Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Surely you're missed, Mr. Feynman...

Back in 1989, I first learned of Richard Feynman.

It was on a NOVA biography (yes, I was a geek back then but we all knew that) about the man and it was especially poignant at the time.  Not because Feynman had recently died but also because of where I was at in life.  First a bit of background.

Richard Feynman was a brilliant physicist and Nobel Prize winner.  In addition to his outstanding contributions to science, he played a pivotal role in the investigation of the Challenger disaster.  It was Feynman who forced the guilty parties to come clean, even when it was most popular to do so.  I'll never forget him dunking that o-ring into a tall glass of ice water and then crumbling it on live TV.  Brilliant.

The NOVA episode on PBS aired at a time when my friends and I were all studying physics in high school.  That opened the door.  What sealed the deal was Feynman's account of his time at Los Alamos during the development of the atomic bomb.  Out of sheer boredom, he cracked the safe that unbeknownst to him contained many of the most highly guarded secrets about the bomb, "the whole schmeer" as Feynman put it.  He also desired very much to travel to the Russian region of Tuva. 

As a youth, Feynman and one of his friends would play a game where one of them would say a country's name and the other would have to find it on a globe.  When "Tuva" came up, it was disputed as a real locale but Feynman found otherwise.  Ever since, he dreamed about visiting there.  My friend Kid Dazzle and I had a similar game.  In our case, the geographical location was The Galapagos Islands.  They became the setting for our homebrewed short stories, movies, audio dramas, and computer games.  Feynman unfortunately had great difficulty getting permission to visit Tuva as it is in Russia and the Cold War was raging at the time.  Sadder still, a letter arrived from Soviet officials granting Feynman travel to day after he had died.

Why am I blogging about him now?  Boing Boing recently posted a video of Richard Feynman discussing how a knowledge of science can only make nature seem all the more beautiful.

Right now, I'm sure he knows that better than any of us.

Here's the video:

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