A Physicist or an Artist? by Misty Chien


“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard Feynman

When I first learned about Richard Feynman, the physicist, I made some unreasonable judgements against him because his work seemed so popularized and his personality full of showmanship. My judgements were unreasonable because I assumed he was ‘an ego-centric bastard’ before I read any of his work. I asked my physics teacher for book recommendations, and “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” was one of them; I was reluctant to read it. However, one morning out of random curiosity I asked my sculpture teacher if he had heard of Richard Feynman, and surprisingly he excitedly fished out his copy of “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” and let me borrow it. Now, I have to read SYJ!

The first few chapters are about Feynman’s childhood and adolescence growing up in New York and going to MIT. I didn’t enjoy that part so much; it made me feel enormously idle as a high schooler. It seems like I ought to be doing much more substantial things such as fixing radios and solving puzzles everyday, like Feynman did, but the closest thing I do to be more knowledgeble is reading nonfiction books. This may be relatable to those people our age who has a genius they look up to. Anyway. Once you get past the moment of self-reflection, you would realize it does not limit what you can become as a scientist, artist, musician, etc. Then, the book gets hilariously interesting with tales of Feynman’s pranks on his fellow MIT undergrads, his early teaching experiences, and his adventures as a physicist. They are very interesting because of Feynman’s vibrant personality and his curious take on things. He empirically criticized education systems after taking part in the State of California’s Curriculum Commission in the process of selecting math and science textbooks for public schools, and on a separate occasion when he was teaching undergraduate physics in Brazil. His commentary on “scientific integrity” applies to everything we do in life, and it should be something taken close to the heart.

I believe this book is relevant, especially since possibly many of us are interested in pursuing a scientific career in the near future. When he was working on a “top secret” project at Los Alamos, Feynman learned to play the Bongo drums because he was bored, and there was no entertainment of any kind. He also picked up on figure drawing when he was at Caltech and had a solo art show, which unfortunately ended his short art career. So, if you are an artist with scientific dreams, go ask Mr. Jung in the sculpture studio, “hEY do you know who Richard Feynman is?”

Here is a link to the PDF version if you would like to read it: http://www.earth.northwestern.edu/~amir/files/Richard_P_Feynman-Surely_Youre_Joking_Mr_Feynman_v5.pdf