I was first introduced to Richard Feynman in college, when our Quantum Dynamics class used his QED as its textbook, along with selections from The Feynman Lectures. Richard Feynman was a genious who, to me, was at his best when he was completely out of his element. Feynman was the one who solved the question of what happened to the Space Shuttle Challenger. After being stonewalled by NASA officials and scientists who wouldn’t tell him what would happen to the O-Rings if they got cold, he solved the problem by asking for a sample, and then, at a commission hearing, dipping it ice water and shattering it on the table. He was constantly trying to solve problems that may have had nothing to do with physics (at first glance) from parallel computer processing to getting invited to a remote villiage at the center of Asia without using his reputation for assistance.
That’s what I loved about him when I was reading QED, and that’s what I love about him now. He can take something tremendously complicated and boil it down to the essentials in a way that anyone can undestand it. I’ve always strived to be that way. In fact, I’ve always joked that I make thing simple for a living. This quote from Richard Feynman and The Connection Machine (a fascinating portrait of how he worked) says it best:
Because even when Richard didn’t understand, he always seemed to understand better than the rest of us. And whatever he understood, he could make others understand as well. Richard made people feel like a child does, when a grown-up first treats him as an adult. He was never afraid of telling the truth, and however foolish your question was, he never made you feel like a fool.
If people can say that about me, I’ll consider myself a success.