Thursday, April 20, 2006

iPod Video Food: Richard Feynman, Fathers and Engineers

If you're any sort of a geek you probably know who Richard Feynman is. If you mention Einstein or Hawking, the name Feynman had better not be far behind.

But have you actually had the chance to see and hear the man? Google Video has a 49 minute documentary with the man that is just awe inspiring. Of particular fascination to me is not his stories of Los Alamos, or his Nobel Prize. I'm fascinated by his stories about his father. If Feynman is one of this century's great geniuses, how briliant must his father have been? I believe (it's not listed in the Wikipedia entry) that his father sold suits for a living. He was not a scientist. But yet the absolute love and adoration with which Feynman speaks of him will make any engineer with children wish that they could be such a person. One of the shortest but most illustrative stories comes when Feynman is a young boy and notices that a ball carried in his wagon moves to the back of the wagon while it is being pulled, but moves forward when the wagon stops, and asks his father why. His father replies, "No one knows." At first I (me, not Feynman) thought he was joking. Then the father goes on to explain that while the phenomenon is *called* "inertia", that doesn't mean that scientists understand it.

I will soon have three kids. I'm a lifelong geek. While I don't need my kids to be geeks, I can only hope that I do a sufficient job in teaching them whatever they want to learn. And, most importantly, instilling the kinds of thoughts in them that Feynman's dad instilled in him. You don't just give answers and expect mindless repetition and memorization. You want them to question everything, and to find new answers. You want them to change the world.

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