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Feynman Algorithm (2014) (c2.com)
149 points by LaFolle on Apr 25, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 96 comments



There's a quote under "Skill theory" on that page from Feynman:

> "Right. I don't believe in the idea that there are a few peculiar people capable of understanding math, and the rest of the world is normal. Math is a human discovery, and it's no more complicated than humans can understand. I had a calculus book once that said, 'What one fool can do, another can.' What we've been able to work out about nature may look abstract and threatening to someone who hasn't studied it, but it was fools who did it, and in the next generation, all the fools will understand it. There's a tendency to pomposity in all this, to make it deep and profound." -- Feynman, Omni 1979

The "what one fool can do" quote from a calculus book is probably from Calculus Made Easy that was posted on HN a couple of days ago:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14161876

In Calculus Made Easy, the exact quote is "What one fool can do, another can. -- (Ancient Simian Proverb)".


I dont know if the book you had was correct, but in one of his interviews, Feynmen had mentioned he used a book called 'calculus for the practical man' (https://www.amazon.com/Calculus-Practical-Man-J-Thompson/dp/...) i think.


Yes. On page 6 of the book "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out" by Richard P. Feynman is a story:

"There was a series of math books, which started Arithmetic for the Practical Man, and then Algebra for the Practical Man, and then Trigonometry for the Practical Man, and I learned trigonometry for the practical man from that. I soon forgot it again because I didn't understand it very well but the series was coming out, and the library was going to get Calculus for the Practical Man and I knew by this time by reading the Encyclopedia that calculus was an important subject...and then the calculus book finally came out ...and I went to the library to take it out and she looks at me and she says, "Oh, you're just a child, what are you taking this book out for, this book is a [book for adults]." So this was one of the few times in my life I was uncomfortable and I lied and I said it was for my father, he selected it. So I took it home and I learnt calculus from it..."

Calculus for the Practical Man was first published in 1931 when Feynman was about 13 years old, which fits the story (he was waiting for the book's publication).

So that would point to Feynman's calculus book being "Calculus for the Practical Man" by J.E.Thompson rather than Silvanus P Thompson's "Calculus Made Easy", whose second edition came out in 1914. I would not be surprised that Feynman read and used both.

The two books are quite different in approach, Practical having, to me, a rather unique physics orientation and being a more demanding text.


> So that would point to Feynman's calculus book being "Calculus for the Practical Man" by J.E.Thompson rather than Silvanus P Thompson's "Calculus Made Easy", whose second edition came out in 1914. I would not be surprised that Feynman read and used both.

It's just that the quote on fools is very prominent in the beginning of Calculus Made Easy, and the author continues to hilariously refer to both other people and himself as fools. I searched inside Calculus for the Practical Man [1] on archive.org for the word "fool" without a single hit.

I'm sure Feynman read both, but I was interested in the origin of the quote, since I learned it a few days ago and think it's very inspirational. Feynman was constantly arguing that everyone has the capacity to figure things out, it's just that they rarely practice it.

[1] https://archive.org/details/calulusforthepra000526mbp


scandinavegan says:"I'm sure Feynman read both, but I was interested in the origin of the quote, since I learned it a few days ago and think it's very inspirational."

As I continued reading I found the relevant quote to the second text, Calculus Made Easy, on page 194 of Feynman's "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out", where Feynman states:

"I had a calculus book once that said, 'What one fool can do, another can.'"

While he doesn't name it, that's almost without a doubt "Calculus Made Easy". Both calculus texts are thus referred to in Feynman's "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out". In the index of that book, under the topic "Calculus", the pages of both references can be found.


Thanks to both of you for these. I was looking for resources like this!

To wit: hardcover & softcover copies of both are rather expensive (at least in Canada). If they're in any good shape they run ~$50 to ~$80.

Kindle has them both for $6 and change.


Yes, but he studied "Advanced Calculus" by Woods later, which contained his beloved "Differentiating under the integral sign" trick.



> Feynmen

What an interesting world we would live in if there really were a plural of Feynman. :-)


haha, opps!


I've started to read Calculus Made Easy. It really is good.


The algorithm might not be a trite as it seems at first.

In particular, I find the first step to be extremely valuable:

Write down the problem.

Part of my bag of problem-solving tricks is to start by writing a question for StackOverflow. The point is not to post the question for someone else to answer, but for me to frame the problem in such a way that it can be written about clearly enough for someone else to understand it.

I find that about 50% of the time I have the answer to my own question before even hitting the post button.


My algorithm went like this:

    1) Write down the problem.
    2) Try several established strategies to solve it.
    3) Get stuck, resign self to failing out of school
    4) Go to sleep
    5) Write out the answer over breakfast


I honestly do not wish to bash on the implementer, but it's an absolute disgrace what they did to c2.com.

It feels like an April Fool's joke.


The only good thing is that the database is available via web calls. The bad thing is that the code to render the text is insane (take a look: https://github.com/WardCunningham/remodeling/blob/master/sta...). Even the goal of the 'remodel' (really, more of a demolition) is crazy: 'The original wiki rewritten as a single page application.' That's like saying, 'roast beef, now with added concrete and carpet!'

I just don't get how someone can think the change is a good idea.


I get the sense that a wiki was, in spirit, supposed to be simple bit of code to turn a read-only website into something that acted more the way the web was originally envisioned, where every hypermedia document could be WYSIWYG-edited inline in a web browser and then PUT back, or appended to and then the appendment POSTed, without needing anything like a <form> element.

Since browsers never did move toward that paradigm (though contentEditable was a half-step), I can understand the desire to re-implement that vision more thoroughly, by essentially implementing a "browser the way it should be" within the browser, and then having that better browser talk to your backend.

Sure, you could do it as a full hypermedia-editing-capable browser of its own instead (i.e. another "quick hack", this time in Electron) but doing it as a SPA means not requiring people to download+install your app to edit the site. (Or, you could say, the app is zero-click installed, ephemerally, when you access the site. If other sites used this software by referencing the same SPA JS bundle from the same CDN, it'd give about that effect.)


I hate JS single-page apps, but as far as c2 goes, I think the idea is to eventually make it distributed. To make that work requires two parts:

- Some way for the page to communicate with other instances (e.g. bittorrent, or whatever, implemented in JS)

- Some way to display the results (i.e. a JS renderer)

The easiest part is the JS renderer, so it makes sense to implement that first. With a JS renderer, the server side rendering can be thrown away. Now that it's a single page using JS calls to fetch data, it's a much easier target to make distributed: "just" switch out where those calls get their data from.

I'm glad such experiments are going on, and don't mind putting up with this awkward in-between phase in the mean time.


Actually, I think that the IndieWebCamp guys have it right with WebMention: http://indieweb.org/webmention

A page shouldn't communicate with other instances; servers should. The server can render the result of input from other instances once and display it to readers many times, rather than forcing each reader to rerender it itself. The 'some way to display the results' then becomes … static HTML.

I think static HTML is rather easier than a JavaScript renderer.

> With a JS renderer, the server side rendering can be thrown away.

That's a bit like saying, 'with a single can of soda, you can get rid of running water!' Replacing server-side rendering with client-side JavaScript is strictly worse.


> A page shouldn't communicate with other instances; servers should.

That requires a server. The point of c2 is it's a wiki: you can edit the content just by browsing to the URL and clicking a button. Sure, self-hosted static HTML sites are a really good solution to lots of problems; editing wikis isn't one of them.

The alternative view is that visiting the page brings up your own personal server, allowing you to participate in the network; it just so happens that the server is written in JS and runs in a browser tab.

> The server can render the result of input from other instances once and display it to readers many times

This is exactly what decentralising a site is supposed to avoid: wiki is an experiment in collectively owned content; removing central points of contact/ownership is the next step.

> > With a JS renderer, the server side rendering can be thrown away.

> That's a bit like saying, 'with a single can of soda, you can get rid of running water!'

Maybe a better analogy is selling seeds rather than vegetables: you save yourself costs on transport, storage, refrigeration, etc. by offloading a bunch of cultivation work on to your customers. It's exactly the wrong approach if you're trying to run a supermarket. If you're an experimental botanist, and a few specialists keep asking you for produce, it's probably a good idea to save yourself time and money by empowering them with seeds.

> Replacing server-side rendering with client-side JavaScript is strictly worse.

It's worse, but not strictly so; for the reasons I've listed above.


> That requires a server. The point of c2 is it's a wiki: you can edit the content just by browsing to the URL and clicking a button.

If I want other people to see my edits, then they need a way to know that I made them, which requires some agreed-upon rendezvous point — i.e., a server.

> This is exactly what decentralising a site is supposed to avoid: wiki is an experiment in collectively owned content; removing central points of contact/ownership is the next step.

So support a federated system, in which one user's server contacts another. Without servers, how will I see your edits when your browser is offline, or simply no longer visiting the page? Your edits will have to live somewhere else — a server (whether it's your server, my server or c2.com's server is beside the point: it's a server).

> Maybe a better analogy is selling seeds rather than vegetables: you save yourself costs on transport, storage, refrigeration, etc. by offloading a bunch of cultivation work on to your customers. It's exactly the wrong approach if you're trying to run a supermarket. If you're an experimental botanist, and a few specialists keep asking you for produce, it's probably a good idea to save yourself time and money by empowering them with seeds.

I thought the whole point of Ward's Wiki was to be a neat place to discuss computer science & programming — in your analogy, to be the supermarket. Sure, it's a high-tech supermarket, conducting some really neat experiments.

If I lost my favourite supermarket because the owner decided to go into experimental botany and didn't bother to pay his supermarket rent, I'd feel similarly upset.

> > Replacing server-side rendering with client-side JavaScript is strictly worse.

> It's worse, but not strictly so; for the reasons I've listed above.

It's strictly worse if one has disabled JavaScript (as everyone who truly cares about privacy & security does): the site no longer works, and one gets no benefits at all.


> requires some agreed-upon rendezvous point — i.e., a server.

Or a P2P network with a DHT. This can be done right now with a dedicated client (BitTorrent, BitCoin, FreeNet, IPFS, etc.). There are existing browser plugins which will opportunistically use a P2P protocol instead of HTTP, e.g. if you get the IPFS firefox extension, enable the "DNS lookup" option, and visit chriswarbo.net it should fetch the page via P2P. Projects like IPFS are currently experiments, but are aiming for browsers to eventually support (something like) them natively, alongside HTTP/HTTPS/FTP/etc.

Projects like WebTorrent are trying to implement this kind of thing in JS.

> Without servers, how will I see your edits when your browser is offline, or simply no longer visiting the page?

Again, distributed storage (DHT, etc.).

> I thought the whole point of Ward's Wiki was to be a neat place to discuss computer science & programming — in your analogy, to be the supermarket.

I've been told many times that my analogies are terrible ;) In this case, the supermarket represented some commercial Web site, with a clear separation between business and customer, where the business wants as much ownership and control as possible, and will go out of its way to keep customers happy (as long as it's profitable).

From what I can tell, Ward is doing this for the love of it. There is no profit to chase, so any project costs (like running a server) are a drain, and make it more likely to collapse. Removing those costs helps the project, even if it inconveniences visitors. Like the botanist, who wants to get on with their research rather than spending time growing produce for others.

Likewise, the visitors are contributors, not customers. They're not just after some product with as little transaction friction as possible (at least, the most valuable ones aren't; I assume most visitors just read something then leave). They're already investing their time into the project, so making things a little less convenient might be acceptable, if it means the project can stay afloat.

> It's strictly worse if

That's not how "strictly worse" works. If you claimed it's worse, I would emphatically agree (I hate single page JS "apps"!)

"Strictly worse" means that it is not better in any way; that the old version is a pareto improvement over the new one. It's not. There are reasons one might choose to do this. Those reasons are not ones that a commercial Web site should choose (exactly the opposite, in fact; they're like the supermarket); they're not ones that a static informational site should choose (e.g. they might choose to host on IPFS, but shouldn't go down the JS route); they shouldn't be chosen if identity/ownership are the goal (like indieweb, where self-hosted/managed servers make sense).

They do make sense if you want to throw a collaboration platform out into the world, with the only goal being to see what happens. That's what wiki was, so it makes sense.


Everything you write about a DHT is true, but … that's not what Ward's Wiki is doing.

It sounds like what it's doing is a very, very good fit for what the IWC guys are up to — and it could all be done without JavaScript!

> "Strictly worse" means that it is not better in any way; that the old version is a pareto improvement over the new one.

Viewed in links, lynx or eww, the old version is a Pareto improvement over the new, because the new version is nothing but a blank page, while the old version was full of information.


> Viewed in links, lynx or eww, the old version is a Pareto improvement over the new

Again, if you're qualifying the statement, it's not pareto. On transparency, water is a pareto improvement over Coca Cola. On growability, wood is a pareto improvement over steel.

The old version was an improvement over the new one; the new version is worse. They're not "pareto" or "strict" though, and I'm interested to see what the next steps are, building on this new foundation.


The archived copy linked to elsewhere on this thread loads and renders _much_ faster than c2, which ironically requires me to disable my ad blocker to actually load.


Whenever the Feynman Algorithm comes up, I'm tempted to share "Stop Treading Water: Learning to Learn" [0] by Edward Kmett. It's a great talk and I highly recommend it if you haven't watched it (or frankly, if you already have :).

[0]: https://yow.eventer.com/yow-2014-1222/stop-treading-water-le...


Thank you


You're welcome :)


Archived copy, which can be read without JS enabled:

https://archive.fo/I403G


Which appears to block me for using a VPN service.

I looked for it on wayback.org, which now requires Javascript, itself, just to use its interface. And the one archived result is just a page-load spinner.

Looked for it in Google Cache. Spinner.

I guess it's time to go back to books and print.



Thank you. And pardon the partially rhetorical nature of my initial response.

I... "grump" a bit, that way, every so often, as I hate to see the "open" web become -- from my perspective -- less and less so.

(All the more so for what is essentially static content.)

P.S. I don't consider Javascript-delivered content as libre as other, as the client has to trust that the scripting won't compromise them.


My algorithm is usually along the lines of:

    * Think of a problem
    * Think real hard
    * Write down a solution
    * Write down the problem


This site used to be one of my favorite examples of content over presentation. What happened?


Youngsters.


I'm not sure what you mean by 'youngsters'--c2.com (and the associated wiki) are still maintained by Ward Cunningham, and the effort to rewrite the wiki[1] is hosted under his GitHub account and appears to have been his decision. It appears to have been motivated by a desire to "federate" the wiki, though I'm unclear on what exactly this vision entails.

[1]: https://github.com/WardCunningham/remodeling


There's an oral-history interview of Feynman where the interviewer brings up his notebooks, saying something like "where you recorded your results" -- Feynman interrupts like "no, it's where I worked them out". He's emphatic about it after being questioned again.

The "Feynman algorithm" is an OK joke, and gets at something real, but I think it smacks a little too much of putting words in the guy's mouth. It has a flavor of mystification that goes against the spirit of a lot that he said in his lectures. There was a lecture explicitly on problem-solving methods in the "Tips on Physics" volume.


> 7 requests, 691 KB, 19 s

?!? What is going on there?


They redid their UI last year to be more Web 2.0, which would've still been a mistake, if a less grave one, had it been competently executed.

I wonder if it's still serving a complete list of article names to every visitor? If so, that all by itself is probably a big chunk of that 691K. If not, God knows what they're doing now - I don't have a console on my phone, and won't switch to my desktop just to dissect the latest mistakes of rampant NIH as applied to the modern web.


The long request goes to "http://c2.com/wiki/remodel/pages/FeynmanAlgorithm" which seems to be just the articles' text. But there's also a names.txt which is ~640K (260K gzip'd). Hm.


Yup, that's the one. Hooboy.


Et tu, c2?


I got 37 requests, 1,956.14 KB, 150.93 s.

Do I win something?


10 non-transferable Internet points.

Special quest worth 1000 Internet points! Turn c2 wiki into an Electron app, so that we also have to download a separate browser to view it!


Feynman was a particularly interesting, intelligent, but also a very moral person. He said in an interview in his older years, while tearing up: 'I know the difference between right and wrong.'

Of science, my favorite bit from him is that 'in science, it does not matter what your last name is, how brilliant you are, how beautiful your theory is, all that matters is if it experimentally agrees with nature. That's all that science is'[1]

After devoting his time to science, he indulged in sex, drugs and art, and in the meantime had a great deal good to say about not just nature, but about morality as well. My type of person.

1-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OL6-x0modwY


>I had a calculus book once that said, 'What one fool can do, another can.'

A link to a pdf file of a copy of an old calculus book from early nineteen-hundreds showed up on HN a week or so ago. I read the first couple of pages. That quote is likely referencing that particular book. I have lost the link now. Anyone remember?

Edit: sry, that was weak Googleing from my part. Here it is: http://djm.cc/library/Calculus_Made_Easy_Thompson.pdf


"Calculus made easy". Just search for it.


Yeah that's the one, thx.


There are people who solve a problem the same way that you do, just much much faster.

Apparently, Murray Gell-Mann was one such person. I had a professor like that. He was constantly blurting out your next thought just as you were on the verge of forming the words. Gell-Mann did this so often, that his grad students once played a trick on him by meeting up and thinking out a new series of conclusions ahead of time, just so they could blurt out the next conclusion just as Gell-Mann was about to speak it.



This is as useful as

  * Write down the problem.
  * ???
  * Profit


Not if you were Richard Feynman. That is sort of the point of the article. Can or should more people be able to do this? Amusingly, Rob Pike claims some of the best programming advice he ever got was from Ken Thompson. The advice amounted to: when you are stuck, stop, think hard, and then fix the problem.

This advice could be seen as amusing rhetoric to stop and think more often.


Today more than ever I witness people, professionals even, that just keep on hopefully poking and prodding back and forth in some grandiose effort to maybe just somehow break things back up into working order, which makes me very sad because all that is required is to step back, relax, and just genuinely look at things with your mind.

In that situation I'm always reminded of Feynman's "He fixes radios by thinking!", and that, if anything, we should teach people how to think instead of shovelling massive amounts of pre-baked recipes into their head.

> And all the time, on the way to his house, he's saying things like, "Do you know anything about radios? How do you know about radios-you're just a little boy!"

> I start walking back and forth, thinking, and I realize that one way it can happen is that [so and so...]

> So the guy says, "What are you doing? You come to fix the radio, but you're only walking back and forth!"

> I say, "I'm thinking!" Then I said to myself, "All right, take the tubes out, and reverse the order [because so and so...]

> So I changed the tubes around, stepped to the front of the radio, turned the thing on, and it's as quiet as a lamb: it waits until it heats up, and then plays perfectly-no noise.

> He got me other jobs, and kept telling everybody what a tremendous genius I was, saying, "He fixes radios by thinking!"

> The whole idea of thinking, to fix a radio - a little boy stops and thinks, and figures out how to do it-he never thought that was possible.


A variation I've heard is "Don't just do something. Stand there!"


This is something we try to instill in our new ops people. If you don't understand what's going on, don't do anything. There's nothing to be gained by quickly applying the wrong solution.


In a world where organisations want everything to be a "process", and broken down into tiny steps, it's useful reassurance that retreating to a darkened room (or whatever your preferred environment might be) and thinking through a problem is a valid strategy.


The way software development is mostly done these days, it's about writing the solution as the first and only step. It helps being reminded that clearly stating what the problem is and then taking a bit of time thinking about it is important.


That's from the video aban recommended. Cartman Algorithm.


I want to share a look at this from a bit different perspective.

As a kid, I would fix, trade and sell older radios and TV's for money and other things. I fell in love with vacuum tube era things. They are beautiful and it's all human scale. You can see the parts. Back then, I didn't have much. Our family was in poverty a lot of the time. Reasons. That's not a big deal, and in fact, was of great benefit to me personally. It kind of forced exploring the world and meaning to get something out of it. I needed it!

Anyway, I had a couple of old ratty texts from the 50's era that explained the theory of operation. And I had various toys and projects that showed parts of that theory to me. A crystal radio, for example. I must have reread that text 50 times.

At first, I understood very little. Being young, much of the higher level stuff would blow right by. But the general concepts were there.

So, imagine being faced with the radio. You don't have much, no fancy test gear, etc...

I submit Feynman didn't fix the radio. It's still broken in a sense. But, what he did do was make that radio, imperfect or broken, damaged, as it was, perform as needed. He moved the problem out of the way.

This is important. The radio is a system. It's designed to do a task, and it's parts are designed to perform to a specification or other. Each radio is kind of unique too. Whatever flaws it has gets compensated for.

Problem: Noise in the radio audio

Think real hard:

Here, one can start to analyze the radio, take the theory of operation and identify where noise might be coming from. This means one has sufficient understanding to solve the problem in the first place. The heavy lift is realizing it!

But, say one does not possess that level of understanding. I didn't back then. Not until many years later, lots of fixes under my belt, and some kind souls giving me test gear.

So then, as a system, what's still possible? Fixing the radio may not be an option due to lack of components, understanding, tools.

Move the radio Swap the tubes Modify antenna Change power source Change adjustable things in the radio Remove something from the radio Etc...

For each of these things one CAN do, which of them may resolve noise?

In this way, the problem shifts from, "fixing it", which implies the radio is brought from a flawed state to an acceptable one. (just less and more minor flaws really)

That is what Feynman did. A poor component at one stage of the radio may perform another task just fine. Swapping the tubes does that.

For many years, I would get this gear from people. And it was a lot of, "look at the problem", "think real hard", "execute solution."

And a bunch of that boiled down to what I could do, not so much what should be done, or needed to be done. And a lot of that was successful. Try stuff, observe, try more stuff, observe. After a time, which stuff to try boiled down to a potent set of things. More successes.

I would get an older TV, for example. Maybe it had a red tint, or the picture bloomed. One could make adjustments in the set to re-balance the picture, or improve focus, limit overall brightness, and any number of things to bring that particular system into a functioning order sufficient to perform the task required of it. Still broken, in the technical sense. New components would very likely improve it, but a removal of one, or replacement with similar one, even removing one, tweaks to the unit, all could combine to make it perform.

In my following of Feynman, I find a consistent theme where he was very good at understanding basic understanding. The calculus book he refers to contained some general solutions he found could solve a very broad set of problems. Rather than explore all the solution sets and struggle to apply them, he would take a very useful one and max it out, applying it everywhere. Where it would not work, or was impractical, he would seek another one.

I see this as a very important aspect of this awesome problem solving ability he demonstrated. Collecting things like this, as well as taking problems from various angles:

What can be done, and could it help? What has been done before? What should be done. Combine things done before. Guess at possible new things to be done. etc...

seems to be major contributors to this skill.

Feynman often mentioned puzzles. When you combine a "gauntlet" of puzzles and Feynman's natural ability to recognize fundamental understanding with time and a zeal to solve, his remarks about "not being a genius" have some real merit!

Now, he was, and that's not really a matter of serious debate. But, the method, to him, is more about doing the work to be lucid. Solve, solve, solve, refine tools, collect new ones, solve, solve, solve...

The difference here, between Feynman, and us ordinary mortals, is the breadth and depth of that lucidity.

Those skills I learned in my early youth still apply today. I can't tell you how many times I've arrived at simple ways to "fix" something, just based on what could be done, and inferences on what must be true. It's theory of operation, coupled with broad experience and that "gauntlet" of puzzles run with "the tools"

Each of us can do this. Some of us can do it extremely well in a given domain too.

I feel Feynman never did appreciate his skill and lucidity about reality itself, the world, it's parts. Few of us have that.

But, the Feynman way of looking at things, solving problems, collecting tools to solve them with, being observant, and inference:

What is possible? What can we do? What must be true? Etc...

Is something everyone can cultivate to varying degrees, depending on our affinity for a given domain, personal attributes, and resources.

I know this is a zen like argument, but he didn't actually fix that radio. He made a broken one, or flawed one perform better.

And in that last bit is an important realization:

We state the problem. Fine. But, we need to also state the goal too.

Given a goal, the problem may be too limiting. A solution may appear out of reach, or not be seen due to a problem statement constraining things, or masking things.

Work backward from the goal and sometimes one can factor the original problem statement away. And in the doing of that, arrive at a solution that gets it done, or renders the problem a non problem.

And I'll add Feynman did the work. A lot of it, and he credits that to a lot of his insights. Solving a bazillion puzzles will turn anyone into a much better solution finder, and he's right about that.

Do the work. Seek the puzzles, and keep at them. Over time, one gets an internal sort of understanding that is more broadly applicable.


Feynman was a fascinating person, and remains well able to reward further interest - his autobiographical works being a fine place to start.

Generally I'd also try to recommend a work by someone with a less favorable but still well founded perspective, for comparison. But I have yet to encounter anyone who takes such a view of Feynman. Perhaps the closest is the article [1] on his time at Thinking Machines, whence comes this matchless quote:

> Whenever it came time for his daily bowl of soup he would look around for the nearest "girl" and ask if she would fetch it to him. It did not matter if she was the cook, an engineer, or the president of the company. I once asked a female engineer who had just been a victim of this if it bothered her. "Yes, it really annoys me," she said. "On the other hand, he is the only one who ever explained quantum mechanics to me as if I could understand it."

[1] http://longnow.org/essays/richard-feynman-connection-machine...


I found him to be somewhat full of himself from the autobiographical works alone.

Then again, I probably would be too, if I was Richard Feynman.


I think at least one of his "autobiographies" is actually a bunch of his stories recollected by a third party, which doesn't help with that impression.


I somewhat did as well, but I imagine when you're as bright as him it's just something that's going to happen.


I don't think that is at all true. Some of the most intelligent people I've met were incredibly humble. Some were, ah, not.

You can be brilliant and also a bit of a jackass, clearly.


Murray Gell-Mann has some not so positive views about Feynman https://youtu.be/rnMsgxIIQEE


Was Feynman sexist? A quick googling finds nothing.


>Was Feynman sexist?

In the same way, and probably much less, that any male was in a totally different era of the 60s and 70s...


I know plenty of men who lived through that era (and one man who was born 4 years after Feynman) who are not in the slightest bit sexist. Or are at least far too polite to show it.

Feynman was clearly a bit of a prick. It also appears that he behaved rudely toward women [0]. In my opinion, the fact that there were some (significant) negative aspects of his personality doesn't take anything away from what he accomplished, or from the (significant) positive aspects of his personality.

[0] http://longnow.org/essays/richard-feynman-connection-machine...


The above described behaviour was at the very least extremely bad manners .. even in the 60s/70s.


Why is asking people for something is bad manners? Especially as you put it "extremely bad manners"?


I suggest that you try asking random women in the office to bring you soup and see how that goes.


Heh, for an even better reaction he should try asking random men in the office to bring him soup.

Depending on his workplace, things could become physical :D


It actually turns up a lot of article about Feynman and sexism. E.g. this one:

http://mathematigal.com/home/2014/7/14/feynman-is-not-my-her...


Is there anything in that article about Feynman except an unsubstantiated claim made during divorce proceedings?


Apparently not.

Also, I seem to remember reading that similar claims were routinely made at the time in order for the divorce to be approved by the court. I.e. nobody was trying to make claims of abuse, they were simply trying to ensure the divorce was approved, and both parties agreed to make whatever exaggerated or false claims that could be seen as reasonable grounds for divorce.

Anyway, that’s what I remember. I could of course be wrong about this particular case.


What's your standard for "substantiated"? We're only going to have reports of what people said about him.


That's rather unfortunate. If I may propose an alternative treatment of Feynman though: simply forget that he was sexist and instead claim he was very progressive and helped female colleaguea all the time. People already want to be like Feynman, so if we simply turn Feynman's historical image into what we want people to be like we would accomplish more than by telling people that their heroes are evil.


>we would accomplish more than by telling people that their heroes are evil.

Not to mention that being sexist is not evil, just bad manners (or that there's no such thing as "evil", it's a theological concept).


Discriminating against someone because of their gender is wrong, not just bad manners. "It's not wrong because nothing is truly wrong" is surely an excuse of last resort. I don't see anyone on here bringing that point up when people are complaining about NSA surveillance or some other hacker cause célèbre.


>Discriminating against someone because of their gender is wrong, not just bad manners.

Depends on the discrimination. Costing them a job opportunity is wrong. Telling them "hey, make me some tea" is bad manners -- same as if you asked a lower ranking male employee whose job is not it, that.

>"It's not wrong because nothing is truly wrong" is surely an excuse of last resort.

It's also an excuse nobody made. Wrong != evil. People are not cartoonish figures who are either holy or evil.

>I don't see anyone on here bringing that point up when people are complaining about NSA surveillance or some other hacker cause célèbre.

I'm not sure of the relevance. NSA surveillance is totalitarian. Asking female colleagues to "make you coffee" is impolite.


>Telling them "hey, make me some tea" is bad manners -- same as if you asked a lower ranking male employee whose job is not it, that.

No, treating your women colleagues as if they are inferior merely because they are women is wrong. It is not merely bad manners, any more than racism or xenophobia are merely bad manners.

>It's also an excuse nobody made.

Are you just referring to the fact that I used the word 'wrong' instead of the word 'evil'? If so, just substitute 'evil' for 'wrong' in my previous comment.


>No, treating your women colleagues as if they are inferior merely because they are women is wrong.

Here's the thing: asking them to make him a coffee doesn't mean he thinks they are inferior. At worst, it assumes that this is something that they'll gladly do -- which is more about the era, than about himself. Many others would do the same without anybody thinking twice about it, we just magnify this anecdote from the 50s and 60s because he's famous. Heck, in the same time they had different seats and toilets for blacks and whites and people were OK with that, it was the law even...

>It is not merely bad manners, any more than racism or xenophobia are merely bad manners

Racism alone is not even bad manners -- it's just BS thinking (finding differences in races). Lots of old white elders for example can be racist but otherwise good people (and kind even to people with different skins they're thinking in racist ways about). It will have to translate in some actual harm to become actually (instead of merely potentially) bad.

In other words: people can think whatever they like, as long as they are not putting it in action that hurts others. The same thing, that is, that one might grant to artists with violent tendencies and visions that put that in their art. Some prudes might complaint, but as long as they don't actively hurt real people, what's the problem?


Yes, asking someone to make you coffee is in fact treating them as "inferior". Firstly, in the sense of superior versus inferior: master versus servant. Secondly in the sense that your own work is too important to be interrupted with the preparation of coffee, whereas theirs isn't, or not to the extent that yours is.


Evil is also a well studied concept in philosophy, e.g. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/concept-evil/ (Without claiming any relation to the discussion)


Haha, uh, that would be… one bizarre way to go about things.

Nah, I'd rather have the truth, yet work to nonetheless have people be good. Many heroes are flawed; let's emulate their positive qualities, and avoid their negative ones, without failing to acknowledge them or outright covering them up.


> he was very progressive and helped female colleaguea all the time.

If there were only some sort of diagram to describe this many worlds idea


Wouldn't it be better to explain them nobody is perfect?


That's a pretty evil suggestion, but it may just work.


Of course it would. Think of say Abraham "I would never tell a lie" Lincoln. Who chased after a woman in the freezing snow to give her back her 20p. Our heroes always been moulded into idealised versions of themselves, a sort of mythological figures. You probably think it's evil because it seems like historic revisionism, i.e. what Stalin, Kim, etc. have done. I think it's justified to tell small white lies like this, like "Feynman respected women", if it helps people be better towards each other.


Did you ever read that chapter of Surely You're Joking where Feynman hanged himself from a tree for seven days to learn the secrets of subatomic physics? That's where Feynman diagrams came from.~


Having read his book the answer is yes, but not exceedingly so for a man of his time. His chapters on wooing dancing girls is not for someone with especially delicate sensibilities. But remember this is during the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Sexism was the norm, in fact it was considered good for society in upper class circles.

It's unfair to be hard on a man for simply living in a different age.


>>It's unfair to be hard on a man for simply living in a different age.

Unfortunately this how most current day news, trends and discussions are shaping out to be. Pretty much a lot of things considered bad now, were once perfectly acceptable.

Another annoying things these days are people who pick up some kind of negative thing about a famous personality and use that to discredit their whole life's work. Like talking something negative about Gandhi, and then use that ruse to make it look like his whole life was a waste.


I think that in cases like that you are the one being reductionist, not the other way around. Bringing up the flaws of people like Ghandi, MLK, Feynman, Hawking etc is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, even a responsible thing to do. Great men are still imperfect and their problems do not discredit them.

In a way its dangerous to not bring up their flaws; say MLK jr. defended the rights of people of color but was against gay rights. It is wrong to idolize him utterly, because then his views can legitimize views we think are wrong now.

I don't think any reasonable person tries to tear down great men and women by bringing up their flaws. I think they are just trying to recognize the real person, rather than the ideal. Their life does not reduce to one mistake just because we talk about it happening.


All you say is true in general. But Gandhi, while apotheosized in the West, is not so universally admired in India. Many people celebrated his assassination. A great many Indians, at the time and now, think that he set back Indian independence significantly, and that, to the extent that his economic ideas were adopted, they retarded the development of the nation.


Oh no. What used to be the best designed website in the whole internet is now, too, a slow mess that doesn't work in javascript, uses several trackers and loads half a megabyte to display few screens of text.

Who the hell thought that slapping some annotations on top is worth this price to pay? Why not add stories to it, too?


It won't even load for me, I just get an infinite spinner gif. Tried turning my browser extensions off, still no luck.


Ditto...




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