Friday, March 17, 2006

Richard Feynman

From time to time I've seen blog posts on the subject of a blogger's heroes and influences. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and other technogiants are frequent picks. I feel like I could come up with a pretty long list on this subject, but sparing you that, I think I'll focus on my first pick: Richard Feynman.

In the land of Myers Briggs, Feynman was quintessentially "ENTP." Whether MBTI is nonsense or not doesn't really matter here, because the statement "ENTP" does, I believe, succinctly convey his personality: a creative, outside-the-box thinker, whimsical and, of course, brilliant.

He was puckish--cracking safes, demonstrating the cause of the Challenger disaster on national television with a C-clamp and kindergarten words, naming one of his books in mockery of Princeton's high tea.

At the same time, Feynman was earnest, approachable and true to his simple Long Island roots. He was genuinely curious and cared deeply about knowledge, human progress and teaching. His lectures on physics are legendary.

His legacy is full of anecdotes. I'll finish this post up with personal favorite:

Richard Feynman was once asked by a younger colleague: "Dick, explain to me, so that I can understand it, why spin one-half particles obey Fermi-Dirac statistics." Feynman answered: "I'll prepare a freshman lecture on it." Feynman came back a few days later and said: "I couldn't do it. I couldn't reduce it to the freshman level. That means we don't really understand it."


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