Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I love that man! (and some crystal green and purple persuasion)

Via Lubos Motl:

Richard Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

You must surely invest 50 minutes of your time to enhance your life by watching that interview with Feynman. Wow! I'm a little angry at my former (very 'liberal' - what a joke) college professors who 'protected' me from this social science critic, who was also many other much more important things. The man was brilliant! And a part of me toys with the thought that I sure would have liked to meet him if I had been born a few decades sooner. ;-)

I especially like his description of how his father taught him to examine the world instead of just knowing the names of things. I have done that with my kids too. When they ask me 'what is this or that?' I can't only tell them the name but have to give them as much information as I think they will find interesting or will understand. Sometimes maybe I tell them more than they care to know, but maybe they absorb more than they let on at those times. He also mentions that knowing the science that explains the world does not take away any of its grandeur but adds to its complexity and beauty. I totally agree! And I'll even step a little further and say that knowing how complex and scientifically beautiful the world is makes me even more appreciative of whatever 'Creator' there might be or have been. (Feynman doesn't say that.)

Another thing he says that I can completely relate to is his idea of 'active irresponsibility' which means taking the time to truly concentrate on a subject instead of taking time for other 'responsibilities'. Now I certainly don't do any complicated and deep physics computations that require my total concentration, but I do suffer from the loss of concentration and only getting to 'dip' lightly into deeper thoughts due to interruptions by children, telephones, book-keeping, laundry, chauffeuring, etc. Though in the last year or so I've made a commitment to myself that I have at least one hour of uninterrupted time alone every day. And it is during that time that I am able to ponder things as far as I can. So what if the dishes don't get done right then? So what if the house isn't straightened up? Those things aren't the most important in my world at every moment.

It's kind of funny because just Sunday night during my 'alone time' in my 'secret room' I was looking at one of my crystal specimens (a green and purple fluorite) and letting it seize my mind. I examined the banding of the colors and imagined how the different elements combined to form such a beautiful object. I don't know the chemical composition of fluorite or which particular elements or whatever cause the different colors (things I could easily google), but it's not exactly necessary for me to know the names of those things to appreciate and understand the complex beauty of how it is formed.

CaF2, Calcium Fluoride

I collect many different kinds of crystals, not because of any supposed magical powers that some might give them but because they are so cool and pretty and thought-provoking. But I have to admit that I can see why some might ascribe magical powers to crystals because of the way that they can seize your mind as I described above. Anything that can so completely seduce your attention is magic of a sort.

I don't think Feynman would have approved of my saying this, but I think that he was a very magical person to be able to enchant and to be enchanted and to translate that enchantment into science. I love that!

A cool set of carved quartz shapes.

1 comment:

Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

05 17 06

Hey Rae Ann:
This is a classic post!!! I love it! Feynman is one of my favorite physicists ever because he was consumed by his curiosities and they led him down paths that are seldom travelled. I am curious and sometimes, I find myself absorbed reading physics articles and I lose balance in my life. I think the trick is to find a balance between letting something consume you and taking care of your personal affairs. In your situation, you are certainly taking care of your family business and truly DESERVE to have time to yourself to reflect.

The pics of the crystals are beautiful btw. I like the structure of crystals. The atoms are arranged in well defined structures, and these structures bend light a certain way and decompose it into the colors that we see. Physics is great. Have a good rest of week:)