Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!


Richard Feynman was an American theoretical physicist. For his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman, jointly with Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichirō Tomonaga, received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.

“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” book shows that he was not only a genius but also a fun person to hang out with.

Feynman’s scientific style was always to look for the simplest, most elementary solution to a problem that was possible

Feynman vs. authorities

When the subject of discussion was physics, Feynman did not accept the higher authority of the people he spoke to. For example, even when he was unknown in his field, he could easily state, “No, you’re wrong,” or “You’re crazy,” to a famous and established physicist because he would forget “who he was talking to”.

According to Feynman, the only thing that mattered was the idea, the discovery or the creation. The people didn’t matter, the institutions didn’t matter, the prizes didn’t matter, and the speeches didn’t matter.

Richard doubts his Nobel prize:

“I don’t see that it makes any point that someone in the Swedish Academy decides that the work is noble enough to receive a prize… The prize is the pleasure of finding the thing out, kick in the discovery, the observation that other people use it. Those are the real things. The honours are unreal.”

Feynman vs. NASA

Non-scientific hobbies

Feynman was a man of many hobbies.

“I always do that, get into something and see how far I can go.”

A great teacher

A painter

A drummer

An actor

About other people

Feynman hated phoniness, false sophistication, jargon.

“An ordinary fool isn’t a faker; an honest fool is all right. But a dishonest fool is terrible.”

“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.”

“What Do You Care What Other People Think?”

Freedom and work by Feynman

When Feynman taught at Cornell, he was a terrible teacher (or at least, that’s how he tells it). Why? Because he wasn’t having fun. When he was a kid, he loved physics, and he would play with it. However, when he went to Cornell, something happened, and he saw it as a job. He wasn’t having fun with physics anymore, and it showed. After a while, he realized that he needed to enjoy physics.

Fun at work

Imagine if we all took this attitude (please think about this optimistically). Imagine if instead of seeing a job or a class as something that we have to do, we instead tried to have fun with it.

Physics disgusts me a little bit now, but I used to enjoy doing physics. 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.


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.

Feynman about Education

Feynman was against memorization as a method of learning. I couldn’t agree more: why to memorize when things can be looked up in fifteen minutes (or even faster with smartphones nowadays). The real knowledge is learning how to apply new insights in practice.

“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!”

Drugs and hypnosis

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.

Instead, Feynman decided to experience floating tanks. A few attempts later, he was able to get out-of-body experience.

I'm Valdas Maksimavicius. I write about data, cloud technologies and personal development. You can find more about me here.