Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!
(Would not read again)
What I got from this book is that Feynman was a bit of a narcissist and definitely a dick. He has some very good points on education and how flawed the system is.
There are definitely some entertaining bits in the book and value to be extracted. However, the feeling I get from this book is Feynman bragging to everyone how awesome he is.
“When I came out of the hypnosis and looked at the back of my hand, I got the biggest surprise: There was a burn on the back of my hand. Soon a blister grew, and it never hurt at all, even when it broke. So I found hypnosis to be a very interesting experience. All the time you’re saying to yourself, “I could do that, but I won’t”—which is just another way of saying that you can’t.”
” 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.”
“Then there was John Von Neumann, the great mathematician. We used to go for walks on Sunday. We’d walk in the canyons, often with Bethe and Bob Bacher. It was a great pleasure. And Von Neumann gave me an interesting idea: that you don’t have to be responsible for the world that you’re in. So I have developed a very powerful sense of social irresponsibility as a result of Von Neumann’s advice. It’s made me a very happy man ever since. But it was Von Neumann who put the seed in that grew into my active irresponsibility!”
“And then I thought to myself, “You know, what they think of you is so fantastic, it’s impossible to live up to it. You have no responsibility to live up to it!” It was a brilliant idea: You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing. It wasn’t a failure on my part that the Institute for Advanced Study expected me to be that good; it was impossible.”
“Hah!” I say. “There’s no importance whatsoever. I’m just doing it for the fun of it.” His reaction didn’t discourage me; I had made up my mind I was going to enjoy physics and do whatever I liked. I went on to work out equations of wobbles. Then I thought about how electron orbits start to move in relativity. Then there’s the Dirac Equation in electrodynamics. And then quantum electrodynamics. And before I knew it (it was a very short time) I was “playing”—working, really—with the same old problem that I loved so much, that I had stopped working on when I went to Los Alamos: my thesis-type problems; all those old-fashioned, wonderful things. It was effortless. It was easy to play with these things. It was like uncorking a bottle: Everything flowed out effortlessly. I almost tried to resist it! There was no importance to what I was doing, but ultimately there was. The diagrams and the whole business that I got the Nobel Prize for came from that piddling around with the wobbling plate.
” Now, what about the lessons?” “OK,” he says. “The whole principle is this: The guy wants to be a gentleman. He doesn’t want to be thought of as impolite, crude, or especially a cheapskate. As long as the girl knows the guy’s motives so well, it’s easy to steer him in the direction she wants him to go. “Therefore,” he continued, “under no circumstances be a gentleman! You must disrespect the girls. Furthermore, the very first rule is, don’t buy a girl anything—not even a package of cigarettes—until you’ve asked her if she’ll sleep with you, and you’re convinced that she will, and that she’s not lying.” “Uh…you mean…you don’t…uh…you just ask them?” “OK,” he says, “I know this is your first lesson, and it may be hard for you to be so blunt. So you might buy her one thing—just one little something—before you ask. But on the other hand, it will only make it more difficult.” Well, someone only has to give me the principle, and I get the idea. All during the next day I built up my psychology differently: I adopted the attitude that those bar girls are all bitches, that they aren’t worth anything, and all they’re in there for is to get you to buy them a drink, and they’re not going to give you a goddamn thing; I’m not going to be a gentleman to such worthless bitches, and so on. I learned it till it was automatic. Then that night I was ready to try it out. I go into the bar as usual, and right away my friend says, “Hey, Dick! Wait’ll you see the girl I got tonight! She had to go change her clothes, but she’s coming right back.” “Yeah, yeah,” I say, unimpressed, and I sit at another table to watch the show. My friend’s girl comes in just as the show starts, and I’m thinking, “I don’t give a damn how pretty she is; all she’s doing is getting him to buy her drinks, and she’s going to give him nothing!” After the first act my friend says, “Hey, Dick! I want you to meet Ann. Ann, this is a good friend of mine, Dick Feynman.” I say “Hi” and keep looking at the show. A few moments later Ann says to me, “Why don’t you come and sit at the table here with us?” I think to myself, “Typical bitch: he’s buying her drinks, and she’s inviting somebody else to the table.” I say, “I can see fine from here.” A little while later a lieutenant from the military base nearby comes in, dressed in a nice uniform. It isn’t long before we notice that Ann is sitting over on the other side of the bar with the lieutenant! Later that evening I’m sitting at the bar, Ann is dancing with the lieutenant, and when the lieutenant’s back is toward me and she’s facing me, she smiles very pleasantly to me. I think again, “Some bitch! Now she’s doing this trick on the lieutenant even!” Then I get a good idea: I don’t look at her until the lieutenant can also see me, and then I smile back at her, so the lieutenant will know what’s going on. So her trick didn’t work for long. A few minutes later she’s not with the lieutenant any more, but asking the bartender for her coat and handbag, saying in a loud, obvious voice, “I’d like to go for a walk. Does anybody want to go for a walk with me?” I think to myself, “You can keep saying no and pushing them off, but you can’t do it permanently, or you won’t get anywhere. There comes a time when you have to go along.” So I say coolly, “I’ll walk with you.” So we go out. We walk down the street a few blocks and see a café, and she says, “I’ve got an idea—let’s get some coffee and sandwiches, and go over to my place and eat them.” The idea sounds pretty good, so we go into the café and she orders three coffees and three sandwiches and I pay for them. As we’re going out of the café, I think to myself, “Something’s wrong: too many sandwiches!” On the way to her motel she says, “You know, I won’t have time to eat these sandwiches with you, because a lieutenant is coming over…” I think to myself, “See, I flunked. The master gave me a lesson on what to do, and I flunked. I bought her $1.10 worth of sandwiches, and hadn’t asked her anything, and now I know I’m gonna get nothing! I have to recover, if only for the pride of my teacher.” I stop suddenly and I say to her, “You…are worse than a WHORE!” “Whaddya mean?” “You got me to buy these sandwiches, and what am I going to get for it? Nothing!” “Well, you cheapskate!” she says. “If that’s the way you feel, I’ll pay you back for the sandwiches!” I called her bluff: “Pay me back, then.” She was astonished. She reached into her pocketbook, took out the little bit of money that she had and gave it to me. I took my sandwich and coffee and went off. After I was through eating, I went back to the bar to report to the master. I explained everything, and told him I was sorry that I flunked, but I tried to recover. He said very calmly, “It’s OK, Dick; it’s all right. Since you ended up not buying her anything, she’s gonna sleep with you tonight.” “What?” “That’s right,” he said confidently; “she’s gonna sleep with you. I know that.” “But she isn’t even here! She’s at her place with the lieu—” “It’s all right.” Two o’clock comes around, the bar closes, and Ann hasn’t appeared. I ask the master and his wife if I can come over to their place again. They say sure. Just as we’re coming out of the bar, here comes Ann, running across Route 66 toward me. She puts her arm in mine, and says, “Come on, let’s go over to my place.” The master was right. So the lesson was terrific! When I was back at Cornell in the fall, I was dancing with the sister of a grad student, who was visiting from Virginia. She was very nice, and suddenly I got this idea: “Let’s go to a bar and have a drink,” I said. On the way to the bar I was working up nerve to try the master’s lesson on an ordinary girl. After all, you don’t feel so bad disrespecting a bar girl who’s trying to get you to buy her drinks—but a nice, ordinary, Southern girl? We went into the bar, and before I sat down, I said, “Listen, before I buy you a drink, I want to know one thing: Will you sleep with me tonight?” “Yes.” So it worked even with an ordinary girl! But no matter how effective the lesson was, I never really used it after that. I didn’t enjoy doing it that way. But it was interesting to know that things worked much differently from how I was brought up.” – Please don’t try to imitate that behavior
“I thought then about the witch doctors, and how easy it would have been to check on them by noticing that nothing really worked. So I found things that even more people believe, such as that we have some knowledge of how to educate. There are big schools of reading methods and mathematics methods, and so forth, but if you notice, you’ll see the reading scores keep going down—or hardly going up—in spite of the fact that we continually use these same people to improve the methods. There’s a witch doctor remedy that doesn’t work. It ought to be looked into; how do they know that their method should work? Another example is how to treat criminals. We obviously have made no progress—lots of theory, but no progress—in decreasing the amount of crime by the method that we use to handle criminals.”