Richard Feynman: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out


Many times in the last five years, I’ve been asked: “If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be?”

My answer is always the same: Richard Feynman.

Right alongside Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, Feynman’s book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) hugely impacted every aspect of my thinking when I first read them circa 2005. Since then, I have studied Feynman’s letters, teaching style, discoveries, and beyond. How many Nobel Prize winners also safe crack and play bongos in bars for fun?

The above video will give you an taste of why I love Richard Feynman. It was forwarded to me by Brew Johnson and J.R. Johnson, whom I owe huge thanks, as I’d somehow missed it. About the program, Professor Sir Harry Kroto, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, said:

“The 1981 Feynman Horizon is the best science program I have ever seen. This is not just my opinion – it is also the opinion of many of the best scientists that I know who have seen the program… It should be mandatory viewing for all students, whether they be science or arts students.”

Feynman’s makes me want to be a better teacher and, ultimately, a world-class parent (you’ll see what I mean). A few notes on the video:

– I first watched this in 10-minute bites before bed. There’s no need to watch it all at once.
– :30-:38 is fascinating physics, but physics nonetheless. He does a masterful job of getting lay people excited (his cadence helps a lot), but skip if needed, rather than missing what follows.
– :40+ explains part of his teaching philosophy, which greatly influenced how I outline my books.
– His concept of “active irresponsibility” is worth remembering.

May you all experience the pleasure of finding things out, starting here with a closer look at a most curious character: Richard Feynman.

If you could have dinner anyone from any time in history, who would you choose and why? Assume you can’t tell anyone about the dinner, so bragging rights don’t apply. What would you want to learn, know, or experience?


Odds and Ends:
Tim Ferriss on Reddit AMA (answering some controversial questions, too)
The 4-Hour Chef site – Brand-new and soon getting more. Some of the copy is placeholder text, but it give you an idea.

Posted on: April 19, 2012.

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140 comments on “Richard Feynman: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

  1. Yes, I’ve seen these before. I recommend all videos from Feynman accesible on YouTube. Other than that, Carl Gustav Jung is somebody I’d love to have dinner with.


  2. Steve Jobs, Tim Ferriss, Jimmy Buffett, and Paul Newman

    We’re being hypothetical, right?

    I would want to ask them one single question:
    “What kind of person would you be if you where born 100 years before your time?”


  3. I think Shakespeare would be a good person to have a chat with over a beer and a burger. I think his intellect is so voluminous, that we could talk for hours, and I would be more enriched for the experience.
    As far as someone who is alive now, I can’t think of a more creative person to share ideas with than Bob Dylan. If you pick up a volume of his lyrics, you would be amazed at how vast and beautiful his writing is.


  4. Thanks for sharing this! I’m happy that the autodidactic trend is continuing to spread. Hurray for the Internet’s ability to pick up the slack of a failing education system.

    I’m very much looking forward to the 4-Hour Chef angle of “learning how to learn!”


  5. Best two quotes from the video:

    03:30 min mark “I have a limited intelligence, and I’ve used it in a particular direction”

    40:10 min mark “My theory is, that the best way to teach is to have no philosophy, is to be chaotic and confusing … to catch this guy or that guy on different hooks”

    Fantastic video. Thanks for sharing Tim.

    (Sorry, no specific heroes that I’d like to have dinner with. Just a bunch of them that I already have breakfast, lunch and dinner with through their books :) )


  6. Tim, I love the new 4-Hour Chef site and I look forward to receiving my book in the mail any day now. Who did the web design? By the way, I started the cold showers regime eight months ago and i’ve never looked back…anything to “eat like Santa and look like Jesus.” Thanks again.


  7. I’ve been a huge fan of Dr. Feynman since you recommended the “Surely You’re Joking…” book years ago. Aside from Richard Feynman, I’d like to share a meal with Teddy Roosevelt, Chris Sharma, Seth Godin, yourself… many more. I’m interested in how others perceive the world and what thought processes, belief systems, and motivations each has that’s transformed their living experience.


  8. Winston Churchill, because he was just simply a badass (and a genius).

    I would love to ask him what he thought were the best methods one could use to change the world :)



  9. My two top dinner candidates would be:

    Alexander Hamilton: Despite being an orphan, he become one of the most influential founding fathers, yielding incredible influence over the economic policies/future of the country.

    Jeff Bezos: Founded the world’s largest and most successful e-Commerce company, a field I’m really passionate about.

    Any chance to dine with them both? ;-)


  10. Was it Feynman’s classes that were so popular that non-students would sneak in just to hear the lectures? Too many teachers have the opposite effect…

    For dinner:

    Herodotus & Josephus – for the stories

    Rasputin – because WTF is up with him?

    VIP Dinner Guest – Nassim Taleb – because I think we are yet to see his best work and I want to be there when it happens.


    • Apparently, Feynman even had Friday afternoon lectures that were packed…but that isn’t the interesting bit: these were “unofficial” lectures for courses that were not part of the university curriculum!

      Instead, he just had informal science lectures which students attended because they found them interesting- not because the needed the credit for graduation. Amazing!

      Other recommendations: “Genius”, a biography of Feynman by James Gleick
      “The pleasure of finding things out” a collection of pieces by Feynman (including a transcript of the video above and a piece called “Cargo cult science” which is available online).
      “What do you care what other people think” also by Feynman


  11. Great thing about your blog, Tim, is that it doesn’t just get me thinking, it gets me doing. A lot. As always, thanks.

    Dinner (and drinks):

    Theodore Roosevelt. I’m pretty sure I could just be a fly on the wall of any room he was in and it would be educational and immensely entertaining.

    Kurt Vonnegut. I think a lot of writers are at their best on the page and not in person. I think Vonnegut would be a charming, fun guy to hang out with. I have a feeling that he was a great example of how a human being should live.

    Ernest Hemmingway. Who cares if he didn’t live up to the myth. It’s freaking Hemmingway. He could teach me how to REALLY drink.

    Rasputin. One of the most interesting and mysterious people in history. We could talk beards.


  12. Hey Tim!

    Thanks for the video. I am watching it for less than 10 min and it’s already full of gems!

    From reading the encyclopedia with…translation to understanding what is really knowledge (e.g., bird example)…golden nuggets keep coming!

    Hope all is well!