Thursday, September 04, 2008

Feynman's Admonition ! Media, Heed !

There are some really great men whose lives and words affect us all forever and inform our existence in ways we never know and most of us pass on before we ever know their names.

One such man, whose name I came to revere was Richard Feynman who won the Nobel prize for Physics, worked on the Manhattan project (A-Bomb) but who most famously translated the abstruse and chaotic world of Quantum Mechanics and particle physics into plain language “suitable for college freshmen” as he was wont to say.

Despite being a celebrated “popularizer” of difficult subjects, he was a joyful fellow, a prankster, an accomplished percussionist, picker of locks and a monogamist who lost his bride to wasting illness while he was at Los Alamos.

From a marginally observant Jewish family in Far Rockaway, Queens, Feynman wanted to go to Columbia University, but that August successor to Alexander Hamilton’s King’s College had a restricted l “quota” for Jews in the late 1930's and early 40's, so he went to a struggling Massachusetts Institute of Technology and helped make that fine place famous.

At one time, Albert Einstein, who bad great affection for him, begged him to come back to Princeton, where he got his PhD in physics—to lecture at the Institute for Advanced Studies. He was ending a five year gig at Cornell at the time.

But he almost froze one night in Ithaca, NY trying to put sleet chains on his auto, and he promised the Heavens he would never be cold again. So, he took a position in Pasadena, at Cal Tech. There he dueled with his friend Murray Gell Mann. Murray once said Richard Feynman was “half genius and half buffoon”, but by the time they BOTH had brought many honors to CALTECH, Gell Mann revised: “I was wrong...Dick is 100% genius and 100% buffoon...”

Feynman’s videotapes, and editions of The Feynman Lectures have sold three million copies in English, one million copies in Russian and nearly 750 thousand in other languages. Nanotechnology and the discovery of the sixth Quark are due to Feynman’s thought and equations. And, much more.

All this is prelude to my offering you a quote from his last commencement address at Pasadena to all the young scientists:

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that."

Darned B I G order...

I suggest all Journalism schoools adopt this admonition for graduating “media” professionals from this day on.

Not an unreasonable standard for THEM, either, is it ?