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
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
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
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
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 point.
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
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.
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 <http://elibrary.bigchalk.com>.
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 <http://www.anb.org>.
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 <http://elibrary.bigchalk.com>.
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 <http://elibrary.bigchalk.com>.