Feynman: “When you have a very wide range of people who contribute without looking carefully at it, you don’t improve your knowledge of the situation by averaging.”


Feynman: “There was no advantage in competing by lowering the price; the way you competed was to impress the members of committee”


Tell the truth and say “I don’t know.”


Mayan math: uses a lot of numbers. 583.92 days is the period of Venus as it appears from earth.


Air force has a rule: check six (blind spot, behind you).


Business failures: 1. lack of discipline among workers. 2. when bureaucracy creates more paperwork hence creating cost in the process hinder the improvement of underlying products. Example, during end of R&D, a technical improvement was discovered, by will not be implemented due to cost to process like re-do all manuals, etc. 3. lack of communication between the engineers and the management. “management reducing criteria and accepting more and more errors that weren’t designed into the device, while the engineers are screaming from below…” his theory “because of the exaggeration at the top being inconsistence with the reality at the bottom, communication got slowed up and ultimately jammed – that’s how it’s possible that the higher-ups didn’t know.” The “don’t tell me” mentality.


Feynman: “In science, you learn a kind of standard integrity and honesty.” “Since you’re getting along in Washington, you can’t be a man of integrity.”


Feynman: “We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt.”


Feynman: “Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty – some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain.”


“We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on. It is our responsibility to leave the people of the future a free hand. In the impetuous youth of humanity, we can make grave errors that can stunt our growth for a long time. This we will do if we say we have the answers now, so young and ignorant as we are. If we suppress all discussion, all criticism, proclaiming ‘This is the answer, my friends; man is saved!’ we will doom humanity for a long time to the chains of authority, confined to the limits of our present imagination. It has been done so many times before.”


Feynman: “In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or other.”


Feynman: “you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

A phrase on his blackboard left in his office when he died “What I cannot create, I do not understand.”


Feynman: “Not knowing, is much more interesting than believe an answer which might be wrong.”


Feynman: “don’t be merchants, or mandarins, or magicians; be lovers.”

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