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Sep 05 2013

Feynmanesque

Or should I say dysteleological physicalesque? Richard Feynman wrote poetry.

19 comments

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  1. 1
    David Wilford

    Richard Feynman had the talent for making science simple, but no simpler than necessary, first with a fun demonstration of the physics of rubber bands:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baXv_5z7HVY

    Second with a serious demonstration of the physics of O-rings:

  2. 2
    Christopher

    He also liked titty bars and hotrodding his corvair van…

    http://jalopnik.com/ten-things-to-know-about-the-man-who-beat-the-veyron-to-1038607018

    “There was a topless bar, The Other Ball, down the street on Valley Blvd in San Gabriel,” says Banks. “A fella with Corvair van came down to San Gabriel from Pasadena for lunch everyday because he loved nude women and painted erotic art. He stops in one day because I had all kinds of Corvair stuff. Says, “I want to get some of that speed equipment.” It was Richard Feynman.”

    Even by the lofty standards of late 60’s California, Feynman was an eccentric’s eccentric. A Caltech physicist, Feynman was a key member of the Manhattan Project and had just won the 1965 Nobel Prize for his work in quantum electrodynamics. He also played bongo drums, picked locks, ogled topless dancers and hopped up Corvairs.

    “We started a friendship,” says Banks. “Sometimes I’d go down to the bar with him, you know, to see the topless babes.”

  3. 3
    Cuttlefish

    Everyone should. No, really. Writing within a constraining system forces deliberate thought and creativity–whether you are writing actual poetry, or doggerel.

  4. 4
    pHred

    He also played the bongos. As much as I respected him as I physicist, I am truly glad I never met him because, being female, I would have wanted to throttle him. Reading Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman is an amazing exercise in sociology.

  5. 5
    David Wilford

    I’d have loved to meet Feynman and hoped to when he was invited to be the Science Guest of Honor at Minicon back in 1988, but sadly he died of cancer before he could make it.

  6. 6
    Inaji

    pHred:

    As much as I respected him as I physicist, I am truly glad I never met him because, being female, I would have wanted to throttle him.

    Word. In certain respects, he was a staunch product of his time. I’ve always noted that those most enthusiastic about Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman tend to be men. And yes, I’ve read it, I have a copy on my bookshelves.

  7. 7
    Larry

    His work during the Challenger disaster investigation was a true tour de force. Using an elegant, yet simple, demonstration, he proved that the cold temperatures present at launch caused the O rings to deform resulting in the fuel leak from the tank which resulted in the explosion. All done while he was dying of cancer. For all his human faults, he was a brilliant man and was the very definition of a scientist.

  8. 8
    Mobius

    @1 David Wilford

    Thanx for the Feynman videos. The rubber band video shows Feynman’s sense of humor and his abilities as one who explained science.

    The second video I have seen a couple of times before. There was a NOVA episode on the Challenger disaster and talked about some of Feynman’s role in the investigation. I also took a class in engineering ethics that discussed the event and showed some of the investigating committee’s reports.

  9. 9
    Rob Grigjanis

    Don’t care for the poetry, but his insights leading to the theory of liquid helium, and the parton model, were stunning. Leonard Susskind mentions these in his reminiscences about Feynman;

    http://www.openculture.com/2012/05/leonard_susskind_father_of_string_theory_warmly_remembers_his_friend_richard_feynman.html

  10. 10
    Inaji

    Psssssssssssssst, pHred! I think we’re supposed to be all apologetic for bringing up the Blessed Feynman’s human faults.

  11. 11
    Travis

    Caine said,

    Psssssssssssssst, pHred! I think we’re supposed to be all apologetic for bringing up the Blessed Feynman’s human faults.

    I like reading Feynman. I have the Lectures on Physics sitting beside me now, as well as Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman and What Do You Care What Other People Think?, and I enjoyed reading all of them, some of the stories are extremely fun. When I was younger I watched The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out and even though they were the stories I had read the passion for science was inspiring. But I have never understood why so many people get so rankled when his flaws are pointed out. Hero worship is something I just do not get.

  12. 12
    Rob Grigjanis

    Travis @11:

    …I enjoyed reading all of them, some of the stories are extremely fun.

    I found the autobiog stuff a bit off-putting. The man’s ego was a bit too intrusive. I’d have loved to attend his lectures, but meet him? Probably not. Same goes for Leonard Susskind. Paul Dirac, on the other hand…

  13. 13
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    I’ve always noted that those most enthusiastic about Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman tend to be men.

    Honestly, I mostly keep it around for a couple of particular essays, notably the one about the safes at the Manhattan Project and the one about no one believing him when he admitted to stealing doors (which also has him looking like an asshole, it’s just very illustrative of a common social tendency). Many of the rest are somewhat witty, but also show him looking like an asshole a lot; being a very bright, multitalented person hardly prevents someone from being a total jackass too.

  14. 14
    pHred

    Dalillama

    being a very bright, multitalented person hardly prevents someone from being a total jackass too.

    QFT!

    I don’t see how anyone could read his autobiographical stuff and not think that he could be a total pain in the posterior. And the ego! The whole he didn’t buy drinks for women so that they would sleep with him thing. ACK!

    I have to give him credit for laying all of that out in his writing though. He didn’t try to build himself up as a plaster saint.

  15. 15
    David Wilford

    Since poetry is a topic here, I thought this would be nice poem to share.

    An Interruption
    by Robert S. Foote

    A boy had stopped his car
    To save a turtle in the road;
    I was not far
    Behind, and slowed,
    And stopped to watch as he began
    To shoo it off into the undergrowth—

    This wild reminder of an ancient past,
    Lumbering to some Late Triassic bog,
    Till it was just a rustle in the grass,
    Till it was gone.

    I hope I told him with a look
    As I passed by,
    How I was glad he’d stopped me there,
    And what I felt for both
    Of them, something I took
    To be a kind of love,
    And of a troubled thought
    I had, for man,
    Of how we ought
    To let life go on where
    And when it can.

  16. 16
    Louis

    I confess, Feynman is as close to a hero as I get.

    I also confess, Feynman was as flawed a human being as every other damned hero I could possibly want.

    I don’t expect heroes to be flawless. They’re human. I wonder why so many people DO expect flawless heroes. Isn’t the good that heroes do enough? Of course they’re going to be complex, multifaceted, flawed, human beings. That’s a given. I admire Feynman’s scientific bravery, brilliance and insight. Amazingly I don’t have to visit strip clubs to emulate that. (Not saying I CAN emulate that….different issue!)

    [sarcasm] I visit strip clubs for entirely different reasons of course. [/sarcasm]

    Sometimes high achieving, “heroic” folks are a total pain in the arse. It can be, not necessarily is, part of what got them there. It’s not excusable or laudable that this happens, but it shouldn’t be surprising.

    Louis

  17. 17
    hannacoy

    I’m tickled that he wrote a poem. It’s not a very good poem, but it’s not the absolute worst, either. Not that it matters — he wasn’t claiming to be a skilled poet or anything — but I can’t help thinking about the other art-y stuff he did, like play the bongos and learn to draw, where he was very concerned that he be judged on the quality, and not the fact that he could (or was willing to) do it at all.

    So, in that spirit: if Feynman were alive, I’d tell him to work on his craft before inflicting more poems on the rest of us. I’m sure he could write something less cliched and boring than that.

  18. 18
    David Wilford

    The spirit of Feynman’s poem more than made up for the shortcomings of his actual verse.

  19. 19
    bad Jim

    J. B. S. Haldane wrote verse too:

    Cancer’s a Funny Thing

    I wish I had the voice of Homer
    To sing of rectal carcinoma,
    Which kills a lot more chaps, in fact,
    Than were bumped off when Troy was sacked.

    (etc.)

    My rectum is a serious loss to me,
    But I’ve a very neat colostomy,

    (etc.)

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