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Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! book summary

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! book cover

Here are some of my key takeaways from the mostly fun, anecdotal stories that makes up the book.

  • Question everything, challenge and try to understand.
  • There can be benefit to learning laterally, rather than always just going deeper. This was in relation to Feynman deciding to immerse himself in biology for a bit, despite physics being his true love.
  • Don't be afraid to ask the "stupid" or "basic" questions, even in a room filled with experts.
  • Have fun, enjoy your work and don't take things too seriously. Quote: "I used to enjoy doing physics. Why did I enjoy it? I used to play with it. I used to do whatever I felt like doing - it didn’t have to do with whether it was important for the development of nuclear physics, but whether it was interesting and amusing for me to play with".
  • You can always learn to be better at whatever you want, you just have to put in the work and continue persevering (I was especially impressed with his learning to draw and eventually selling his art!). Quote: "To sell a drawing is not to make money, but to be sure that it’s in the home of someone who really wants it; someone who would feel bad if they didn’t have it".
  • Learn things for the sake of learning. I especially enjoyed his journey into learning how to crack safes.
  • Develop theories as to how things work, but then actually experiment and find out what happens in the real world (I loved his experiments on ants).
  • When trying to teach something like physics or mathematics, make sure the theory is demonstrated in a practical way. The situation Feynman was especially riled up about was how children's textbooks were written.
  • Do not learn by rote, learn by understanding.
  • "I never pay any attention to anything by “experts.” I calculate everything myself".
  • When you say, “I could do that, but I won’t” - it’s just another way of saying that you can’t.
  • Know what your "box of tools" are. All the better if they are different from everyone else's because you're going to be the person they go to when they need something solving with a different tool.
  • When trying to prove or understand something, do not give in to bias. Feynman talked about scientific integrity, about not only publishing results that supports your hypothesis, but everything else. Be open with what you may not know. It is ultimately only the truth that matters. Quote: "Scientific integrity, utter honesty: if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid - not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked - to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated".
  • "You must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool".

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