I just finished reading Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, an autobiography of a pretty bizarre and amazing character. As many of you know about me, I do my best to make my own life an adventure… and I found a lot of parallels between his life and my own, though Feynman’s life was on a far grander scale. Now that I’m done with the book, I find myself constantly going over his experiences and comparing them to my own.
Feynman was born and raised in Far Rockaway, which is not far from where I live. He was at Los Alamos for the Manhattan project. He spent most of his life in California, teaching at Caltech. He also spent time in Cornell, in upstate New York. He had adventures all over the world. One of the most striking aspects of his life is the way he would pick up different skills for a variety of reasons ranging from curiosity to thinking they were absolutely necessary (and they probably weren’t). And he would be good at them! He learned Portuguese when he visited Brazil and he delivered a scientific speech completely in Portuguese becasue he thought it was required, only to find out that the rest of his colleagues delivered their speeches in English! While in Brazil, he also learned to play the frigideira, which is some kind of percussion device, and he played it in a band that walked around the city during Carnaval. He learned to play the bongos and went on tour with some crazy dance club. He loved strip clubs and nudes, alot. He would play endless practical jokes and would sometimes set up these gags for weeks before executing them. He was a curious social investigator, meeting all kinds of people and getting into all kinds of odd situations. He learned to draw and got good enough to have a exhibition dedicated solely to his work. He was on the California School Board on a committee to evaluate math and science textbooks and he was one of the only members of the committee to actually read the books and he found them all to be crap, written by people who didn’t really understand the material. He had a knack for understanding things so completely that he would always be able to draw real-world analogies for just about any physics problems. He would often criticize other students and scientists who knew the textbook, but would not be able to relate their knowledge to the real-world.
It’s funny how after reading this book I almost wish I had become a scientist, which was my dream in high school before I got distracted by computers. I never really felt like I was very good with computers, but I enjoy using them so much. I really enjoyed science in high school and I wonder what kind of scientist I might have been.