Richard Feynman's 100th birthday

Discussion in 'Physics' started by nsaspook, May 13, 2018.

  1. nsaspook

    Thread Starter AAC Fanatic!

    Aug 27, 2009
  2. RichardO

    Late Member

    May 4, 2013
    It is a shame we lost him before he made it to Tannu Tuva. :(


    Review: Richard Feynman’s lost journey

    Tuva or Bust! by Ralph Leighton, Viking, pp 254, Pounds sterling 15.99

    When Richard Feynman was 11 years old, he was a keen collector of postage
    stamps. He found some unusual triangular and diamond-shaped stamps from
    a place called Tannu Tuva. His father showed him where it was – a little
    purple splotch northwest of Outer Mongolia. At that time, in the late 1920s,
    it was an independent country.

    In the summer of 1977, Feynman, by then a professor of physics at the
    California Institute of Technology, was eating dinner at his home in Altadena.
    At the table was Feynman’s bongo-playing partner, Ralph Leighton, a local
    teacher. He was impressing Feynman’s two children with his knowledge of
    world geography.

    ‘So you think you know every country in the world?’ Feynman said. ‘Okay
    then, what ever happened to Tannu Tuva?’

    ‘Tannu what?’ said Leighton. ‘There’s no such country.’

    ‘Sure there is,’ said Feynman.

    A quick inspection of the Encyclopaedia Britannica revealed a place
    called Tuvinskaya ASSR to the north of the Tannu-Ola mountains, bang in
    the heart of Asia. Though then a part of the Russian Federation within the
    Soviet Union, once it had been an independent country called Tannu Tuva.

    ‘Look at this,’ said Feynman, pointing at a map of Asia. ‘The capital
    is spelt K-Y-Z-Y-L! We must go there!’

    So began a quest that lasted a decade to reach Tuva. Leighton and Feynman’s
    enduring fantasy was to meet a nomadic Tuvan standing before his yurt. Their
    holy grail became Kyzyl’s monument to the ‘centre of Asia’, erected in the
    19th century by a mysterious English explorer who had determined that the
    town was at the geographical centre of Asia.

    Leighton and Feynman tried many ploys to get to Tuva. They even enrolled
    as delegates at a throat-singing conference to be held in Hovd, Mongolia.
    Throat-singing, a bizarre style peculiar to Tuva, involves making two notes
    simultaneously. Alas, the conference was cancelled at the last minute.

    At any time during the quest, Feynman, a Nobel-prizewinning physicist,
    could have got to Kyzyl by pulling strings – contacting physicists in Moscow
    and offering to give a series of lectures, for example. ‘But that way would
    have been like riding to the summit of a mountain by helicopter,’ says Leighton.

    During the 1980s, Feynman was often distracted from Tuva. Not only did
    he serve on the Rogers Commission, set up to investigate the explosion of
    the space shuttle Challenger, but he also underwent several major operations
    for abdominal cancer. Feynman, as Leighton observes, was living on borrowed

    In 1988, Leighton and Feynman pulled off a coup, bringing to Los Angeles
    ‘Nomads of Eurasia’, an exhibition that included ancient Tuvan artefacts.
    The Soviet authorities would be sure to reward them with a trip to Tuva,
    they reasoned. But on 15 February 1988 – just three days before an invitation
    arrived – Feynman’s borrowed time ran out.

    Leighton went to Kyzyl without Feynman, and stood before the monument
    to the centre of Asia. ‘It seemed like Richard’s grave,’ he says.

    Tuva or Bust! is Leighton’s story in his own words. The distinctive
    voice of Feynman, so charming in Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman, the earlier
    collection of autobiographical anecdotes, is all but absent. Nevertheless,
    ‘Tuva or Bust!’ is an engaging read. Leighton provides yet more insight
    into the mind of Feynman, for whom the unexpected made life worth living.

    ‘As it turned out, most of what happened on our quest got us no closer
    to our goal,’ says Leighton. ‘But had we not embarked on the journey, we
    would have missed it all.’

    In the epilogue, Leighton writes: ‘Plans are now afoot to place a memorial
    plaque to Richard Feynman in Kyzyl’s monument to the centre of Asia.’
    atferrari and nsaspook like this.
  3. Raymond Genovese

    Well-Known Member

    Mar 5, 2016
    Do not think that you need to be a physicist to enjoy Feynman.

    Two absolutely wonderful books are: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?

    These are collected stories of many of his “adventures” and are thoroughly entertaining and insightful.

    In one such story (and this is from memory, so please excuse me if I botched it up a bit), he negotiated a contract (CalTech, I think)…and this was post-Nobel…he demanded that his contract stipulated that 1) he be able to teach undergraduate Introductory Physics class and 2) he be exempt from participation in all administrative meetings, committees, boards and the like. His reasoning (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) for the latter was that his work required him to think about things for very long periods of time, during which, he could not be interrupted. :)
    nsaspook likes this.
  4. RichardO

    Late Member

    May 4, 2013
    Yes, great books.

    Whenever I find a used copy of either book I buy it. I give them away. (I always keep at least one copy of each for myself).