Source: Chicago Tribune, Nov 1992
Feynman reformulated quantum mechanics, the all-embracing law of physics capable of describing the interaction of particles and radiation on a scale so small that Newton`s laws do not apply.
His new theory included the idea that the path a particle takes is based on the sum of every possible path it could take-a fundamental insight into modern physics.
He was one of three scientists who independently of each other developed quantum electrodynamics, the modern description of light interacting with matter that is widely considered the most precise scientific theory humans have ever developed.
The three shared the Nobel Prize. But while the others used complex mathematical formulas that many physicists could not understand, Feynman invented a way of diagramming interactions between particles. Feynman diagrams have become a standard language of physics.
To Drasko Jovanovic, a senior scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia who attended a number of lectures by Feynman, there is something in a mind like Feynman`s that is unknowable.
”We are not able to discern people`s intelligence, particularly people who are smarter than we are,” Jovanovic said.
”It is like climbing a mountain. You can see below you, but above, you can`t. Something can be thousands of meters above you, or hundreds; you don`t know. To me, he was a genius, in the clouds; I cannot penetrate it.”
But while the source of Feynman`s way of thinking may be impenetrable, Jovanovic said, his ideas themselves are extraordinarily accessible-further evidence to Jovanovic of his genius.
”Everything he has written is absolutely understandable,” he said. ”It is so simple I give lectures to high school students, and they understand it. It almost resonates with your own mind.”
Sachs said, scientific creativity does have a certain inexplicable quality.
When studying a problem, he said, ”You suffer miserably. What I feel I`m doing is bouncing around in my brain like I had a whole collection of computers talking back and forth to each other, trying to match things somehow so some coherence between these things will show up.
”Then, suddenly, things fall into place. That is the inspirational moment of creativity. It`s all been there somewhere, but I don`t think anybody can tell you just what happened at that moment it came together.”
`These are driven people`
Ken Hope, who for 10 years directed the MacArthur Fellowships program, known popularly as ”genius grants,” also tried to define the magic. He concluded that it involved far more than intelligence.
”I think it has to do with a certain courageousness,” he said. ”When someone like Feynman is trying to understand in a fundamental and deep way what the nature of science is, that`s kind of a bold program.”
The greatest scientists, he said, tend to think and speak in contradictions, as in Niels Bohr`s contention that light cannot be considered either a wave or a particle, but is simultaneously both and neither.
”It`s not that they reject logic entirely, but they realize that there is something beyond logic,” Simonton said.
”Einstein insisted that you need intuition-that once your intuition got the answer, you used logic in order to convince other people you were right.
”A number of physicists talk about how they actually imagine themselves to be an electron, and what an electron would do if it were heading toward a neutron,” he said. ”Einstein imagined what would happen if he were inside an elevator in free fall.”
Feynman seemed to have a particularly strong physical intuition about the way things worked, Gleick found, an ability to use all his senses to imagine the way tiny particles of matter interact.
He seemed permeated by mathematics.
”Feynman was constantly waving his hands and making geometric shapes,”
said Robert W. Wilson, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, during a recent visit to Fermilab. ”I think his mind must have worked geometrically.”
It all adds up to genius
For Gleick, the essence of genius seems to be part intelligence, part myth, part lucky timing and maybe part magic.
Coleman chose not to study with Feynman directly.
Watching Feynman work, he said, was like going to the Chinese opera. “When he was doing work he was doing it in a way that was just — absolutely out of the grasp of understanding. You didn’t know where it was going, where it had gone so far, where to push it, what was the next step.
With Dick the next step would somehow come out of — divine revelation.
University of Melbourne, Oct 2017
Feynman also dabbled in biology. In the summer of 1960, he began working in the laboratory of the geneticist Max Delbrück on the rII mutation of the bacteriophage T4.
There he chanced upon a new phenomenon of mutual suppression of mutations within the same gene, dubbed the “Feyntrons” by his colleagues in the laboratory. Keen to go back to his quantum theory of gravity, however, Feynman did not publish the work. It was later discovered independently and is now known as intragenic suppression.