In the interest of playing “catch-up” this month and the hopes of writing more than just commentary on the books I’m reading, I’m continuing on course with another (sort of) short and sweet wrap up of my favorite quotes from a recent read. I posted about “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” back at the beginning of March when I started reading it and posted my immediate thoughts about the book on my Goodreads account and in my (now weekly) newsletter. I hope you’ll go read those!

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman book cover on the couch.

“He got me other jobs, and kept telling everybody what a tremendous genius I was, saying, ‘He fixes radios by thinking!’ The whole idea of thinking, to fix a radio – a little boy stops and thinks, and figures out how to do it – he never thought that was possible.”

During the depression he fixed radios, among other things, like they were puzzles to be solved. He learned by doing. It reminded me of my husband and sons.

“We had to write a number of themes. For instance, Mill had written something on liberty, and we had to criticize it. But instead of addressing myself to political liberty, as Mill did, I wrote about liberty in social occasions – the problem of having to fake or lie in order to be polite, and does the perpetual game of faking in social situations lead to the “destruction of the moral fiber of society.” An interesting question, but not the one we were supposed to discuss.”

A physicist in an English or History class…also reminded me of my son and my Dad. He probably would have read that essay with great interest.

“…Slater was right to warn me to go to another school for my graduate work. And I often advise my students the same way. Learn what the rest of the world is like. The variety is worthwhile.”

I liked “the rest of the world.” Well, at least he’d know what a little more of the world was like. For some of us, comfort and familiarity is key, but to grow beyond the pot your planted in, you have to be shaken out and transplanted. It is hard to volunteer for. And then there are people that crave it! Weirdos!

“What I had intended to do was to find out whether they thought theoretical constructs were essential objects. The electron is a theory that we use; it is so useful in understanding the way nature works that we can almost call it real. I wanted to make the idea o a theory clear by analogy. In the case of the brick, my next question was going to be, “What about the inside of the brick?” – and I would then point out that no one has ever seen the inside of a brick, you only see a surface. That the brick has an inside is a simple theory which helps us understand things better. The theory of electrons is analogous.”

This was part was a source of contention around here. I explained it separately to my three men. My husband and my oldest son both blew me off. “That’s ridiculous!” My younger son and I had a deep philosophical conversation through text for days. Sides were taken, lines drawn. Fascinating.

I think they miss the point of the analogy. Yes, we do know what the inside of a brick looks like essentially. But the point is to think about other things and how we look at them, in order to be sure we haven’t missed anything. It’s a thought exercise. They say it’s pointless. I know most people would agree.

“What is not really appreciated by most people is that they’re perpetually locking themselves in with locks everywhere, and it’s not very hard to pick them.”

He was talking about his “safe-cracking” stunt, where he could do it sometimes but most times he got a clue and then followed the trail to open it. People didn’t realize what he was doing. But it’s a cool analogy for humanity. You think you’re locked in but if you relax, take a look around, find clues, you’ll find that you aren’t.

This wrap up ended up being WAY too long for a single post, so you’ll find the rest of my comments tomorrow in Part Two. Stay tuned!

If you’d like to get a copy of “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” and read it for yourself, check out Thriftbooks.com. Used books, free shipping, and points to redeem toward free books?! Yes, please! It’s a wonderful book, highly entertaining and left met thinking a little better about these weird physicists types.