I look at it differently. I just think he didn't want to be annoyed by a bunch of standard "sorry to hear about your loss" that many people receive when someone hears about their loss.
"I didn’t know how I was going to face all my friends at Los Alamos. I didn’t want people with long faces talking to me about the death of Arlene. "
To me "long faces" is the key. The long faces make him feel uncomfortable. Just like many people are comfortable singing in front of their parents and friends and showing emotions and others are not.
It was an understandable and normal reaction, given his youth and the pressure he was under, but it wasn't likely good for his mental health.
Again, very understandable in an ambitious young man growing up in the shadow of war with all that responsibility on his shoulders. But not what you'd call a healthy grieving process.
Any correlation made by glieck with his way of living is purely his own interpretation of things, and not feynman's. So, you idea that the idea of grief not being repressed doesn't stand up doesn't stand up (yes, read that sentence carefully).
You are not his mind, nor a psychic (no, not psychotherapist) to tell why he did what he did.
If you ever read his "autobiographies" you'll see he's been very well received by women around him (since his princeton years), not after arlene's death.
This is all passed over quite briefly in Genius, but you'll find more evidence elsewhere.
What would he have gained?
He was obviously of sound mind and spirit, and did not require "grief counseling" from his analytical co-workers. So he ended that conversation.
Agree (as my comment indicates). This is an auto response that is triggered upon hearing certain news. While a person might also have an emotion many times you say it to someone you don't even know and care about. People hear something and they instinctively act a certain way. I'm not saying everybody is like this of course.
But considering I kind of went on at length about what he did immediately after, then I can see your interpretation. But to answer your point, I don't pass judgment or approval of Feynman, just showing how his "distant" persona does not capture the entirety of his emotion and thought.
I read the book a while ago so I don't remember it enough to respond to the rest of your comment, but this part here I do remember.
He was disqualified from military service because he played games with them in the screening and said things like he "heard voices in his head" (because that's what thinking is). The section was all rather funny.
It seems important to note that those of great acheivement still feel normal human emotions, and those who aspire to great acheivement should not try to avoid feeling normal human emotions - lest they become, well the president of Syria.
Thank you danso.
There is a meme that great scientists, all great achievers, are somewhat other, not normal, aloof unfeeling cold calculating machines. That's how they do it. The story of the stopped clock could be used to bolster that fallacy
The letter clearly, lucidly, funnily, and touchingly blows apart any concept that Feynmann was cold unfeeling or somehow other.
Just seemed important to note that great achievement is not incompatible with great passion and humanity. C.f. The president of Syria for how MIT to do it.
I recently (yesterday) suffered the loss of a loved one, and reading Feynman's letter to his late wife is one of the few things giving me comfort right now.
One of the lessons I learned from him, and I can't find the quote now, but when he was diagnosed with cancer he had this to say:
Everyone knows that they will one day die, yet they find a way to "live" life despite that fact. They have ambitions, dreams, desires. The only difference for me is that that the time is now limited. Why would I be depressed about that when the basic principle of life is the same. The only difference for me is that the time is shortened. It's simply a matter of scale, but the philosophical conundrum remains the same.
While certainly a private thing that gave him happiness or solace or peace in life, I'm confident that he chose to include it in his collected record on death.
This seems consistent with everything that (I imagine) I know about him from reading his own autobiographical stuff, as well as other peoples' attempts.
(Aside: Klaus Fuchs, the guy whose car he borrowed, turned out to be the mole at Los Alamos, and that car was instrumental in the performance of Fuchs' activities.)
I know you're not talking about legal matters, but some of the issues behind libel and speech law are derived in part from moral concerns.
As a side note, it's not all together clear that it would be illegal to publish something like this were he still alive, as he would be considered a person of public interest.
Now, the issue of whether it's bad? That's strictly a taste thing. Had the author of e biography chosen to publish any and all seedy letters found in Feynman's private collection, I think we could agree that that is "bad", as in, bad taste...but I think the case could be made that the publishing of this type of personal letter is not in that same category, in terms of taste
If a clock stopped at the time of my wifes death, just how would it be natural to attribute it to something supernatural if I wouldn't usually do that?
Just because it is a highly emotional moment?
Its not just that you wouldn't, on average, consider a supernatural explanation. It's that the stopping of a clock at any particular moment is rare and the death of your first true love...is, well, also extremely rare. A scientific mind, under some stress, might cede to the supernatural comfort by framing it as: "well, the probability of those two events happening at once"...and this framing would be made even easier given the overwhelming acceptance of such an event being supernatural by a 1940s-era society
People react in unexpected ways in extreme situations. The most common reaction is to revert to a default mode of operation. It takes time for the feelings and responses to work their way through you.
His book "What do you care what other people think" is a
homage to Arlene, partly because Feynman made the fatal mistake of trusting the doctor's judgement
to disregard the blatantly obvious diagnosis. He wrote about his experience in much more detail here:
Part 1: http://i.imgur.com/CSNop.png
Part 2: http://i.imgur.com/7mDTW.png
He was depressed for a while but eventually his love for physics helped him recover. Feynman is the most logical and happiest human I have ever seen. Hans Bethe once said, "Feynman depressed is just a little more cheerful then any other person when he is exuberant."
Feynman's magnificent exuberance and puzzle solving enthusiasm remained up until his last days, where his coworker Christopher Sykes remarked "Look at this man.
He faces the abyss. He doesn't know whether he is going to live through this week. But he was consumed by it, and he worked on it all day long...."
A few days before his second operation, Feynman sang a bongos song about orange juice, an amusing take of Linus Pauling's advice to possibly cure his cancer. Just look at his smile at the end of this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKTSaezB4p8
I would also like to add that on Feynman's last days at the hospital, his last words to his artist friend Jirayr was "Don't worry about anything, go out and have a good time!"
Anyone who thinks of Feynman as a cold-hearted scientist is incredibly mistaken.
What's the science in that?
To me, this story illustrates that Feynman was a man of deeper beliefs than most religious people, and what the story illustrates, really, is that there is absolutely no contradiction between having a highly rational, scientific mindset and yet having very deep beliefs that transcend the reductionist scientific mindset that some hardcore atheist propose is "the way forward".
Science and beliefs can coexist perfectly well, as they did in Feynman, Einstein, and many other of our greatest scientists.
The phrase "hardcore atheist" suggests that you may have some baggage that is clouding your view on what words like rational and scientific mean. They never meant that you can't love somebody or grieve. That isn't even a belief, and it has nothing to do with theological views.
In fact, people might do this anyway just to commemorate a moment of death. But when something very unexpected occurs at such a pivotal moment, it is practically irresistable to think it more than coincidence.
What would Feynman Lose by just accepting that, in this moment, there appear to be more things between heaven and earth than what science could reveal, especially in matters of love lost? Instead, he took time out of his grief to dispel such a notion.
And yet, he loved his wife and her memory as the deepest romantic. The "love" part can exist independently of logical, scientific method...or at leat it did in Feynman's case.
I have no idea what kind of messed up definition of "beliefs" you are using. Of course science and beliefs coexist; science is a process for arriving at accurate beliefs.
Humans are no "classical computers", we have emotions and desires built in (for a purpose, but still). It is not necessarily rational trying to suppress those and aiming to become as much as a calculator as possible. You could as well just go for the ride and see where it takes you.
It shows that Feynman was quite willing and able to surrender to irrational behaviour when he wanted to. The difference between Feynman and the superstitious man was not a rejection of things irrational, but a conscious control over when to give in to the irrationality and when to remain scientific.
Of course, you might say that this is only sensible - but many people who take a reductionist view ("there is nothing beyond the material") explicitly reject this balance.
It seems irrational when you presume that the only purpose of a letter is to be read by the recipient. But writing a letter can help clarify your own thoughts and feelings, which is a perfectly rational thing to want to do.
IIRC: In his second book ("What do you care what other people think"), he essentially admits he was a tool in this instance.
One of the generals had figured it out, but was politically unable to point the finger. He lead Feynman to the issue, who then ran with it.
(I can't remember his name. He opens with "Copilot to pilot: Comb your hair" or some such.)