Thursday, January 7, 2010

In which I am unrelatable

While I was traveling, I read Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!. A collection of humorous anecdotes isn't exactly what I consider ideal reading material, but being in physics, everyone talks about Feynman a lot (and also I had nothing else to read).

I think Feynman is a rather interesting character, and I like a lot of his ideas. But I can't really say I like him as a person. Is this a common opinion, or will all the physics buffs start calling to burn me? It's probably all the practical jokes he plays on people. I can't stand practical jokes. Oh, and then there are all the stories of Feynman chasing women. Maybe some people find that to be a humanizing quality, but I just find it weird.

Come to think of it, maybe this is my fault. Here I am thinking Feynman is an unrelatable person, when it's really me who is unrelatable. I hate fun, you see. Well, not really, not consistently, anyway.

One of the major themes in the book, I think, is the image of physicists. Feynman defies a lot of the stereotypes of stodgy old physics professors. He went to topless bars, played Samba while in Brasil, taught himself to draw and crack safes. But of course he's not doing it just to defy stereotypes or be "wacky". He's doing them for fun, because he likes to play around with all sorts of things. In fact, he seems to dislike the image of "here's a professor of physics... and he plays the bongo drums!" Why should it be a special surprise that he should play the bongo drums as opposed to anyone else playing the bongo drums? What's so bad about physicists that it should be surprising when they do anything fun?

So there's some stereotype pressure on physicists to be all boring and serious, and do nothing outside physics. There's also pressure in the other direction to be more "human", whatever that means, so we can break stereotypes. I think this happens with a lot of stereotypes actually. There is pressure to conform, and there is pressure to deviate. Everyone loses, basically.

Forget it! I will be as unrelatable as I please. Guess what? I don't care for the beauty of a rainbow. Sometimes, deriving mathematical equations is my idea of a fun time. But I admit to liking puppies.


Cuddly Teddy Fish said...

I don't think it's a very common opinion, but I'm not really that fond of Feynman myself. I honestly think the fetishism about him is no different than with any other celebrity. He's the Lady Gaga of physics.

dartheye said...

i like puppies too!

Jachra said...

The more I hear about Feynman, the more I like him. I think it's because I'm drawn to eccentric characters.

As for chasing women, well, I may not have the confidence for it, but I liked that about him. As opposed to the douche, who chases women because he's self-centered, the intellectual who really likes women actually has a certain depth to him, usually. Also, I can definitely relate to the desire. :D

DeralterChemiker said...

I sat through 6 or 8 lectures by Feynman, I read the book you mention, I saw Alan Alda's one-man portrayal of Feyman, and I did some reading of Feyman's physics books. I found him to be a very interesting person with some characteristics that I admired and a few that I did not. But I saw no reason not to like him as a person.