We know Richard Feynman for his beautiful definition of antimatter, his simple yet elegant Feynman diagrams depicting the interaction of subatomic particles, his amazing lecture series, and many other interesting scientific things. Undoubtedly, Feynman was one of the most astonishing scientists of the twentieth century. But you know what, there are several unknown facts about this handsome intellectual, in addition to his extraordinary scientific prowess, that will make you love him even more!

Richard Feynman ( Image: Caltech.edu)
Richard Feynman ( Image: Caltech.edu)

Feynman’s technique of learning

Richard Feynman was known for his special way of teaching. He had a skill for making very tricky things seem simple and clear. This skill was so good that it even became a learning method called the Feynman technique.

The Feynman technique is a four-step process that helps people understand tough topics deeply.

Firstly, you write down the topic you want to learn on a piece of paper. Then, you try to explain this topic in the easiest way you can. It’s not just about writing down the idea, but also giving examples and drawing pictures to make it clear.

Next, you try to teach this concept as if you were explaining it to a classroom. The key here is to avoid difficult words or phrases. You should aim to make it as simple as possible. During this step, you might find some parts of the topic harder to explain. These are your weak spots. They show you the areas you need to learn more about.

To get even better at explaining the topic, you should try to teach it to a child. Children often ask ‘why’ a lot. The more ‘why’ questions you can answer, the better you understand the topic. Richard Feynman once said, “If you want to master something, teach it.” This technique has helped many people, myself included, to really understand complex topics. He was so dedicated to this method that he used to practice his lectures for at least five hours in an empty classroom!

A gifted artist

Aside from being a great teacher, Feynman was also an artist.

A lot of people think of scientists as dull people who only know how to write down equations. But Richard Feynman was different. He had a special bond with paper and pencil, not just for science, but also for drawing and painting. He began to draw at the age of 44 in 1962 after having friendly chats about art and science with his artist friend, Jirayr Jerry Zorthian.

Feynman’s drawings were mostly of people, often without clothes, but sometimes he drew landscapes or objects too. Like many artists, he had a special name he used to sign his drawings, “Ofey.” By starting to draw at 44, Feynman showed us that it’s never too late to try something new. It’s your effort and willpower that really matter! When asked why he decided to start drawing, Richard Feynman said:

I wanted very much to learn to draw, for a reason that I kept to myself: I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world. It’s difficult to describe because it’s an emotion. It’s analogous to the feeling one has in religion that has to do with a god that controls everything in the universe: there’s a generality aspect that you feel when you think about how things that appear so different and behave so differently are all run ‘behind the scenes’ by the same organization, the same physical laws.

It’s an appreciation of the mathematical beauty of nature, of how she works inside; a realization that the phenomena we see result from the complexity of the inner workings between atoms; a feeling of how dramatic and wonderful it is. It’s  — of scientific awe — which I felt could be communicated through a drawing to someone who had also had that emotion. I could remind him, for a moment, of this feeling about the glories of the universe.

A sketch made by Feynman (Image: openculture.com)
A sketch made by Richard Feynman |Image: openculture.com

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A tragic love story of Richard Feynman and Arline

Richard Feynman was known not only for his brilliant mind, but also for his big heart. Although he was married three times, it was his first love, Arline, who truly captured his heart. Feynman’s love story with Arline was both beautiful and tragic, much like the plot of the movie “Fault In Our Stars.”

Feynman and Arline were high school sweethearts, their love blossoming in their teenage years. However, their journey took a heartbreaking turn when Arline fell sick with tuberculosis. The doctors didn’t think she would live much longer.

Despite his parents’ advice, Feynman decided to keep his promise to Arline. He married her, standing by her side even as her illness progressed. Sadly, Arline’s disease claimed her life, leaving a 27-year-old physicist heartbroken.

The loss of his soulmate affected Feynman deeply, and he mourned Arline’s passing for many years. In his grief, he wrote a heartfelt letter to Arline, expressing his feelings for her. This letter remained unopened until Feynman’s own death in 1988. The love story of Richard Feynman and Arline is one of the most touching and tragic tales in the world of science.

Arline and Richard (Image: Brainpickings.org)
Arline and Richard (Image: Brainpickings.org)

In 2012 biography on Feynman, Lawrence Krauss wrote :

“Richard and Arline were soul mates. They were not clones of each other, but symbiotic opposites – each completed the other. Arline admired Richard’s obvious scientific brilliance, and Richard clearly adored the fact that she loved and understood things he could barely appreciate at the time. But what they shared, most of all, was a love of life and a spirit of adventure”.

If this love story has still not touched you with its purity and serenity, have a look at an emotional love letter that Richard Feynman wrote for her love, Arline!

October 17, 1946

I adore you, sweetheart.

I know how much you like to hear that — but I don’t only write it because you like it — I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you. It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you’ll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing.

But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and that I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you. I want to love you. I always will love you. I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me.

I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector. Can’t I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the “idea-woman” and general instigator of all our wild adventures.

When you were sick you worried because you could not give me something that you wanted to and thought I needed. You needn’t have worried. Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want you to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.

I know you will assure me that I am foolish and that you want me to have full happiness and don’t want to be in my way. I’ll bet you are surprised that I don’t even have a girlfriend (except you, sweetheart) after two years. But you can’t help it, darling, nor can I — I don’t understand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don’t want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.

My darling wife, I do adore you.
I love my wife. My wife is dead.

PS: Please excuse me not mailing this — but I don’t know your new address

Feynman’s love for music

Music and physics have been intertwined for centuries. Many great minds in the field of physics have also had a passion for music. The ancient Greeks used musical principles to explain planetary orbits, Albert Einstein found solace in playing the violin, and Werner Heisenberg expressed his creativity through the piano. Richard Feynman, ever the quintessential physicist, was no exception to this trend.

Keeping in step with this age-old connection between physicists and music, Feynman found his rhythm in playing the bongos. He even brought his unique beat to an orchestra, demonstrating his musicianship alongside his scientific prowess.

Feynman playing bongos ( Image: Caltech.edu)
Richard Feynman playing bongos ( Image: Caltech.edu)

During a ten-month visit to the Center for Physical Research in Brazil, Richard Feynman was introduced to a samba school. It was here that his curiosity was piqued by the frigideira, a type of Brazilian frying pan used as a musical instrument in samba music. Enthralled by its distinct sound, Feynman was determined to master it.

True to his nature, Feynman didn’t just learn to play the frigideira; he excelled at it. His dedication and talent led him to join his samba school’s band, which went on to compete and win in the Carnival of Rio. Once again, Feynman demonstrated his ability to pursue a curiosity and master it, further proving that his thirst for knowledge and passion for exploration was not limited to the laboratory.

Feynman’s acting spree

Richard Feynman was also quite the character! His intelligence and charisma even led him to the silver screen. When the chance arose to play a professor in the movie “Anti-Clock,” he embraced the opportunity to show off his acting skills.

Feynman as a detective

Richard Feynman also proved to be quite the detective. After the devastating Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, NASA formed the Rogers Commission to investigate the cause of the incident. Feynman, known for his sharp eye for detail, was invited to join the commission. He reluctantly agreed, not knowing he would end up being the one to discover the exact cause of the disaster. His relentless curiosity led him to find out that the O-rings failed to expand in the chilly 32-degree weather, causing gas to leak and eventually leading to the explosion.

Breaking safes for fun?

When it came to hobbies, Richard Feynman was equally unconventional. During his time at Los Alamos in the 1940s, working on the atomic bomb project, he found an unusual way to pass the time: cracking safes. While most people would prefer to read books or watch movies in their spare time, Feynman took on the challenge of figuring out how to open the safes issued to the scientists to keep their confidential papers.

The prankster physicist

Richard Feynman didn’t stop at just cracking safes. He was also quite the prankster. While working on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory, he would often play tricks on his colleagues to keep things interesting. For instance, he once figured out the combination to nuclear physicist Frederic de Hoffmann’s locked filing cabinet. Feynman left a series of cryptic notes inside, leading Hoffman to briefly believe that a spy had gained access to the atomic bomb secrets.

Well, who says a physicist can’t pull pranks and that too with so much finesse! Richard Feynman’s life is a testament to the boundless curiosity and diverse interests that a scientist can have. His story is a reminder that behind the equations and theorems, scientists are multi-dimensional humans with rich personal lives and unique hobbies. Richard Feynman will always be remembered not just for his contributions to physics, but also for his vibrant personality and his insatiable zest for life.

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