Sunday, March 27, 2011

Are you a permission giver? Feynman was.

Read the entire article, then read Feynman's letters.

Permission Givers

By William Zinsser

When Richard P. Feynman, one of the giants of 20th-century physics, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1965, he received hundreds of congratulatory letters from friends and admirers, including one from a former student named Koichi Mano. Acknowledging the letter, Feynman asked the young scientist what he working on. Koichi sent a doleful reply, regretting that he wasn’t working on fundamental problems of science, but only on “a humble and down-to-earth type of problem.”

“Your letter made me unhappy,” Feynman wrote back, “for you seem to be truly sad. No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it. It seemed that the influence of your teacher has been to give you a false idea of what are worthwhile problems.” In his own career, Feynman pointed out, he had “worked on innumerable problems that you would call humble, but which I enjoyed and felt very good about because I sometimes could partially succeed.” He went on to describe a dozen of those experiments, some of which failed, including one on the theory of turbulence that he “spent several years on without success.”


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