The pleasure of finding things out

May 30, 2009

Have you read this book? You might try it.

<i>The Pleasure of Finding Things Out</i> by Richard P. Feynman

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard P. Feynman

I’ve owned it for a year or two at least. A few minutes ago I flipped through it at random. The name of a magazine, Omni, caught my eye. I read from some old interview.

One day I’ll be convinced there’s a certain type of symmetry that everybody believes in, the next day I’ll try to figure out the consequence if it’s not, and everybody’s crazy but me. But the thing that’s unusual about good scientists is while they’re doing whatever they’re doing, they’re not so sure of themselves as others usually are. They can live with steady doubt, think “maybe it’s so” and act on that, all the time knowing it’s only “maybe.” Many people find that difficult. They think it means detachment or coldness. It’s not coldness! It’s a much deeper and warmer understanding, and it means you can be digging somewhere where you’re temporarily convinced you have the answer, and somebody comes up and says, “Have you seen what they’re coming up with over there?”, and you look up and say Jeez! I’m in the wrong place! It happens all the time.

I stopped reading, and I realized the book in my hands was no longer a book. It was a pearl, mirror-smooth and big around as a medicine ball, and I was cradling it in my arms. The man shat wisdom, people. You would too if your mind did nothing but think all day, every second. Unfortunately, we live in a world where “genius” is a rare gift bestowed on the genetically chosen few, and me and the other stereotypes are too busy clocking our time to say otherwise.


8 Responses to “The pleasure of finding things out”

  1. Roya Says:

    Great recommendation, I’ll get this book, thanks. I hope I understand it! Also, I just ordered your book “Instant Egghead Guide: Universe” from Amazon. I see it comes out July 21. Exciting! I love reading books with colons (punctuation) in the title, so this should be good! 🙂

  2. Aaron Fagan Says:

    I feel about the same way about the following bit from Feynman: “What is it about nature that let’s this happen, that it is possible to guess from one part what the rest is going to do? That is an unscientific question: I do not know how to answer it and therefore I am going to give an unscientific answer. I think it is because nature has a simplicity and therefore a great beauty.”

  3. JR Minkel Says:

    Once I was riding in the car with my parents and my mom, the optimistic one, said she didn’t understand how anyone could look at the moon and not believe in God. My dad, the long-time Sci Am subscriber, claimed he had no idea what she was talking about.

  4. Aaron Fagan Says:

    I lean toward your mother’s sentiment, at least the spirit and enthusiasm of it. On the question of God, I’ll quote from your Feynman quote: “Maybe.” A kind of splendid skepticism seems the best way to go, which I hope isn’t too rigid a thing to say.

  5. Roya Says:

    I see I have a third book to buy: Aaron Fagan’s Garage poems. I liked your phrase “splendid skepticism” (did you make it up?) & followed it to your website. Well, I’m a fundamentalist Christian (don’t hold it against me), and I like what Chesterton wrote in The Man Who Was Thursday (my cousin-in-law turned me on to it): “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front….” Here is more interesting info:

  6. wendy, yer sis. Says:

    JR have you read Feynman’s other books? All of them are great reading and even though this one may duplicate some stuff I’ve already seen, I’ll definitely order it and read it as well. He was a man of incredible wisdom, but he was also a man of great humor and depth of love. Inspirational. He did all of this incredible stuff and didn’t get all wrapped up in taking it all so seriously. He knew how to have fun. It would be amazing to have talked with him.

  7. Roya Says:

    Hey, sorry to reply so long after, but have either of you watched the movie “Infinity” about Richard Feynman, his scientific work & his ill wife? More info at: This was evidently one of your dad’s/Uncle Bill’s favorite movie. I rented it from Netflix, and really liked it, and tried to imagine watching it from Uncle Bill’s perspective. You should rent it if you haven’t seen it.

  8. JR Minkel Says:

    Hey Roya, I’m sorry to have missed Branwen’s graduation, first of all. I will call her if you give me her number. Regarding Infinity, I was never sure what my dad saw in that movie. I watched it. I remember thinking it was odd seeing Ferris Bueller play Feynman. You have to keep in mind my dad was kind of an asshole sometimes.

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