Saturday, August 28, 1999

Stage Performance: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman

The prestigious journal of science, Nature, has "Book reviews" column, and this column includes a sub-column named "Science in culture" to present reviews on classic books, stage performance, etc. The sub-column in the issue of April 8, 1999, was devoted to the review of the stage performance by Mike Maran Productions based on Feynman's best-selling book, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! The reviewer is John Polkinghorne, who is past President of Queens' College and internationally known as both a theoretical physicist and a theologian.

As for the book, Polkinghorne writes, "I have to say that, though I am a great admirer of Feynman the physicist, I have never cared for it much." However, it is a comfort to Feynman fans that he refers to "a much more complex and interesting character" concealed behind the mask of a fun-loving New York kid, giving as its evidence "the detailed and carefully preserved archive" found by James Gleick, the author of the successful biography of Feynman, Genius.

Much greater delight comes to Feynman fans when Polkinghorne finally says, "Mike Maran is to be congratulated on a lively contribution to ... dramatic performances with some scientific content," and about half the audience under the age of 16 present with the reviewer "will have caught something of the excitement and value of science ..., inspired by someone who was both a very great scientist and an accomplished showman." I very much wish that the same stage performance be also given in our country.

Read essays related to Richard Feynman: "What Do I Care What Mr. Feynman Thinks?"

Sunday, August 01, 1999

Freedom to Doubt

On the first day of his John Danz Lecture, Richard Feynman said that the freedom to doubt was an important matter in the sciences and believably in other fields [1]. In the second day, he fiercely criticized that the Russia in those days [2] was not free. This political criticism is a little strange considering his "actively irresponsible" attitude towards social problems. Anyway, freedom to doubt is certainly important in any field.

Carl Sagan wrote that at the heart of science was an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes: an openness to new ideas (creative thinking) and skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new (skeptical thinking) [3]. In a sense, these two attitudes can be said to be only different sides of the single mental behavior of doubting. Skeptical thinking is easily understood to have a relation to doubting. Creative thinking is also related to doubting, because, as Sagan noted, the openness of creative mind is to take a possible solution into consideration no matter how it seems to be bizarre or counterintuitive; namely, here is a doubt about regarding a bizarre thing simply as bizarre.

Presently the government of a certain country is irrationally eager to make a law that might suppress the freedom to doubt at the places of education. Feynman would cynically laugh at this [4].
  1. For the publication of the lecture, see footnote 1 of the 19-Jul-1999 story of this column.
  2. The lecture was delivered in 1963, i.e., well before the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
  3. Carl Sagan, "The Demon Haunted World" (Random House, New York, 1996).
  4. Note added later: "The bill to legally recognize the Hinomaru as the national flag and Kimigayo as the national anthem gained final Diet approval on Aug. 9, as the [Japanese] government stepped up moves to end a series of post-war controversies. The legalization was prompted by the suicide of a Hiroshima high school principal in February." (From Asahi Weekly, Aug. 15, 1999) — The legalization is quite an opposite movement against what the principal appealed by his suicide. —
Read essays related to Richard Feynman: "What Do I Care What Mr. Feynman Thinks?"