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

As we all know, Richard Feynman is best known for his teaching skills. Feynman possessed the ability to present extremely complex things in a very lucid and easy to grasp manner. The Feynman technique of learning is a method to understand something deeply and to apply it after learning. The Feynman technique has 4 steps:

  1. Write the name of the topic on a piece of paper.
  2. Explain it in the simplest way possible. Don’t just write the concept. Use examples and illustrations too.
  3. After writing, explain the concept as if you are teaching a class. Don’t use complicated language. Explain it in the simplest way possible.
  4. Go back to the wear areas. The places where you struggled in step 3 are your weak links. These places are the ones that you haven’t understood well and need to work on them.

To improve step 3, instead of explaining to a class or anyone, explain it to a kid. That is because a kid will ask why at many places. The more number of whys you answer, the better you understand. In Richard Feynman’s language, “If you want to master something, teach it.” This learning technique has done wonders for many, and I can say this from my personal experience. Without any doubt, it is one of the finest learning methods that can lead anyone to have a firm hold on something. Feynman himself used to practice his lectures for at least five hours in an empty classroom!

A gifted artist

Most people perceive scientists as extremely dull and boring people who only know how to write derivations on paper. But you Feynman shared another beautiful relationship with paper and pencil, and that was of painting and sketching. Feynman started drawing at the age of 44 in 1962 after a series of friendly arguments about art versus science with his artist-friend Jirayr Jerry Zorthian. Eventually, the two agreed to exchange lessons in art and science on alternate Sundays.

Most of Feynman’s drawings consisted of portraits and nudes, with the occasional landscape or still life. As every artist has a pen name, Feynman chose to sign his creations as “Ofey.” By pursuing painting at the age of 44, Feynman set an example of never being too old to take the first step. It’s only the dedication and determination that matters! Once Feynman was asked that what motivated him to take up this artistic thing, he 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 Feynman (Image: openculture.com)

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A tragic love story of Richard Feynman and Arline

Richard didn’t only have a sharp and witty brain but also had a loving and caring heart. Although he married thrice in his life, he truly loved only one, and that one was his first love, Arline. Feynman’s love story was full of tears and resembled the movie “Fault In Our Stars.” He fell for Arline in his teenage itself. Arline was Feynman’s high school sweetheart. But then things took an ugly turn, and Arline became ill with tuberculosis, and doctors didn’t expect her to live much longer.

After learning about her illness, Feynman ignored his parents’ advice and decided to keep his promise of marrying Arline. But Arline’s disease took away her life, leaving the 27 years old Feynman shattered. Losing his soulmate, Feynman grieved her death for years.  He also wrote an emotional letter for her after her death, which was not opened until he died in 1988. Richard Feynman’s and Arline’s story of pious endearment is one of the most beautiful, emotional, and tragic ones in the scientific community.

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 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 are known to go on together for centuries. Many physicists in the past have shown an avid interest in music. For instance, the Greeks used musical constructions to explain the orbits of planets, Albert Einstein used to play the violin. Even Werner Heisenberg played piano. And when it comes to Richard, how could he not share a common interest with these intellectuals.  So keeping up with the love affair better physicists and music, Feynman used to play bongos and even played them in an orchestra.

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

During a ten-month stay in Brazil at the Center for Physical Research, he got introduced to a samba school, and that is when he decided to learn how to play the frigidaire. Later, he got so good that he became part of his samba school’s band that participated in the contest at the Carnival of Rio and won the contest. This was again an example of something that Feynman started learning to quench his curiosity and didn’t let go of it until he became very good at it.

Feynman’s acting spree

Richard Feynman has been one of the most influential physicists in the history of humanity, be it in terms of intelligence or looks! So who could have been the better choice to portray the role of a physicist in a movie than Feynman himself? And when a similar opportunity came his way, he efficiently portrayed the role of a professor in the movie “Anti Clock”.

Feynman as a detective

The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster that occurred on January 28, 1986, was one of the most catastrophic space disasters in the history of NASA. After the shuttle exploded to bits, NASA appointed members of the Rogers Commission to investigate the cause of the disaster. As Feynman was known to have a keen eye for detail, so he was also asked to be a part of this commission which he reluctantly accepted, without knowing that he would actually become the person to figure out the exact reason behind the disaster!

As inquisitive as he was, Feynman performed his best to unravel the root cause of the disaster. After a series of tests, Feynman eventually concluded that because the O-rings could not expand in 32-degree weather, the gas found gaps in the joints, which led to the explosion of the booster and then the shuttle itself.

Breaking safes for fun?

What do you prefer to do when you are bored? Probably, some of us like to go for a walk, read books, watch movies, play games, and all sorts of light and fun activities. But have you ever thought of breaking safes to kill your boredom? The answer would most probably be a big NO! But for Feynman, it was the best way to fight his boredom and utilize his free time.

While working on the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos in the 1940s, all the scientists involved were issued safes to keep their confidential papers safely. However, as restless as Feynman was, he thought of doing something interesting with these safes and started working on some interesting problems that led him to ponder the puzzle of how to crack these safes. Eventually, it became Feynman’s one of favorite pass-time activities.

The prankster physicist

When it comes to pranks, Feynman has been one of the most famous pranksters in the history of physicists. Although there are many instances associated with his funny nerves, there’s one extremely famous incident.

While working for the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory in California, Richard occasionally got bored at the isolated location. So to his time joyful, he started playing pranks on his colleagues. As already mentioned above, Feynman had developed a new passion for breaking safes during the Manhattan Project. One fine day, he discovered the combination to the locked filing cabinets belonging to nuclear physicist Frederic de Hoffmann and left a series of cryptic notes inside it. When Hoffman discovered those notes, he was briefly spooked into believing that a saboteur had gained access to secrets of the atomic bomb.

Well, who says a physicist can’t pull pranks and that too with so much finesse!

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