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Any paper about Richard Feynman is inherently unconventional.

That’s because

Richard Feynman was an unconventional hero. There are the great superheroes, such as

Spiderman, who will take down some evil villain and save the world from entropy. There

are the historical heroes, who took a step towards justice and away from unfairness. Then

there are the everyday heroes who will help a kid with his homework, or make a sacrifice

to assist someone else. However, those aren’t the only heroes. A hero is anyone who

accomplishes something positive that hasn’t been done before, and they do it with their

own unique style. The funny thing about Feynman is that he encompasses all of that, and

he does it all with his own manner. (Right now, one might be thinking, “No way! Get

out!” Yes it is possible). A hero is like someone that works at SBC, they go beyond the

call. Not only did Richard Feynman go beyond the call, he ended up winning the Nobel

Prize while he was at it.

If one were a great gourmet chef working in the kitchen of a restaurant called

Heroes and a really obnoxious, hard to please customer asked for the best thing at the

restaurant, the chef would probably cook up a little Feynman. And yes, even he, the

snotty customer, would be satisfied. He would be satisfied because of the many valuable

and noteworthy traits that are in any Feynman entree. This is a paper of the heroics of

Richard Feynman: physicist, genius, and super cool guy. Richard P. Feynman, although

unsung, is a hero in his own right because of the many attributes he possessed that

separated him from the regular populace, such as his determination, his revolutionary

ideas, and the fact that he was a real down to earth good person who helped others.

An essential prerequisite to being a hero is determination. Persistency is a severe

case of commitment combined with a twist of cleverness and a hefty dosage of drive to

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solve problems. Richard Feynman had that. He had a lot of that. A prime example of his

determination was the manner in which he thought about puzzles. Once he was

approached with a puzzle, there was no putting it down for him. As Albert R. Hibbs states

in the introduction of Feynman’s book, Richard Feynman had an “almost compulsive

need to solve puzzles” (8). Any person equipped with this “compulsive need” was truly

ready to face the world and all of its challenges. Never was there a person as ready as

Richard Feynman. He lived his life like he was ready. Only a person with his doggedness

and perception could have cracked safes like he did. A quote that really sums it up from

his book goes as such: “In 10 minutes I had opened the safe that contained all the secret

documents about the plant. They were astonished. The safes were apparently not very

safe. It was a terrible shock: all this “eyes only” stuff; top secret, locked in this wonderful

secret safe, and this guy opens it in ten minutes!” (Feynman 144). The most interesting

part about Feynman’s safe undertaking was the way at which he learned this modus

operandi. He came up with his own clever method, and kept at it until he had mastered it.

That is truly a Feynman characteristic.

There were other ways he solved problems besides cracking safes. In his earlier

scientific undertakings, he was a radio fixer savant. He was having difficulty, but because

he kept at it, he was able to achieve his goal. “I finally fixed it because I had and still

have, persistence. Once I get on a puzzle, I can’t get off…I have to keep going to find out

ultimately what is the matter with it at the end. That’s a puzzle drive. It’s what accounts

for my wanting to decipher Mayan hieroglyphics, for trying to open safes” (Feynman 21).

The way Feynman ran his life is a model for the way people should strive to run theirs.

Never giving up. Unless you have to. But trying really hard and going to the utmost

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lengths to avoid doing so. This amazing “puzzle drive” of his was what led to him

winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965. Not that he really cared that he won it,

because he didn’t. He looked at it as more of a burden at first, but then grew to realize

that it wasn’t as negative as it was positive. The problem that got him started on his road

to the Nobel Prize was rather unexpected. He was in a cafeteria and saw plate wobbling

in the air and noticed the rotations were odd. He ended up finding out something

revolutionary about the relationship between light and matter (Goodstein). When asked

by a colleague Hans Bethe why he was figuring out these odd equations, Feynman

replied with the equivalent of ‘no reason.’ “There’s no importance whatsoever. I’m just

doing it for the fun of it” (Feynman 174). This plate question led to a number of diagrams

and equations that completely reformatted quantum mechanics (Goodstein). If anyone

cared. And evidently some did.

Feynman’s continual curiosity led him to ask the great gambler Nick the Greek

about his mysterious ways on how he won. He did this because clearly it is common

knowledge that the odds are against one in a gambling match. Upon receiving the answer

he realized the greatness of his fascinating ways and legitimized his questioning by

stating, “I have to understand the world you see” (Feynman 231). If he didn’t understand

the world, he was very close to it. But not as close as Icarus. (Don’t worry or fret; it is not

necessary to understand that joke.)

Richard Feynman was equipped with a “different box of tools” that was beneficial

when solving problems. (Feynman 110). If there was a problem Feynman could pick a

new angle to view it at to make the answer materialize more simply. Students in his

lecture commented on how “part of Feynman’s greatness as a teacher [was] making a

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difficult problem seem easy” (Sundaram). “He said he couldn’t understand the official

version of quantum mechanics that was taught in textbooks, and so he had to begin afresh

from the beginning…. At the end he had a new version of quantum mechanics that he

could understand” (Alda). Besides having the usual tools such as a wrench and

screwdriver, he had his more odd tools, such wine bottle cork remover. Went he went to

solve a problem, he used his wits along with his humor. When his colleagues would work

with him, they would classify him as such. Freeman Dyson said Feynman was “all

genius, all buffoon” referring to his previous comment that Feynman was “half genius,

half buffoon” (Sundaram).

Another one of the vital components of the Feynman persona was the newness

and innovation. (No those are not complete synonyms, even ask Webster.) To be

revolutionary as Feynman was is to be constantly coming up with something new and

unheard of, and after people are shocked and stunned by it, they are awed. In his lifetime,

Feynman had a passel of new ideas. After getting frustrated with the ever annoying

trigonometry symbols, he decided to invent his own. Which was convenient until he had

to explain it to someone other than himself. But as well as being an imaginant, he was

also a realist, so he dropped his idea. He was working at one job as a busboy, and after

deciding that the old way to handle trays was not suitable, he invented his own. Which

was rather proficient, until it stopped working when he started to drop things. Later he

was sleeping in a hotel, of which the boss was very pestering about the turning on and off

of the lights. While reading a Leonardo da Vinci book, he was influenced to create his

own gadget to solve this problem, which is best explained by Feynman himself: “Inspired

by the Leonardo book, I made this gadget which consisted of a system of strings and

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weights—Coke bottles full of water—that would operate when I’d open the door, lighting

the pull-chain light inside” (Feynman 27). This exemplifies the true genius of Feynman,

being able to create a mechanism to solve his problem. Which was also what he

attempted to do in the bean-cutting incident. He tried this new way to cut string beans

more efficiently, but while showing this off to the boss, he cut his hand and was scolded

upon. A similar event happened when he was working as a desk clerk and tried to make a

way to help answering the phone with a paper and string system. The system worked,

until the boss came over and thought it was too complicated.

All these failures, which could be used against someone, truly lead into the next

point proving his heroics. The extremely crucial point that makes him a hero over

Superman and over Spiderman and over Batman and over Captain Planet and over Brain

(from Pink and the Brain) and over Popeye and over the Justice League is that he is real.

He is not one of the fake conceptions of a mind at Warner Brothers Studio. He is a human

who accomplished many things, but also had his share of errors on the way. His errors are

not to be celebrated, but they are to be looked upon as any others would. Being a hero is

being real, knowing and distinguishing right from wrong, and consistently doing it every

day. It is having an opinion and being vocal and living life to the fullest. The values that

Feynman lived with were very positive, which was an encouraging part of his character.

Feynman embodies the celebrated fact that no one can be perfect but everyone can try. A

comical incident after which his book takes its name is when he asks for both cream and

lemon in his tea, which is a large no-no in the social etiquette world at Princeton in which

he was living. There are many other incidences of this that will not be lunged in to at this


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Feynman’s ability to help others is one of a hero who will stop at nothing to lend

wisdom or their skill to aid others in some task. This ability is one that gets lost

throughout the generations but few are lucky enough to be carrying the surviving strand.

He helped others simply by his teaching. He wasn’t just about getting answers and giving

answers. He was about understanding answers. When he taught he made sure his students

were not the ones who were “able to correctly solve a problem without having any

conceptual understanding of the problem” (Lederman). He wanted questions and answers

to have meaning. He helped the army by going to Los Alamos and making significant

contributions to the atomic bomb. He helped fix radios. He was a versatile helper as well

as being a versatile person. A multitalented person will not be stuck only on his job, but

will be actively engaged with other hobbies and finding new passions to pursue in their

lifetime. Feynman did this in its utmost form. “He helped create the atomic bomb, he

helped figure out why the Challenger blew up, he understood the most puzzling questions

in physics so deeply that they gave him the Nobel Prize” (Alda). He was a scientist, a

teacher, a decoder of Mayan hieroglyphics, a safecracker, a humorous storyteller, a Nobel

Prize winner, and an avid bongo and frigideira player. And more. That’s a lot of things for

just one lifetime. But Feynman did it.

He did that. Just like he did everything else. And he did it pretty well. Pretty well

plus one, which equals about great. There are few doubts that there will soon be many

restaurants serving hefty platters of Feynman with the scrumptious sides of

determination, innovation, and reality. This is an obvious fact, as most restaurants believe

in serving the best thing they can. Richard Feynman left his mark sort of how a dinosaur

leaves their mark. When they are living they leave it with footprints, and when they pass

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they leave them with fossils. But people know about footprints; and people know about

fossils. Some people are even amazed at footprints and fossils. Feynman’s footprints and

fossils were his many ideas that he brought out into the world. People continue to this day

to learn about dinosaurs from the fossils they left behind. People continue to this day to

learn about heroes by examining the life of Richard P. Feynman. And all of this is

rightfully so.

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Works Cited

Alda, Alan. “Finding Feynman: Loving What You Do.” Vital Speeches of the Day. 1 Feb

2002. E Library. Deerfield High School Library, Deerfield, IL. 14 Feb 2005


Feynman, Richard P. “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman”: Adventures of a Curious

Character. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.

Goodstein, David. “Feynman, Richard Phillips.” American National Biography Online.

Deerfield High School, Deerfield, IL. 14 Feb 2005 <>.

Lederman, Norman G, and Niess, M. L. “Problem Solving and Solving Problems.”

School Science and Mathematics. 1 March 2000. Elibrary. Deerfield High School,

Deerfield, IL. 14 Feb 2005 <>.

Sundaram, T. R. “Brilliant Scientist and ‘Curious Character.’” The World and I. 1 Aug

1998. E Library. Deerfield High School, Deerfield, IL. 14 Feb 2005


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