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

  1. It just so happens that I would have dinner with the same curious character.
    Your blog and book have been telling me something, and I believe that it is to change something, to grasp what I do not know.
    I dont know what I want to do, so I think what I must do is go in search of it.


  2. i would have liked to talk to henry ford. i have read his autobigrophy a while back.
    i would have liked to have known how much courage it took to bring in new working ways or how it was to change the workers at that time. i have a view that they might have been hard to change. maybe stuck in their ways at that time.
    learn more about his private life. how did he get on with kids and family friends. was he easy to talk to. did he share his stories troubles with.
    know what it was like to work in the factory at that time from a workers perspective.
    and experience the time when he heard how succesfull he was that he had to increase production. see the look on his face and hear if he was happy or it was just another day. how did he react.


  3. Just picked up and finished Surely You’re Joking in two days. Amazing! Best advice: “I had a way of having adventures… it’s like fishing, where you put a line out and then you have to have patience.” Great stuff if you spend a lot of time solo travelling as a good 4HWW’er should.


  4. Thanks for the video – loved it and emailed a bunch of people with the link.

    I want to have a seafood lunch with Douglas Adams, Salmon Rushdie and Richard Dawkins.


  5. I’d like to meet William Shakespeare, first of all to find out if he really wrote those great plays, and then, if he had been beamed into the present, to see his reactions to our world right now.


  6. Marcus Aurelius the Philosopher King – I want to discuss first hand how he balanced the search for being a good human with being a leader. Then tell him what is happening now and see his reaction.


  7. Imhotep. He is considered to be the first architect, engineer and physician in early history. He designed pyramids, fathered empirical medicine and so much more…… He must have been able to grapple with immense problems, and simplify them into executable projects (build pyramids etc) and communicate clearly enough to win support of Pharaohs to the extent that he is the only mortal to be awarded devine status.

    #tferriss Since you recommended Surely you must be joking Mr. Feynman in the Random Show and I listened to the audiobook, I have been smitten with him and his work, but most importantly, his playful curiosity.

    A lesson I learned from the book is when he is asked to rate the US mathematics text books in advance of the school year. His methodology is brilliant. But as he aludes to in the video too, he observes that most people just don’t do the hard work first (well done on grinding out the work in advance of releasing 4HB!). He exposes the charlatans in the academic publishing world.

    Thanks Tim for introducing me to greatness.


  8. I love that he’s an iconoclast. He marches to a different drummer. We can always use more examples of successful, interesting, cool people who chose their own route to creating something important, lasting, and meaningful.

    It’s great what he had to say about the Nobel Prize. He’s having none of it! Ha!

    No interest in petty cliques! :)


    • So true, and the story behind it will inspire people. He was clinically depressed at one point and wondering which direction to take. In the end he decided to work on what he loved, and forget what might have seemed to lead to success. it lead him to a nobel prize! So the lesson is to seek happiness and enjoy the process, and success will more likely come anyway. After all we do work better doing what we really love.


  9. what a charming man, i love how he ends each of his sentences with a smile…i wouldn’t mind having dinner with him either. i don’t know much about physics or maths, but what i do know now is what qualities i would love to see in a father – based on feynman’s descriptions of his! he sounds like he had a wonderful childhood. thank you for sharing such a nice video.


  10. For dinner…

    I’d say…

    Clay Christensen. Incredible mind.
    Tim Ferriss. It’s sincere — not trying to kiss up. I’ve already learned a lot from you.

    Thanks for the post.


  11. Worth thinking about
    For myself I would choose Richard Branson as he is in the here and now,a great explorer and entreprenuer,plus a humble man donating millions to wortyhy causes
    What makes him tick and where does the inspiration and ideas stem from


  12. Richard Feynman has been tops on my people I wish I could have met list since I read about his quest for Tuva many years ago. I did a double take when I saw the clip of him on your site.
    I liked reading all the other posts as there were many other people listed that are also on my list especially Chris B’s list as it is in the same order as mine. Another one I would add is JFK.


  13. I enjoyed listening to the Q & A Reddit session, it was helpful and thanks for the resources. Looks like you’ve come a long way since your first start up.


  14. I’d have dinner with either Charles Sanders Peirce, one of the most prolific (over 100,000 known pages of his writing) and difficult to read American philosophers (d. 1914), and founder of pragmatism, which he later changed to pragmaticism after other philosophers started using the term. He also made great contributions to logic (some of which he figured could be performed by electronic devices), semiotics, statistics and the scientific method, among other fields. He was also a victim of career sabotage, and lived in poverty most of his life. I’d love to discuss semiotics, pragmaticism and epistemology with him.

    Or John Locke, whose Essay of Human Understanding I wrote on for my senior thesis. I’d love to discuss the nature of ideas, knowledge and identity he wrote about in the Essay and other writings.


  15. Interesting video – agree with a lot. I’m sad for him for not knowing Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Towards the end he mentions he “enjoys” not knowing the answers to life’s biggest questions – including “Why are we here?”. The Bible answers that…the answer of which gives me peace daily. I’m afraid he had no peace towards the end of his life – I hope I am wrong.

    Another great video…keep up the good work Tim!


    • I would really love to dine with either:
      Tim Ferriss – to get more of his vibe on how to do things the smart way not the hard way, enjoying all of that as a cool game, the rules of which can be challenged as well.
      Oprah – on how to develop your character/personality and build the life that you want based just on your mind regardless of any circumstances. Also connecting and helping other people with passion and heart.
      Warren Buffett – on how to ignore any hype, working with what you understand one step at a time, being honest with yourself and others. Also just for his amazing sense of humor.
      Arnold – to feel what it’s like to get under his outstanding charm and to get his achieve and conquer vibe.
      Bjork – on how to be brave enough to listen to your heart/intuition and not to be afraid to express/open yourself to the world the way you are.
      These people are just from the top of my head as of now. There are tons more.
      Thanks a lot for sharing this video and asking this truly interesting question!


  16. Feynman for dinner.
    That is because I spent over a 400 hours attending his special Lectures at the Hughes Malibu Research labs from 1966-1971. No one teacher had such a powerful influence on me and I would like to thank him.
    His approach to teaching physics is what kept my interested and loving science.If only more teachers were like him our children would love to learn, explore and not sit in front of a tv or play video games for hours.


  17. Napolean Bonaparte or Talleyrand.

    Really have a lot of respect for the magnitude of what they did in life.

    Science wise – Darwin or Einstein.

    Einstein for obvious reasons[learn general relativity and think about how crazy that must have seemed to everyone else].

    Darwin for his focus on dis-confirming evidence and his methods for testing and retesting his ideas.