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Richard Feyman: The Father of Theoretical Physics

May 12, 2013 Science 720
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Richard Feynman (May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988)

 

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To many, Richard Feynman is an inspiration – the same caliber of inspirational as the greatest of the greats; like Albert Einstein, Sir Issac Newton and Johannes Kepler (the man that shaped the laws of motion). Professor Feynman was a scientist, a teacher, a musician, and an icon. In the physics community, he is a theoretical physicist and known for his work in quantum mechanics. Without a doubt, modern science owes a lot to Feynman, for both his work and his encouraging words to the next generation of scientists.

 

In addition to his formal education, Feynman spent a lot of time on self education. Through the power of reading, he was able to teach himself concepts and subjects ahead of what he was learning in school (in an interview, Feynman credits a book series ‘[subject name] for the practical man’ (such as ‘Algebra for the Practical Man’). You can still find these books online and may be able to download PDF versions).

 

Later, Feynman went to Princeton University where he got a perfect score on the entrance exam in mathematics and physics (this is no easy task). During his time there, he took classes with scientists such as Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, and John won Neumann. For his doctoral work, Feynman – along with his thesis adviser John Archibald Wheeler – laid the groundwork for “path integral formulation” as well as “Feynman diagrams”. He would continue this pioneering work throughout his career

 

NUCLEAR PHYSICS (& A TOUCH OF MADNESS):

 

imagesFeynman was also one of the scientists assigned to work on the Manhattan and Trinity projects during World War II. Being a junior physicist, he wasn’t a curtail part of the project. Even then, Feynman helped to solve equations including the formula for calculating the yield of a fission device as well as some equations that were never used because the premise behind them was wrong. In his spare time, Feynman was known for playing practical jokes around the top-secret facility. Some of which, terrified the prankee into thinking nuclear secrets had been stolen by German spies.

 

Much later, Feynman served on the Challenger inquisition board as well as receiving awards and commendations throughout his life (most notably, the Nobel Prize in 1965 and the National Medal of Science in 1979. He also did this whilst battling cancer). These, however, aren’t some of the most interesting facts about the late-scientist.

 

LOVE & LOSS:

 

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via: discovery magazine

During the Manhattan project in 1945, his wife Arline died of Tuberculosis. In 1946, Feynman wrote a letter to his deceased wife, (something that was made into a movie entitled “Infinity.”) his final words in the letter were:

“My darling wife. I do adore you.
I love my wife. My wife is dead. – Rich

P.S. Please excuse my not mailing this — but I don’t know your new address.

 

This goes to show, even in tragedy, he never lost his sense of humor. Feynman also had a ‘curious character’ and he loved to question everything around him (his second wife even cited this as a reason for her divorce filling). Feynman lived by the mantra that he would rather not have an answer to a question instead of having the wrong answer.

 

A WORLD OF COLOR:

 

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via: Caltech

The last Feynman fun fact I’ll leave you with is this: he also had a neurological condition called “Synesthesia”. Synethesia is a condition in which stimulation in one cognitive or sensory pathway leads to involuntary and automatic experiences in a second cognitive or sensory pathway. In particular, Feynman was a grapheme or color synesthete, which means he associates letters and or numbers with colors. In general, this tends to be very helpful with remembering long strings of numbers and words – simply because they are ‘pretty’ and not just a string of text. Other forms of synesthesia include seeing colors for musical notes or even associating names with tastes.

 

It occurs to me that I have left out so much information about Feynman in this short description. How he used to fix his neighbors radios as a child, the fact that he was an avid bongo player, and more. Even then, Feynman is able to reach across the barrier of death and inspire us all.

 

I will conclude with a quote of the professor that I think we could all do well to remember. “The worthwhile problems are the ones you can really solve or help solve, the ones you can really contribute something to. … No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it.”

 

How has Feynman affected your life? And, I have to ask, are there any other Synesthetes on the page? What are your experiences?

Write a Comment

94 Comments

  1. Tom Murray January 20, 2014 at 4:28 pm -

    Feyntastic.

    Reply
  2. Boyd Dunson January 20, 2014 at 4:31 pm -

    Such a cool guy.

    Reply
  3. Stiglitz Hugo January 20, 2014 at 4:32 pm -

    Richard Feynman was the man!

    Reply
  4. Tadeáš Němec January 20, 2014 at 4:33 pm -

    Played on bongo beats in strip club :D

    Reply
  5. Parth Dewan January 20, 2014 at 4:34 pm -

    n he smoked weed.. ✌️

    Reply
  6. Devin Koehl January 20, 2014 at 4:34 pm -

    I love you Feynman. Your books inspired me to never give up being a Physicist!

    Reply
  7. Manuel Morales January 20, 2014 at 4:46 pm -

    Un extraordinário fisico

    Reply
  8. Mark Huntley January 20, 2014 at 4:47 pm -

    Legend!!

    Reply
  9. Aneel Mawji January 20, 2014 at 4:52 pm -

    Andrew McCann

    Reply
  10. Phillip Blaine McWilliams January 20, 2014 at 5:08 pm -

    “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”–Socrates.

    Reply
  11. Phillip Blaine McWilliams January 20, 2014 at 5:08 pm -

    “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”–Socrates.

    Reply
  12. Guilherme S Silva January 20, 2014 at 5:28 pm -

    He was cool, but not the father. Einstein and Dirac came before him, and there were many others.

    Reply
  13. Guilherme S Silva January 20, 2014 at 5:28 pm -

    He was cool, but not the father. Einstein and Dirac came before him, and there were many others.

    Reply
    • James Stone January 21, 2014 at 4:15 am -

      It makes no sense to compare legendary scientists to each other – they all worked in different areas at different times and with different results. Judge him on his own merits as an incredible physicist.

      Reply
    • Guilherme S Silva January 21, 2014 at 4:18 am -

      Galileu was the father of experimental physics, no doubt. It is interesting historically to know that. I am a great fan of Feynman’s work. But he is not the first to do theoretical research. It is not a matter of judgment or comparison.

      Reply
  14. Michael Perlatti January 20, 2014 at 5:31 pm -

    The cost of not being able to admit that is costing science money and credulity.Science is mostly a desire to keep spending

    Reply
  15. Michael Perlatti January 20, 2014 at 5:31 pm -

    The cost of not being able to admit that is costing science money and credulity.Science is mostly a desire to keep spending

    Reply
    • Jeffrey Hayes January 20, 2014 at 8:31 pm -

      And science feeds into America’s primal desire to consume shiny plastic shit. Don’t you just love your Iphone? Feynman welcomes you.

      Reply
    • Luis Felipe January 20, 2014 at 11:35 pm -

      You know almost nothing about what science really is and confuse it with making profit. Maybe you’d like humanity to go back to the Dark Ages, when there was no science and I think that cost us a lot more than you have any idea. Every single penny spent in science has been worth it. In fact, we should spend way more (it’s a catalyst for technology),

      Reply
  16. Antoine Henri Becquerel January 20, 2014 at 5:36 pm -
    Reply
  17. Antoine Henri Becquerel January 20, 2014 at 5:36 pm -
    Reply
  18. Joe Bithorn January 20, 2014 at 5:53 pm -

    Tuva or bust, surely you’re joking Dr Feynman!!!

    Reply
  19. Joe Bithorn January 20, 2014 at 5:53 pm -

    Tuva or bust, surely you’re joking Dr Feynman!!!

    Reply
  20. Roberto Deniro January 20, 2014 at 5:59 pm -
    Reply
  21. Roberto Deniro January 20, 2014 at 5:59 pm -
    Reply
  22. David Bowman January 20, 2014 at 5:59 pm -

    Well put, he was a wonderful gift to humanity.

    Reply
  23. David Bowman January 20, 2014 at 5:59 pm -

    Well put, he was a wonderful gift to humanity.

    Reply
  24. Maneenuch Kha January 20, 2014 at 6:01 pm -

    My idol ^^

    Reply
  25. Maneenuch Kha January 20, 2014 at 6:01 pm -

    My idol ^^

    Reply
  26. Ryan Segal January 20, 2014 at 6:03 pm -

    new favorite quote!

    Reply
  27. Ryan Segal January 20, 2014 at 6:03 pm -

    new favorite quote!

    Reply
  28. Panda Bearrister January 20, 2014 at 6:17 pm -

    The need of the many outweigh the need of the few. KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaan!!!

    Reply
  29. Panda Bearrister January 20, 2014 at 6:17 pm -

    The need of the many outweigh the need of the few. KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaan!!!

    Reply
  30. Bret Leroy Netherton January 20, 2014 at 6:23 pm -

    Are you sure?

    Reply
  31. Bret Leroy Netherton January 20, 2014 at 6:23 pm -

    Are you sure?

    Reply
  32. Borg Hesus January 20, 2014 at 6:45 pm -

    Feynman did a lot of LSD. That is a good thing

    Reply
  33. Borg Hesus January 20, 2014 at 6:45 pm -

    Feynman did a lot of LSD. That is a good thing

    Reply
    • Luis Felipe January 20, 2014 at 11:31 pm -

      Not a lot. He experimented with it a few times inside a sensory deprivation chamber and this a lot later in his life (after his greatest contributions to Physics). Nothing in excess is good for you. Stop relating drug use to important scientists, that’s pop culture crap and a poor excuse to justify personal drug use (and a bad example for the really not good drugs). If they would’ve known people would repeat that around they would’ve never done them in the first place.
      PS, I have nothing against drug use (that’d be ironic) but I dislike it a lot when you take something out of context for a personal justification. You’re also not gonna get smarter or have any true revelation about the Universe (just about yourself) with Lucy, you get that with hard work and passion.

      Reply
    • Borg Hesus January 21, 2014 at 12:36 am -

      Chill, man. You ruined an average rebuttal with your opinions.

      Reply
  34. Jason Anderson January 20, 2014 at 7:13 pm -

    This thought bothered me for months. But I thought my way out of it by examining math. Even if our world and perception are made up, math holds true. In fact, math is true no matter where you go, in any dimension, heaven or hell, any point in time, 2+2 will always equal 4.

    Reply
  35. Peter Ogloff January 20, 2014 at 7:14 pm -

    I saw Feynman at a Physics Undergraduate conference at Simon Fraser University in 1974. I was photographing the event. I am ever so grateful to have gotten some photographs of him , to have heard him speak, heard his humour and witnessed his prodigious drinking. He was a fascinating person on many levels.

    Reply
  36. David Glover January 20, 2014 at 7:47 pm -

    The foundation of quantum mechanics, no absolutes, nothing can be perfect, always uncertainty.

    Reply
  37. Tim Davies January 20, 2014 at 9:18 pm -

    He used his time vector diagrams to solve a velocity problem for me once.

    Reply
  38. Peter Rouse January 20, 2014 at 9:41 pm -

    But yet I’ve seen the same page hate on people not agreeing with them???

    Reply
  39. Biken Libang January 20, 2014 at 9:43 pm -

    Big salute to sir Feynman and his work for humanity.
    #Respect #

    Reply
  40. Hailey Mahoney January 20, 2014 at 9:57 pm -

    I have approximate knowledge of many things.

    Reply
  41. Kristofer Edwards January 20, 2014 at 10:14 pm -

    Me too.

    Reply
  42. Joel Porcaro January 20, 2014 at 10:41 pm -

    he went on to say “And there are many things that I don’t know anything about.”

    Reply
  43. Harrison Joshua Cande January 20, 2014 at 11:17 pm -

    I do not categorize or discern between knowledges, I merely attempt to learn.

    Reply
  44. Amitava Sharma January 21, 2014 at 12:19 am -

    Uncertainty Principal governs everything….

    Reply
  45. Michael Perlatti January 21, 2014 at 12:31 am -

    Hunting,mating and not dying.Our original design criteria.We have managed to even screw up evolution if you think about it.Survival of the fittest is turning to survival of the richest.I think we could benefit by not forgetting where we came from

    Reply
  46. Subodh Deshpande January 21, 2014 at 12:42 am -

    oh he was fantasic

    Reply
  47. Chelsea Partridge January 21, 2014 at 12:47 am -

    Richard Feynman is my hero and idol. He inspires me to not only stay curious but to have fun and enjoy life. I also recommend “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman” to anyone reading who really wants to see inside the mind of this funny and fantastic man.

    Reply
  48. Warren Cotterill January 21, 2014 at 12:52 am -

    .

    Reply
  49. Susan Pursley January 21, 2014 at 1:05 am -

    Love

    Reply
  50. Sajida Sahouli January 21, 2014 at 1:47 am -

    But I am sure about my existence and moreover the existence of GOD, we are not illusion ,we do exist on the earth.

    Reply
  51. Sajida Sahouli January 21, 2014 at 1:50 am -

    ( 18 ) Allah witnesses that there is no deity except Him, and [so do] the angels and those of knowledge – [that He is] maintaining [creation] in justice. There is no deity except Him, the Exalted in Might, the Wise.Quran 52/18.

    Reply
  52. Robert Ley January 21, 2014 at 2:26 am -

    A list of resources I compiled a couple of years ago oni the great man:

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/robert-ley/richard-feynman-a-comprehensive-list-of-books-videos/101785653305450

    And I’m a fellow synaesthete!

    Reply
  53. Franziska Lieber January 21, 2014 at 3:12 am -

    <3

    Reply
  54. Shane Kalafut January 21, 2014 at 3:18 am -

    SO many good posts today

    Reply
  55. James Stone January 21, 2014 at 4:16 am -

    He once touched me inappropriately. It was magical.

    Reply
  56. Constantin Summer January 21, 2014 at 4:20 am -

    he is :)

    Reply
  57. Oliver Rogers January 21, 2014 at 4:36 am -

    Quantum Electrodynamics is the only thing really we’re certain of

    Reply
  58. Vaibhav Saini January 21, 2014 at 5:21 am -

    same here!!1

    Reply
  59. Giuseppe De Santis January 21, 2014 at 6:07 am -

    esattamente

    Reply
  60. Thitipat Sainapha January 21, 2014 at 6:56 am -

    I want to be like him for 1% or more

    Reply
  61. Regel Kentaurus January 21, 2014 at 9:25 am -

    Awesome quote, one of my favourite.

    Reply
  62. Rik Clarke January 21, 2014 at 9:38 am -

    If you believed there is a God, there are many things you could be certain of. Sad.

    Reply
  63. Kaity Twardowski January 21, 2014 at 11:14 am -

    Ryan Twardowski

    Reply
  64. Richard Fincher January 21, 2014 at 12:10 pm -

    Is that a space-shuttle O-ring?

    Reply
  65. Gene Dunham January 21, 2014 at 12:44 pm -

    Touche. So glad I didn’t say it first. Something, now, I can be a tiny bit more certain about.

    Reply
  66. Kevin Chomyshyn January 21, 2014 at 2:07 pm -

    Due respect, Newton and Einstein had something far beyond this astounding scholars achievements

    Reply
  67. Kevin Chomyshyn January 21, 2014 at 2:07 pm -

    Due respect, Newton and Einstein had something far beyond this astounding scholars achievements

    Reply
  68. Daniel Ezra Thomas Yates January 21, 2014 at 4:31 pm -

    Just realised who this cat is based off of: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m99z02IeGc1r5md7mo3_500.gif

    Reply
  69. Tom Owen January 21, 2014 at 7:29 pm -

    One of four people who are my heroes.

    Reply
  70. Kris Reddish January 21, 2014 at 9:12 pm -

    Without his “diagrams” QED would have broken my mind, thanks Feynman. The Great Explainer indeed.

    Reply
  71. Aaron Bannister January 22, 2014 at 12:50 am -

    That how I feel exactly to the point…

    Reply
  72. Madhukar Tripathi January 22, 2014 at 7:03 am -

    we came from nothing and will go to nothing then what we need to understand….nothing..yes

    Reply
  73. Amarendra Mishra January 22, 2014 at 9:32 am -

    atleast spell his name properly

    Reply
  74. Beverly Rutledge January 23, 2014 at 4:59 am -

    Amen to that……………..

    Reply

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