Richard Feynman passed away 26 years ago on this date. I was not even born 26 years ago (1990, what’s up!). Richard Feynman was one of the greatest professors of all time. Let’s sume up a little. He studied at MIT and Princeton, where he was invited by Niels Bohr to work on some special project called ‘the Manhattan Project’. For everybody who doesn’t know: this is the group of scientists which invented the A-bomb.

During his time at the Manhattan Project he kept joking around, having a lot of fun in his life. One of the many examples of this is that he breached the security of the Project by lockpicking a safe of one of his bosses.

Later on in life he became a professor and was very successful in the field of quantum mechanics. He kept on entertaining and he kept on teaching. He teached students, as well as regular people  with written works on his life, on quantum mechanics and how to stay away from the regular path.

Oh and did I mention he won a Nobelprize for Physics?

One of his written works is ‘Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman‘. Here he described a lot of situations where he did something, which seems very logic out of context, but is hard to understand for people who work with him. A big recommendation for everybody who is aspiring a successful professional (and/or academic) life, as well as a lot of fun. This post will focus on some of the biggest lessons we can learn from his life.

Study by Creating Examples

“Another thing I did in high school was to invent problems and theorems. I mean, if I were doing any mathematical thing at all, I would find some practical example for which it would be useful.”

When studying Feynman always created examples to understand the concepts of what he was studying. This is a fairly odd way to study such an abstract field of science, but it seemed to work for him. You can do this in any field and it will probably work in every field. It might take some practise though in work like Math or Rocket Science.

Always be on the lookout for examples. Examples give you a grasp on the material through reality.

He also does this when talking to other people:

“I had a scheme, which I still use today when somebody is explaining something that I’m trying to understand: I keep making up examples.”

With this scheme he was always able to ask really good questions to his sparring partners in discussions, something which is frustrating for his colleagues at first, but very valuable on the long term.

In the book he describes some really interesting (and most of all funny) conversations with colleagues while using this scheme.

Keeping an Open Mind

A painter once explained how to make yellow paint by mixing red and white. Feynman said it was impossible and couldn’t see how it was done. Eventually the painter simply did it by adding some yellow paint. Feynman should have had an open mind and he would understand. He later acknowledged he had problems with this in his academic life as well.

“I’ve very often made mistakes in my physics by thinking the theory isn’t as good as it really is, thinking that there are lots of complications that are going to spoil it-an attitude that anything can happen, in spite of what you’re pretty sure should happen”

Always expect anything can happen and every result will seem logic to you.

Always Do Important Work

About teaching a class in physics at CalTech:

“I have to have something so that when I don’t have any ideas and I’m not getting anywhere I can say to myself, “At least I’m living; at least I’, doing something; I’m making some contribution” – It’s just psychological”

Feynman made it a point to always teach. Always do some sort of important work, even when you are not doing anything else at all. This way you will always have something to show for, something to be proud of.

If you combine this with the idea of Identity Capital, you always will have motivation to do some sort of meaningful work. To always take some sort of step in the forward direction in your life.

Discuss what You Are Studying

Richard was offered to teach a class in Brazil for a period of time, which he gladly did as it gave him a chance to study another language. He saw something interesting in these students:

“So you see they could pass the examinations, and “learn” all this stuff, and not KNOW anything at all, except what they had memorized.”

In Brazil, the students only study definitions, formula’s. They didn’t use actual examples in them, they didn’t discuss what they are learning. Questions in class would only delay the class and it costs time for the rest of the students in the room.

Interesting enough when he asked questions the class could reproduce the definition, but they could not use it into practise. They were never thought to neither were they motivated to.

When you are studying a concept or a formula, discuss it with friends. Put it into practise and see what you can do with it.

Go. Act. Do.

Richard Feynman was, as you wouldn’t expect of a scientist, fairly good with women. How he learned this? By doing. He went to night clubs when he was giving lectures somewhere, out of boredom and out of curiosity. He saw how other guys could simply talk to the ladies and how some other guys could only gaze at them and giving them drinks. He analyzed what the successful guys did and actually talked to a couple of these guys. He understood and he knew what to do: practise talking to girls. And he did.

“At first I was a little bit afraid: the girls (show girls in Vegas) were so beautiful, they had such a reputation and so forth. I would try to meet them, and I’d choke a little bit when I talked. It was difficult at first, but gradually it got easier, and finally I had enough confidence that I wasn’t afraid of anybody.”

He trained himself in getting out of his comfort zone. By this he did something a lot of people are too afraid of to do. By getting out of your comfort zone you are growing fast as a person. A nice side-effect for Feynman was he talked to some very beautiful girls.

Feynman was a great scientist, an amazing professor and a fun guy to be around. Check some of his videos on physics, read the book ‘Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman‘ and you will learn some valuable life lessons. By this we will keep the legend alive.

To get an example of who and how Richard Feynman is, check out this hour long interview with him.



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