Music Literature Film Index About

“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character, Richard P. Feynman and Ralph Leighton

W. W. Norton, 1985

It went something like this: All-nighter, poppin’ answers, one after the next after the next. The night before the final. Calculus, statistics, and differential equations, the same story: solve and re-solve from dusk-till-regurgitating dawn, until similarities and gotchas suddenly jump out of bushes or fall out of the sky.

You ace the test but at what cost? Memorization is like a dirty fix: short term. The only thing you have mastered is how to get the grade. Years pass and demonstrate their own version of memory loss. A browse through old textbooks leaves dumbfounded and disgusted asides. The jig is up. Up, up, up. Basic concepts are foreign now.

F. I give myself an F.

Which really may have nothing to do with the hilarious eye-opening memoirs of Richard P. Feynman. But since you bring it up, it is an interesting point in terms of problem and solution. Feynman’s approach to problem solving was to thoroughly dissect the question before jumping to the conclusion of a solution. It wasn’t about pulling the rabbit out of a hat (although he could certainly do that too). Besides, what was the fun in that? And make no mistake, this stuff was fun.

All around him, he surrounded himself with science and mathematics, challenges. He absorbed problems. He solved the mysteries of life and science, and all the while, remained perfectly human—all humor and humility. He was as exposed to the elements—love and loss, life and death—as anyone.

Meanwhile, off in the land of separate thoughts, a swing set of regrets fly to and fro. This playground pendulum is a heck of a thing. The summations of chances vanish repeatedly.


Dissect the problem (e.g., stop running away). Buckle down. Focus. Believe in comebacks and second chances. Make smart decisions based on all the data. Taste the solution. Focus. Focus. And always, make sure to remind yourself to enjoy the ride.