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Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

January 1, 2018
Richard Feynman
I'd have loved to learn more about the inner workings of Feynman's mind. This book won't give you any deep insights or make you look at the world very differently. But it's a fun read, especially if you're interested in science or teaching.
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This is a collection of short stories told by Richard P. Feynman, an eccentric and highly celebrated theoretical physicist. He talks about everything from bongo playing to safe cracking, from picking up women to his work on the Manhattan Project, from his encounters with Albert Einstein to arguing with the government over tiny receipts. I couldn't put it down!

(Sidenote: Some people wonder if Rick from Rick and Morty is based on Feynman. After reading this book, I can see why.)

My notes

  • You must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.

  • When you're confused, ask for examples. Or make a random guess and let people correct you.

  • Lots of people only understand things on the surface level. The people who understand things on a deeper level — how they actually work — have the advantage. That's when you can "see" how something really works, rather than needing to calculate it first.

  • Feynman indulged himself in a lot of things: he played the bongos, cracked safes, slept around, pulled pranks.

  • When explaining or persuading, use simple words and clear examples. Don't use long winded paragraphs to recommend reading when you can say, "Read."

  • Speak the uncomfortable truth. If your position allows it. And if not:

  • Seek positions that will allow you to speak the uncomfortable truth. People won't always have this, but you should advance yourself to a position in society that will allow you to speak out against falsities.

  • Averaging a group opinion is always worse than averaging the opinions of the best people in a group.

  • Relax. Mess with people sometimes. Hold your values. Don't be so uptight. Have some fun being mischievous. Life only happens once. Maybe.

  • Use the scientific process to test things. Don't blindly trust previous results.

  • Before talking about a solution, make sure everyone understands the problem.

  • Trusting people makes them work harder.

Interesting Tidbits

  • Crushing sugar will create blue flashes of light. This phenomenon is known as "triboluminescence".

  • Feynman always wanted to experience hallucinations, but he didn't want to use drugs to create them. He ended up using some early flotation tanks and got some results. He may have experienced ego death in one of them.

  • He was deemed physiologically unfit to serve in the military.

  • Women weren't interested in him until he stopped being a nice guy.

  • Dragonflies don't sting and aren't harmful to humans, even if they land on you!

  • Many of the books used in educational systems aren't very good. Companies bribe book committee members to choose their book.

So... yeah, nothing too deep. Still a fun read.