Saturday, June 7, 2003

More Mead/Feynman

Down deep, [Feynman] always wanted to do experiments himself. A hilarious account of how he was "cured" of this craving appears in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman. In the end, he had his wish. In 1986, he was asked to join the Rodgers commission to investigate the Challenger disaster. After talking to the technical people, who knew perfectly well what the problem was and had tried to postpone the launch, he was able to device an experiment that he carried out on national, prime-time TV. In true Feynman style, he sprang it full-blown, with no warning! In his personal appendix to the commission report, he concluded, "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

The day after the report was released was Caltech's graduation. As we [Feynman and Mead] marched together in the faculty procession, "Did you see the headline this morning?" he asked. "No," I replied. "What did it say?" "It said FEYNMAN ISSUES REPORT." He paused, then continued with great glee. "Not Caltech Professor Issues Report, not Commission Member Issues Report, but FEYNMAN ISSUES REPORT." He was a household word, known and revered by all people everywhere who loved truth. His own public relations were all about reality, and were, therefore, okay.

-- Carver A. Mead, Collective Electrodynamics

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