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"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character

Author: Richard Feynman

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Autobiography

Themes: Learning, Memoirs

Format: Kindle

Finished: March 12, 2017

Purchase link

I enjoy reading autobiographies because they provide a glimpse of how the author views himself, their accomplishments and failures, how they thought about the situations they encountered, and how they approached everyday life. Sometimes those autobiographies reveal that the accomplished person doesn’t think clearly or humbly at all, in which case you should take their ideas with a grain of salt. Others reveal that their character, thoughtfulness, and humbleness run much deeper than traditional biographies picked up on. This is the case with Richard Feynman.

What I appreciate most about Feynman is his unending curiosity and persistence, his willingness to experiment in order to further his own knowledge, and how he grounds his experiments and thoughts in reason. He looks at everything from many different angles and fidgets with it in order to maximize his own understanding. This led him to observe a plate spinning in a dining hall and dig in all the way to the Nobel prize.

I also deeply admire his intellectual honesty. After this I plan on picking up more of his books.

My highlights

“He fixes radios by thinking!” The whole idea of thinking, to fix a radio—a little boy stops and thinks, and figures out how to do it—he never thought that was possible. – pg. 20

I finally fixed it because I had, and still have, persistence. Once I get on a puzzle, I can’t get off. – pg. 21

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. – pg. 23

I wasn’t a professional repairman; I’d just fix them so they would work. – pg. 24

There were certain things I didn’t like, such as tipping. I thought we should be paid more, and not have to have any tips. – pg. 25

I tried to explain—it was my own aunt—that there was no reason not to do that, but you can’t say that to anybody who’s smart, who runs a hotel! I learned there that innovation is a very difficult thing in the real world. – pg. 29

That was a very good way to get educated, working on the senior problems and learning how to pronounce things. – pg. 34

It was the same as with any other language, except for one thing: as they’re making signs to each other, their heads were always turning from one side to the other. I realized what that was. When someone wants to make a side remark or interrupt you, he can’t yell, “Hey, Jack!” He can only make a signal, which you won’t catch unless you’re in the habit of looking around all the time. – pg. 35

I don’t know what’s the matter with people: they don’t learn by understanding; they learn by some other way—by rote, or something. Their knowledge is so fragile! – pg. 36

It’s the fundamental principle of Einstein’s gravity—that is, what’s called the “proper time” is at a maximum for the actual curve. But when I put it to him, about a rocket with a clock, he didn’t recognize it. It was just like the guys in mechanical drawing class, but this time it wasn’t dumb freshmen. So this kind of fragility is, in fact, fairly common, even with more learned people. – pg. 37

The idea they remembered, but not the words. – pg. 41

People often think I’m a faker, but I’m usually honest, in a certain way—in such a way that often nobody believes me! – pg. 41

WHEN I WAS a student at MIT I was interested only in science; I was no good at anything else. But at MIT there was a rule: You have to take some humanities courses to get more “culture.” Besides the English classes required were two electives, so I looked through the list, and right away I found astronomy—as a humanities course! So that year I escaped with astronomy. Then next year I looked further down the list, past French literature and courses like that, and found philosophy. It was the closest thing to science I could find. – pg. 45

I also noticed that as you go to sleep the ideas continue, but they become less and less logically interconnected. – pg. 48

I suddenly realized why Princeton was getting results. They were working with the instrument. They built the instrument; they knew where everything was, they knew how everything worked, there was no engineer involved, except maybe he was working there too. It was much smaller than the cyclotron at MIT, and “gold-plated”?—it was the exact opposite. – pg. 62

So MIT was good, but Slater was right to warn me to go to another school for my graduate work. And I often advise my students the same way. Learn what the rest of the world is like. The variety is worthwhile. – pg. 63

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. – pg. 68

And, just like it should in all stories about philosophers, it ended up in complete chaos. – pg. 70

When it came time for me to give my talk on the subject, I started off by drawing an outline of the cat and began to name the various muscles. The other students in the class interrupt me: “We know all that!” “Oh,” I say, “you do? Then no wonder I can catch up with you so fast after you’ve had four years of biology.” They had wasted all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes. – pg. 72

After the war, every summer I would go traveling by car somewhere in the United States. One year, after I was at Caltech, I thought, “This summer, instead of going to a different place, I’ll go to a different field.” – pg. 72

They taught us how to hold a test tube and take its cap off with one hand (you use your middle and index fingers), while leaving the other hand free to do something else (like hold a pipette that you’re sucking cyanide up into). Now, I can hold my toothbrush in one hand, and with the other hand, hold the tube of toothpaste, twist the cap off, and put it back on. – pg. 73

The other work on the phage I never wrote up—Edgar kept asking me to write it up, but I never got around to it. That’s the trouble with not being in your own field: You don’t take it seriously. – pg. 75

But that was my big moment: I gave a seminar in the biology department at Harvard! I always do that, get into something and see how far I can go. – pg. 76

But then a miracle occurred, as it has occurred again and again in my life, and it’s very lucky for me: the moment I start to think about the physics, and have to concentrate on what I’m explaining, nothing else occupies my mind—I’m completely immune to being nervous. – pg. 79

“Oh!” I said. “Of course! You add yellow, and you can get yellow, but you couldn’t do it without the yellow.” – pg. 83

But that shows you how much I trusted these “real guys.” The painter had told me so much stuff that was reasonable that I was ready to give a certain chance that there was an odd phenomenon I didn’t know. I was expecting pink, but my set of thoughts were, “The only way to get yellow will be something new and interesting, and I’ve got to see this.” 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. – pg. 83

It often went like this: They would explain to me, “You’ve got an orange, OK? Now you cut the orange into a finite number of pieces, put it back together, and it’s as big as the sun. True or false?” “No holes?” “No holes.” “Impossible! There ain’t no such a thing.” “Ha! We got him! Everybody gather around! It’s So-and-so’s theorem of immeasurable measure!” Just when they think they’ve got me, I remind them, “But you said an orange! You can’t cut the orange peel any thinner than the atoms.” “But we have the condition of continuity: We can keep on cutting!” “No, you said an orange, so I assumed that you meant a real orange.” – pg. 85

One day he told me to stay after class. “Feynman,” he said, “you talk too much and you make too much noise. I know why. You’re bored. So I’m going to give you a book. You go up there in the back, in the corner, and study this book, and when you know everything that’s in this book, you can talk again.” – pg. 86

That book also showed how to differentiate parameters under the integral sign—it’s a certain operation. It turns out that’s not taught very much in the universities; they don’t emphasize it. But I caught on how to use that method, and I used that one damn tool again and again. So because I was self-taught using that book, I had peculiar methods of doing integrals. The result was, when guys at MIT or Princeton had trouble doing a certain integral, it was because they couldn’t do it with the standard methods they had learned in school. If it was contour integration, they would have found it; if it was a simple series expansion, they would have found it. Then I come along and try differentiating under the integral sign, and often it worked. So I got a great reputation for doing integrals, only because my box of tools was different from everybody else’s, and they had tried all their tools on it before giving the problem to me. – pg. 86

The mindreader explained that you hold onto their hands, loosely, and as you move, you jiggle a little bit. You come to an intersection, where you can go forward, to the left, or to the right. You jiggle a little bit to the left, and if it’s incorrect, you feel a certain amount of resistance, because they don’t expect you to move that way. But when you move in the right direction, because they think you might be able to do it, they give way more easily, and there’s no resistance. So you must be always be jiggling a little bit, testing out which seems to be the easiest way. – pg. 88

When he came back he told me the whole code: “Blue is ‘Oh, Great Master,’ Green is ‘Oh, Most Knowledgeable One,’” and so forth. He explained, “I went up to him, afterwards, and told him I used to do a show in Patchogue, and we had a code, but it couldn’t do many numbers, and the range of colors was shorter, I asked him, ‘How do you carry so much information?’” The mindreader was so proud of his code that he sat down and explained the whole works to my father. My father was a salesman. He could set up a situation like that. – pg. 90

So I figured out so far that they went where they just came from. – pg. 94

In another experiment, I laid out a lot of glass microscope slides, and got the ants to walk on them, back and forth, to some sugar I put on the windowsill. Then, by replacing an old slide with a new one, or by rearranging the slides, I could demonstrate that the ants had no sense of geometry: they couldn’t figure out where something was. If they went to the sugar one way, and there was a shorter way back, they would never figure out the short way. – pg. 94

would watch very carefully three or four ants carrying a little piece of chocolate back to their nest. At first glance it looks like efficient, marvelous, brilliant cooperation. But if you look at it carefully, you’ll see that it’s nothing of the kind: They’re all behaving as if the chocolate is held up by something else. They pull at it one way or the other way. An ant may crawl over it while it’s being pulled at by the others. It wobbles, it wiggles, the directions are all confused. The chocolate doesn’t move in a nice way toward the nest. – pg. 96

And it was also obvious from the smell. As soon as you put it up near your face, you could smell it was dampish and warmer. So that experiment didn’t work because it was too obvious. – pg. 104

People’s hands smell very different—that’s why dogs can identify people; you have to try it! All hands have a sort of moist smell, and a person who smokes has a very different smell on his hands from a person who doesn’t; ladies often have different kinds of perfumes, and so on. If somebody happened to have some coins in his pocket and happened to be handling them, you can smell that. – pg. 106

It was such a shock to me to see that a committee of men could present a whole lot of ideas, each one thinking of a new facet, while remembering what the other fella said, so that, at the end, the decision is made as to which idea was the best—summing it all up—without having to say it three times. These were very great men indeed. – pg. 109

“different box of tools.” – pg. 110

I didn’t know very much about it; I had been doing other kinds of things. So I had to do an awful lot of work. – pg. 112

“In my opinion it is impossible for them to obey a bunch of rules unless they understand how it works. It’s my opinion that it’s only going to work if I tell them, and Los Alamos cannot accept the responsibility for the safety of the Oak Ridge plant unless they are fully informed as to how it works!” – pg. 123

Well, Mr. Frankel, who started this program, began to suffer from the computer disease that anybody who works with computers now knows about. It’s a very serious disease and it interferes completely with the work. The trouble with computers is you play with them. They are so wonderful. You have these switches—if it’s an even number you do this, if it’s an odd number you do that—and pretty soon you can do more and more elaborate things if you are clever enough, on one machine. – pg. 127

The real trouble was that no one had ever told these fellow, anything. The army had selected them from all over the country for a thing called Special Engineer Detachment—clever boys from high school who had engineering ability. They sent them up to Los Alamos. They put them in barracks. And they would tell them nothing. Then they came to work, and what they had to do was work on IBM machines—punching holes, numbers that they didn’t understand. Nobody told them what it was. The thing was going very slowly. I said that the first thing there has to be is that these technical guys know what we’re doing. Oppenheimer went and talked to the security and got special permission so I could give a nice lecture about what we were doing, and they were all excited: “We’re fighting a war! We see what it is!” They knew what the numbers meant. If the pressure came out higher, that meant there was more energy released, and so on and so on. They knew what they were doing. Complete transformation! They began to invent ways of doing it better. They improved the scheme. They worked at night. They didn’t need supervising in the night; they didn’t need anything. They understood everything; they invented several of the programs that we used. So my boys really came through, and all that had to be done was to tell them what it was. As a result, although it took them nine months to do three problems before, we did nine problems in three months, which is nearly ten times as fast. – pg. 127

So we figured a way to put a different colored set of cards through a cycle too, but out of phase. We’d do two or three problems at a time. – pg. 128

I was walking past a department store with dresses in the window, and I thought Arlene would like one of them. That was too much for me.) – pg. 131

But one man, I remember, Bob Wilson, was just sitting there moping. I said, “What are you moping about?” He said, “It’s a terrible thing that we made.” I said, “But you started it. You got us into it.” You see, what happened to me—what happened to the rest of us—is we started for a good reason, then you’re working very hard to accomplish something and it’s a pleasure, it’s excitement. And you stop thinking, you know; you just stop. Bob Wilson was the only one who was still thinking about it, at that moment. – pg. 135

But, fortunately, it’s been useless for almost forty years now, hasn’t it? So I’ve been wrong about it being useless making bridges and I’m glad those other people had the sense to go ahead. – pg. 136

To improve security the shop outfitted every filing cabinet with a long rod that went down through the handles of the drawers and that was fastened by a padlock. Some guy said to me, “Look at this new thing the shop put on—can you open the cabinet now?” I looked at the back of the cabinet and saw that the drawers didn’t have a solid bottom. There was a slot with a wire rod in each one that held a slidable piece (which holds the papers up inside the drawer). I poked in from the back, slid the piece back, and began pulling the papers out through the slot. “Look!” I said. “I don’t even have to pick the lock.” – pg. 138

To demonstrate that the locks meant nothing, whenever I wanted somebody’s report and they weren’t around, I’d just go in their office, open the filing cabinet, and take it out. When I was finished I would give it back to the guy: “Thanks for your report.” “Where’d you get it?” “Out of your filing cabinet.” “But I locked it!” “I know you locked it. The locks are no good.” – pg. 138

When I got back to my office I would write the two numbers down on a piece of paper that I kept inside the lock of my filing cabinet. I took the lock apart each time to get the paper—I thought that was a very safe place for them. – pg. 143

All I had to do was try the first number at most twenty times, then sit around, reading a magazine or something, for fifteen or twenty minutes. There was no use trying to make it look too easy; somebody would figure out there was a trick to it! After a while I’d open the door and say, “It’s open.” – pg. 143

card sharp – pg. 144

Of course I was able to open the safe because of my perpetual habit of taking the last two numbers off. While in Oak Ridge the month before, I was in the same office when the safe was open and I took the numbers off in an absent-minded way—I was always practicing my obsession. Although I hadn’t written them down, I was able to vaguely remember what they were. First I tried 40–15, then 15–40, but neither of those worked. Then I tried 10–45 with all the first numbers, and it opened. – pg. 144

Meanwhile, he was reading the report. When he’d finished he said, “All right, it’s fine.” He put the report in the safe, grabbed the big handles, and swung the great brass doors together. It sounds so good when they close, but I know it’s all psychological, because it’s nothing but the same damn lock. – pg. 145

So I did learn something from him—that he cracked safes by the same miraculous methods that I did. But even funnier was that this big shot Captain had to have a super, super safe, and had people go to all that trouble to hoist the thing up into his office, and he didn’t even bother to set the combination. I went from office to office in my building, trying those two factory combinations, and I opened about one safe in five. – pg. 155

Well, I can’t stand this kind of baloney, and I had decided that psychiatrists are fakers, and I’ll have nothing to do with them. – pg. 157

Nothing happens because there’s not enough real activity and challenge: You’re not in contact with the experimental guys. You don’t have to think how to answer questions from the students. Nothing! – pg. 165

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. – pg. 172

Why did I enjoy it? I used to play with it. I used to do whatever I felt like doing—it didn’t have to do with whether it was important for the development of nuclear physics, but whether it was interesting and amusing for me to play with. – pg. 173

So I got this new attitude. Now that I am burned out and I’ll never accomplish anything, I’ve got this nice position at the university teaching classes which I rather enjoy, and just like I read the Arabian Nights for pleasure, I’m going to play with physics, whenever I want to, without worrying about any importance whatsoever. – pg. 173

He says, “Feynman, that’s pretty interesting, but what’s the importance of it? Why are you doing it?” “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. – pg. 174

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. – pg. 174

The first number they gave me was e to the 3.3, which is e to the 2.3—ten—times e, or 27.18. While they were sweating about how I was doing it, I was correcting for the extra .0026—2.3026 is a little high. I knew I couldn’t do another one; that was sheer luck. But then the guy said e to the 3: that’s e to the 2.3 times e to the .7, or ten times two. So I knew it was 20.something, and while they were worrying how I did it, I adjusted for the .693. Now I was sure I couldn’t do another one, because the last one was again by sheer luck. But the guy said e to the 1.4, which is e to the .7 times itself. So all I had to do is fix up 4 a little bit! – pg. 193

“Don’t you know how to square numbers near 50?” he says. “You square 50—that’s 2500—and subtract 100 times the difference of your number from 50 (in this case it’s 2), so you have 2300. If you want the correction, square the difference and add it on. That makes 2304.” – pg. 193

“Oh,” he says, “the log of 2 ½ is so-and-so. Now one-third of that log is between the logs of 1.3, which is this, and 1.4, which is that, so I interpolated.” So I found out something: first, he knows the log tables; second, the amount of arithmetic he did to make the interpolation alone would have taken me longer to do than reach for the table and punch the buttons on the calculator. I was very impressed. After that, I tried to do those things. I memorized a few logs, and began to notice things. For instance, if somebody says, “What is 28 squared?” you notice that the square root of 2 is 1.4, and 28 is 20 times 1.4, so the square of 28 must be around 400 times 2, or 800. If somebody comes along and wants to divide 1 by 1.73, you can tell them immediately that it’s .577, because you notice that 1.73 is nearly the square root of 3, so 1/1.73 must be one-third of the square root of 3. And if it’s 1/1.75, that’s equal to the inverse of 7/4, and you’ve memorized the repeating decimals for sevenths: .571428… – pg. 194

One day, about 3:30 in the afternoon, I was walking along the sidewalk opposite the beach at Copacabana past a bar. I suddenly got this treMENdous, strong feeling: “That’s just what I want; that’ll fit just right. I’d just love to have a drink right now!” I started to walk into the bar, and I suddenly thought to myself, “Wait a minute! It’s the middle of the afternoon. There’s nobody here. There’s no social reason to drink. Why do you have such a terribly strong feeling that you have to have a drink?”—and I got scared. I never drank ever again, since then. I suppose I really wasn’t in any danger, because I found it very easy to stop. But that strong feeling that I didn’t understand frightened me. You see, I get such fun out of thinking that I don’t want to destroy this most pleasant machine that makes life such a big kick. It’s the same reason that, later on, I was reluctant to try experiments with LSD in spite of my curiosity about hallucinations. – pg. 204

Everything was entirely memorized, yet nothing had been translated into meaningful words. – pg. 213

I didn’t see how they were going to learn anything from that. Here he was talking about moments of inertia, but there was no discussion about how hard it is to push a door open when you put heavy weights on the outside, compared to when you put them near the hinge—nothing! – pg. 213

“Very easy. I can tell you now one of the questions.” He looks at his notebook and says, “‘When are two bodies equivalent?’ And the answer is, ‘Two bodies are considered equivalent if equal torques will produce equal acceleration.’” So, you see, they could pass the examinations, and “learn” all this stuff, and not know anything at all, except what they had memorized. – pg. 213

started out by defining science as an understanding of the behavior of nature. – pg. 215

What this Greek scholar discovers is, the students in another country learn Greek by first learning to pronounce the letters, then the words, and then sentences and paragraphs. They can recite, word for word, what Socrates said, without realizing that those Greek words actually mean something. To the student they are all artificial sounds. Nobody has ever translated them into words the students can understand. – pg. 216

“But if, instead, you were to write, ‘When you take a lump of sugar and crush it with a pair of pliers in the dark, you can see a bluish flash. Some other crystals do that too. Nobody knows why. The phenomenon is called “triboluminescence.” ’ Then someone will go home and try it. Then there’s an experience of nature.” – pg. 217

I think this person in the State Department was naive to think that because he saw a university with a list of courses and descriptions, that’s what it was. – pg. 219

“It’s really quite easy,” he said. “I’m standing around a table, when some guy says, ‘It’s comin’ out nine! It’s gotta be a nine!’ The guy’s excited; he thinks it’s going to be a nine, and he wants to bet. Now I know the odds for all the numbers inside out, so I say to him, ‘I’ll bet you four to three it’s not a nine,’ and I win in the long run. I don’t bet on the table; instead, I bet with people around the table who have prejudices—superstitious ideas about lucky numbers.” Nick continued: “Now that I’ve got a reputation, it’s even easier, because people will bet with me even when they know the odds aren’t very good, just to have the chance of telling the story, if they win, of how they beat Nick the Greek. So I really do make a living gambling, and it’s wonderful!” – pg. 231

When you’re young, you have all these things to worry about—should you go there, what about your mother. And you worry, and try to decide, but then something else comes up. It’s much easier to just plain decide. Never mind—nothing is going to change your mind. I did that once when I was a student at MIT. I got sick and tired of having to decide what kind of dessert I was going to have at the restaurant, so I decided it would always be chocolate ice cream, and never worried about it again—I had the solution to that problem. Anyway, I decided it would always be Caltech. – pg. 235

“No, no!” he said. “When you say to someone, ‘Would you like to see my garden?’ you use the first ‘see.’ But when you want to see someone else’s garden, you must use another ‘see,’ which is more polite.” “Would you like to glance at my lousy garden?” is essentially what you’re saying in the first case, but when you want to look at the other fella’s garden, you have to say something like, “May I observe your gorgeous garden?” So there’s two different words you have to use. Then he gave me another one: “You go to a temple, and you want to look at the gardens…” I made up a sentence, this time with the polite “see.” “No, no!” he said. “In the temple, the gardens are much more elegant. So you have to say something that would be equivalent to ‘May I hang my eyes on your most exquisite gardens?’” Three or four different words for one idea, because when I’m doing it, it’s miserable; when you’re doing it, it’s elegant. – pg. 245

“No,” she said, “what you mean is not that you can’t understand it, but that you didn’t invent it. You didn’t figure it out your own way, from hearing the clue. What you should do is imagine you’re a student again, and take this paper upstairs, read every line of it, and check the equations. Then you’ll understand it very easily.” I took her advice, and checked through the whole thing, and found it to be very obvious and simple. I had been afraid to read it, thinking it was too difficult. – pg. 249

Since then I never pay any attention to anything by “experts.” I calculate everything myself. When people said the quark theory was pretty good, I got two Ph.D.s, Finn Ravndal and Mark Kislinger, to go through the whole works with me, just so I could check that the thing was really giving results that fit fairly well, and that it was a significantly good theory. I’ll never make that mistake again, reading the experts’ opinions. Of course, you only live one life, and you make all your mistakes, and learn what not to do, and that’s the end of you. – pg. 255

I noticed that the teacher didn’t tell people much (the only thing he told me was my picture was too small on the page). Instead, he tried to inspire us to experiment with new approaches. I thought of how we teach physics: We have so many techniques—so many mathematical methods—that we never stop telling the students how to do things. On the other hand, the drawing teacher is afraid to tell you anything. If your lines are very heavy, the teacher can’t say, “Your lines are too heavy,” because some artist has figured out a way of making great pictures using heavy lines. The teacher doesn’t want to push you in some particular direction. So the drawing teacher has this problem of communicating how to draw by osmosis and not by instruction, while the physics teacher has the problem of always teaching techniques, rather than the spirit, of how to go about solving physical problems. – pg. 263

The drawing was called “The Magnetic Field of the Sun.” For this particular drawing I had borrowed one of those beautiful pictures of the solar prominences taken at the solar laboratory in Colorado. Because I understood how the sun’s magnetic field was holding up the flames and had, by that time, developed some technique for drawing magnetic field lines (it was similar to a girl’s flowing hair), I wanted to draw something beautiful that no artist would think to draw: the rather complicated and twisting lines of the magnetic field, close together here and spreading out there. – pg. 267

I started to say that the idea of distributing everything evenly is based on a theory that there’s only X amount of stuff in the world, that somehow we took it away from the poorer countries in the first place, and therefore we should give it back to them. But this theory doesn’t take into account the real reason for the differences between countries—that is, the development of new techniques for growing food, the development of machinery to grow food and to do other things, and the fact that all this machinery requires the concentration of capital. It isn’t the stuff, but the power to make the stuff, that is important. – pg. 283

But this theory doesn’t take into account the real reason for the differences between countries—that is, the development of new techniques for growing food, the development of machinery to grow food and to do other things, and the fact that all this machinery requires the concentration of capital. It isn’t the stuff, but the power to make the stuff, that is important. – pg. 283

It isn’t the stuff, but the power to make the stuff, that is important. – pg. 283

An ordinary fool isn’t a faker; an honest fool is all right. But a dishonest fool is terrible! – pg. 284

In the early sixties, a lot of my friends were still giving advice to the government. Meanwhile, I was having no feeling of social responsibility and resisting, as much as possible, offers to go to Washington, which took a certain amount of courage in those times. – pg. 290

This question of trying to figure out whether a book is good or bad by looking at it carefully or by taking the reports of a lot of people who looked at it carelessly is like this famous old problem: Nobody was permitted to see the Emperor of China, and the question was, What is the length of the Emperor of China’s nose? To find out, you go all over the country asking people what they think the length of the Emperor of China’s nose is, and you average it. And that would be very “accurate” because you averaged so many people. But it’s no way to find anything out; when you have a very wide range of people who contribute without looking carefully at it, you don’t improve your knowledge of the situation by averaging. – pg. 295

These people who copy things never have the courage to make up something really different. If you find something that is really new, it’s got to have something different. – pg. 317

The big problem was counting. I thought Ralph would know how to do that because he’s a musician, but we both discovered something funny. The “playing department” in our minds was also the “talking department” for counting—we couldn’t play and count at the same time! – pg. 326

would know how to do that because he’s a musician, but we both discovered something funny. The “playing department” in our minds was also the “talking department” for counting—we couldn’t play and count at the same time! – pg. 326

I had once thought to take drugs, but I got kind of scared of that: I love to think, and I don’t want to screw up the machine. – pg. 330

think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he’s the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land. – pg. 340

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool. – pg. 343

And so the men in charge of programs at NAL are so anxious for new results, in order to get more money to keep the thing going for public relations purposes, they are destroying—possibly—the value of the experiments themselves, which is the whole purpose of the thing. – pg. 344

So I have just one wish for you—the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom. – pg. 346