Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Richard Feynman -- Smart People (1)




Today it’s time for a change. Instead of focusing on stupidity, I’m starting a new, regular section--Smart People, which will focus on intelligent individuals who have added to the dignity and glory of humanity.

This first instalment features the scientist Richard Feynman. As well as contributing to the development of modern Quantum Theory, Feynman also found time for a host of other extracurricular activities...




Richard Feynman

How to Crack Safes with the Power of the Mind



"Pompous fools--guys who are fools and are covering it all over and impressing people as to how wonderful they are with all this hocus pocus--THAT, I CANNOT STAND!…An ordinary fool isn’t a faker; an honest fool is all right. But a dishonest fool is terrible."


So said Richard Feynman, one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century. Throughout his life he had tried to add to Mankind’s store of knowledge, practical knowledge about this universe we live in. And time and time again he had come into conflict with pompous fools-people who knew little or nothing, but pretended to have the answer to everything.


Feynman was one of the originators of modern quantum theory, a theory which looks at the physics of the universe below the atomic level. It’s a place where things get a little weird, but Feynman brought the light of genius to a field which had been plagued by lack of clear understanding.


The Manhattan Project


Before that he worked on the Atomic Bomb project at Los Alamos, during which he developed a talent for safe-cracking, a practice which required more psychology than it did nimble fingers, despite what you may think from watching Hollywood movies.


To his great surprise Feynman learned that most Los Alamos staff kept their safe combination at the factory setting. Those who didn’t usually used their birthdays or those of their loved ones. Of those who were left, top-ranking scientists might use a relevant mathematical equation. For the absent minded, they often noted down the combination and left it lying around or tucked in a drawer.


When Feynman started leaving notes in people’s safes, alerting the Project authorities to the existence of a safe-cracker, the military decided that enough was enough.


Science Vs. the Military


One important General, a pompous fool indeed, demanded that his safe be the grandest in the building. He was, after all, much more important than any mere scientist and his secrets should be more efficiently guarded than anyone else’s. He ordered the most expensive, most technologically sophisticated safe in existence.


Feynman, by nature a mischievous little rascal, couldn’t resist the lure… He discovered that the General, interested more in impressing people than anything else, hadn’t even bothered to lock the safe which had cost so much money and which held such precious information about the atomic bomb!


Feynman had learned that pompous fools were, indeed, the worst kind of fools. But cracking safes was just one small entry in Feynman’s list of quirks…

  • To find out more, you can visit Richard Feynman's entry in Wikipedia here
  • This article was inspired by a post in Conquer's Blog


35 comments:

Richie said...

Well, this is the first in a series which I will be adding occasionally to the blog.

I'll still be finding lots of stupid stuff, but I think it's good to also focus on positive things.

If they are any smart people you should think I do a post on, then please let me know. I'd be glad to hear your suggestions.

Adrian said...

WOW!!

This guy rocks...

THANKS FOR THE ENLIGHTENMENT RICHIE!!

Justin said...

Cool! I study quantum physics!! I WORSHIP POSITRONS!;)

Justin said...

I am an honest fool... I STINK AT LANGUAGE ARTS!! But at history... a fool I am not;)

Richie said...

Thank you guys, glad you enjoyed the article.

Arian: Yes, he was a righteous dude!

Justin: Anybody who studies both ancient history and quantum mechanics is definitely not a fool of any kind!

pink ginger 珂琳 said...

Good change!! we need intelligent stuff after all these stupid things. :)
This guy is really amazing. Fun to read.

Richie said...

Thank you Pink Ginger! Nice to have you back!

Justin said...

richie-:) Thanks for the compliment!! Anyways, I was arguing with my friend the other day. Do you think that Newton's Universal Laws apply everywhere? My defence for Sir. Newton was that his laws are UNIVERSAL and things would not work properly and malfunction if his laws were not universaly applied. Anyways, he said that there could be an alternate demention in which Newton's laws are do not exist... what do you think?

Justin said...

richie- sorry for the misspelling... i meant dimension.

Richie said...

Justin: Good question. Maybe there are some scientists among the readers who would be able to better answer the dilemma, but I'll give it a go.

At normal everyday level, Newton's laws are true everywhere in the visible universe.

At the quantum level, another explanation is needed.

When we take into account black holes and other strange phenonema, like the speed of light again another explanation is needed.

Einstein succeeded in explaning things at the relativistic level, and Richard Feynman among others helped to design a theory to explain things at the quantum level.

Current theory suggests that there are up to 16 other dimensions which include our 4-dimensional space -time continuum--there other laws would apply. So your friend is correct.

But I'd be happy for someone else to give an opinion because I never studied physics or mathematics at university.

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