Naming Something Doesn’t Mean We Know What It Is

Feynman: If that's the world's smartest man, god help us.

Feynman: If that's the world's smartest man, god help us.This one is, you think, obvious, right?  My father is a scientist.  He likes comics and science and math.  I should totally get him a graphic novel on Richard Feynman!  There’s more to it than that.

I suck at remembering to buy people presents for their birthdays or special days.  I don’t like it when people save up something they know I’d love for mine.  I would much rather, if you see something you know I’d love, and you have the money/time/wherewithal, that you get it and surprise me with a moment of joy.  A day is a day, and I don’t hold stock in a present on a day just because it’s a day.  Recently I’ve decided to give up birthdays and holidays and whatever.  If I happen to find the perfect gift for you on your birthday, know that it’s just a coincidence.

About a month ago, I see that a graphic novel’s coming out about Feynman and I ask my Cousin Dan if he thinks Dad would like it.  Dan says “Only if Steve hasn’t bought it.”  I know he hasn’t, so I email Dad “I want to buy you a book on Feyman, so don’t buy any without checking with me first!”  He agrees, gives me his current shipping address, and I pre-order the book.

At the end of August, the book arrived and I opened it to read it first.  Yes, I’ve read it before I send it to my father.  This is for two reasons, first, I want to read the damn book!  Second, I want to make sure it’s good.  Buying presents is really hard work!  You know the person, and you know what they like, but making those things match is monumental.  Right now, my father has a dog-eared, water-afflicted, torn cover copy of a book about the Beatnik movement.  It’s an anthology, and I want to say it’s a first edition of “The Portable Beat Reader,” but it’s stashed somewhere in his room at Taffy’s.

I bought him that book in the mid-1990s, having spotted it at a time when I was reading all the ‘road’ stories I could inhale.  Dad had just leant me “On the Road” and I thought that this would be perfect for him.  That book has been loved, nearly to death, because it was perfect for him.  That’s really what a present should be.  Perfect for someone.  Not picked up because “Oh crap, it’s January and my brother’s going to be 21 this year!” but selected because you know that the person is going to love it.

Feynman, though, man.

What a fucking crazy guy!  My father met him, actually.

We all know about Challenger.  It blew up because of an O-ring froze and cracked when it re-heated.

That video should be familiar to you.  If not, know this.  Standing back there, over in the corner where you cannot see them from this angle, is a team of ‘crack experts’ who worked with Feynman.  One of them is named Steve Epstein.

If you read the graphic novel on Feynman, the last bit (starts at page 232) is him dealing with NASA shit and politics.  When he starts in on talking about the probability of any failure with a shuttle being 1/100 (and not the 1/100.000 people were saying), I smile, knowing that of all the things he may have worked on with my father, probability was surely one of them.

Oh and the most important thing I ever learned from Feynman was than you can’t quit when you ‘name’ a thing.  We may know the name of magnetism, we know how it works, but we do not know why it works.  Knowing a name is just the beginning.

Isn’t science cool?

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