Category Archives: Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman

In the South Seas there is a Cargo Cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he’s the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things Cargo Cult Science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

Richard Feynman, ‘Cargo Cult Science’, Engineering and Science, vol. 37, no. 7 (June, 1974), p. 11

Richard Feynman

If the engineers didn’t know something, they’d say something like, “Oh, Lifer knows about that; let’s get him in.” Al would call up Lifer, who would come right away. I couldn’t have had a better briefing.

It’s called a briefing, but it wasn’t brief: it was very intense, very fast, and very complete. It’s the only way I know to get technical information quickly: you don’t just sit there while they go through what they think would be interesting; instead, you ask a lot of questions, you get quick answers, and soon you begin to understand the circumstances and learn just what to ask to get the next piece of information you need.

Richard Feynman, What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character, New York, 1988, pp. 82-84

Richard Feynman

If a Martian (who, we’ll imagine, never dies except by accident) came to Earth and saw this peculiar race of creatures—these humans who live about seventy or eighty years, knowing that death is going to come—it would look to him like a terrible problem of psychology to live under those circumstances, knowing that life is only temporary. Well, we humans somehow figure out how to live despite this problem: we laugh, we joke, we live.

The only difference for me and Arlene was, instead of fifty years, it was five years. It was only a quantitative difference—the psychological problem was just the same. The only way it would have become any different is if we had said to ourselves, “But those other people have it better, because they might live fifty years.” But that’s crazy. Why make yourself miserable saying things like, “Why do we have such bad luck. What has God done to us? What have we done to deserve this?”—all of which, if you understand reality and take it completely into your heart, are irrelevant and unsolvable. They are just things that nobody can know. Your situation is just an accident of life.

Richard Feynman, What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character, New York, 1988, pp. 33-34

Richard Feynman

My friends and I had taken dancing lessons, although none of us would ever admit it. In those depression days, a friend of my mother was trying to make a living by teaching dancing in the evening, in an upstairs dance studio. There was a back door to the place, and she arranged it so the young men could come up through the back way without being seen.

Every once in a while there would be a social dance at this lady’s studio. I didn’t have the nerve to test this analysis, but it seemed to me that the girls had a much harder time than the boys did. In those days, girls couldn’t ask to cut in and dance with boys; it wasn’t “proper.” So the girls who weren’t very pretty would sit for hours at the side, just sad as hell.

I thought, “The guys have it easy: they’re free to cut in whenever they want.” But it wasn’t easy. You’re “free,” but you haven’t got the guts, or the sense, or whatever it takes to relax and enjoy dancing. Instead, you tie yourself in knots worrying about cutting in or inviting a girl to dance with you.

For example, if you saw a girl who was not dancing, who you thought you’d like to dance with, you might think, “Good! Now at least I’ve got a chance!” But it was usually very difficult: often the girl would say, “No, thank you, I’m tired. I think I’ll sit this one out.” So you go away somewhat defeated—but not completely, because maybe she really is tired—when you turn around and some other guy comes up to there, and there she is, dancing with him! Maybe this guy is her boyfriend and she knew he was coming over, or maybe she didn’t like the way you look, or maybe something else. It was always so complicated for such a simple matter.

Richard Feynman, What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character, New York, 1988, pp. 11-12

Richard Feynman

You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I was coming here, on the way to the lecture, and I came in through the parking lot. And you won’t believe what happened. I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!

Richard Feynman, quoted by David L. Goodstein and Gerry Neugebauer, ‘Special Preface’, in Six Easy Pieaces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher, Reading, Massachusetts, 1995, p. xxi