We See Feynman Everywhere
"Richard Feynman
and his son Carl"
Richard Feynman

Go to the Japanese
Photo of Feynman and Carl Tatsuo Tabata
Translated and adapted from the Japanese version published in "Noruka-Soruka Tsushin" (The Friends of Tuva - Japan Newsletter).
Copyright © 1999-2001 by Tatsuo Tabata

  1. The Origin of "Tuva or Bust"
  2. Feynman and Nanotechnology
  3. Feynman's Tall Order
  4. Scientists' Required Reading
  5. "Cargo Cult Science"
  6. Feynman and "The Golem"
  7. Feynman and "The End of Science"

Read other essays on Feynman
In order not to be obliged to write in every issue of The Friends of Tuva - Japan Newsletter, I was thinking to entitle this series of essays "About Mr. Feynman in Fits and Starts." However, the editor of The Newsletter declared that its number of issues per year would be reduced, making the above title a possible absurdity. There is also the fact that it was necessary for me to translate the previous series into English. I have therefore come to think it appropriate to give this series such a new name that might be easily translated into English. Thus the present title has been adopted.

The title of the English version of the previous series, "What Little I Can Talk about Feynman," is a free translation of the original Japanese title, a literal translation of which would be "Non-Relational Relations between Mr. Feynman and Me." "What Little" comes from one of my favorite books, "What Little I Remember," written by Otto Frisch (Cambridge University Press, 1979), who is a physicist born in Austria and is known by the first use of the term "nuclear fission." His "Little" is full of wit, but my "Little," needless to say, has its literal meaning only.

The title of the present series also includes a little bit of resistance to the editor's words written in the previous issue of The Newsletter, "Considering from the nature of our club, it is necessary for us to collect new stories about Feynman and provide them to the members. However, Feynman himself is not living now, so that it is difficult to get such stories."

Reading books on physics or science in general, we very often find the name of Feynman. If we try to learn something from his achievements and his curious mind on such occasions, new stories about Feynman would be born, wouldn't they? Saying this big thing, however, I am not sure if I can tell you a lot of new Feynman stories. This series might end up writing only commonplace comments to some books in which we find descriptions about Feynman. Anyway, I will start to write, and expect to hear criticisms from readers.

1. The Origin of "Tuva or Bust"

The preliminary issue, numbered volume 0, of Noruka-Soruka Tsushin [the newsletter of Friends of Tuva - Japan (FOTJ)] had also an English title. The title included a word wrongly borrowed from the title of the book "Tuva or Bust," which was written by Ralph Leighton on Richard Feynman's planning for his last adventure. I wrote to Ms. Hoki, the leader of FOTJ and editor of Noruka-Soruka Tsushin, that the title of Leighton's book was not "Tuva or Burst" but "Tuva or Bust." Then she removed the English title from its first issue. I am therefore responsible for the disappearance of the English title. In the first issue, Ms. Hoki cited my letter to her together with the explanations of the words "burst" and "bust" taken from an English-Japanese dictionary. The explanation for "bust" included a phrase, "Pikes Peak or bust," the meaning of which was given as "to accomplish one's aim by overcoming every difficulty." I guessed that the title of Leighton's book was based on this phrase, but was unable to understand what Pikes Peak was.1

The other day, I thought of asking Robb about the origin of "Tuva or Bust," and sent him an e-mail message. Robb -- Mr. Robert M. Wade -- is the creator of the website called "The Tuvan Hillbillys site." This site was introduced in Noruka-Soruka Tsushin volume 14, but the URL printed there had a misprint. I tried everything to get access to the site, and found Robb's e-mail address. He is one of the persons to whom I sent the English translation of the first chapter of "What Little I Can Talk about Feynman."

Robb promptly responded me with a long message. Before citing it, I would like to write how he has become interested in Tuva and Richard Feynman. From 1990 to 1992, Robb lived in Moscow and worked as a painter of the American Embassy. Here a painter means not an artist who draws pictures but a worker who paints houses, rooms, etc. I confirmed this by asking Robb, who answered, "I was capable of painting in one color (usually white)." One of Robb's good American friends, who also worked there, was given a copy of "Tuva or Bust" by his friend before coming to Moscow, and was told that he should visit Tuva during his stay in Russia. Robb borrowed the book and read it, becoming fascinated by Tuva. Robb's friend wrote a letter to the author, Ralph Leighton, and was told the telephone number of a lady, Rada Chakir, who lived in Tuva and had helped Ralph make his trip. By her aid, Robb and his friend were able to arrive at Kyzyl after hard traveling from Moscow to Tuva. Luckily the second international symposium on Khoomei was in progress at that time, and Rada arranged tickets to the last performances. They also enjoyed looking at a traditional wrestling match and beautiful countryside.

After seeing a paradise in this trip, Robb's life has been changed. Returning to United States, he went back to the university and finished his Bachelor's degree in Russian, and completed a Master thesis under the title of "Animal Imagery in the Tuvan Shamanic Healing." Thus his interest in Feynman started from "Tuva and Bust," and he also read other books of Feynman. He especially likes Feynman's accounts of safe cracking.

I am citing below Robb's e-mail message on the origin of the title "Tuva and Bust" by his permission:

Mon., 22 Jan. '96

Hi Tatsu,

I am more than happy to explain the phrase ". . . or bust". I often explain it to Russian friends of mine, so I have the whole explanation well memorized.

One of the meanings of the word "bust" is "to ruin financially" (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1979). In the last century, when pioneers were heading from the Eastern portion of the United States to settle the then "Wild" west, many would put signs on their wagons which would read "(destination) or bust" -- example: "California of Bust", "Oregon of Bust". For many of these settlers, the move out west was a desperate gamble for them, for they were leaving family, friends, and all that was familiar in the hopes for a better future for themselves and their families in the West. The phrase displays not only an understanding that failure to reach the intended destination could mean total ruin, but it also reveals something about the spirit of the settler -- their willingness to attempt a journey into the unknown even though the prospect of failure was imminent.

This phrase became popularized again in America in this century during the Great Depression of 1929. Many poor farmers from the central states of America, such as Oklahoma, were caught not only in the middle of the Depression, but also in the middle of a terrible drought, which threatened many with starvation. Thousands of these farmers packed up all of their meager belongings and headed out to California, where they had heard about prospects of available jobs and fertile farmland. Like their ancestor before them, they once again would hang banners on their old cars and trucks saying "California of Bust". Again, meaning they would reach their destination "or die trying," as a popular synonym states.

So you can see, this phrase is not really at all out of character for Richard Feynman, who tried to reach Tuva "at all costs." The only tragedy is that like so many of his travelling predecessors, he did not reach that final destination. I like to think that his efforts did not go in vain, for he opened the way to Tuva for his many fellow travelers.

Tatsu, I'm sorry this is such a long explanation, but I thought you might find it interesting (I know I certainly do). I hope you enjoy it.


I should be happy if you also enjoyed reading Robb's explanation of the origin of ". . . or Bust."

  1. (Note added later) An invitation letter of an academic conference to be held in Denver, Colorado, arrived at me wrongly, and fortunately to me it included this explanation: The Pikes Peak (14,110 feet) is known as the Summit of America, and offers the world's highest railroad system. "Pikes Peak or bust" must be the phrase made before the railroad system was built. --We happen to learn something from an unexpected source.-- (22 Dec 1999)

2. Feynman and Nanotechnology

I read the book "Nano!" (Bantam, 1995) written by Ed Regis, who was also the author of "Who Got Einstein's Office?" (Addison-Wesley, 1987). "Nano!" is a story centered around Eric Drexler's thought and activities to construct machines that manipulate matter at the molecular level. It was Richard Feynman that made the first proposal for such technology.

On December 29, 1959, Feynman delivered the lecture entitled "There's plenty of room at the bottom: An invitation to enter a new field of physics." Here "the bottom" means the lowest end of the scale, namely the micro-world. (The transcript of this lecture is available from a web site.) At the end of this lecture, Feynman proposed to offer two prizes of $1,000 each. One is to the first person who is able to take the information on the page of a book and put it on an area 1/25,000 smaller in linear scale to be read by an electron microscope. The other is to the first person who made an operating electric motor that is only 1/64-inch cube.

Feynman expected that claimants for such prizes would appear rather soon. The expectation was right, and he had to pay for the prizes without waiting long (a 1/64-inch square motor in 1960 and a scale reduction of 1/25,000 in 1985). To commemorate this, the $10,000 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology is now provided.

In Regis' book, descriptions are given of Chris Petersen, who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and married Eric Drexler. She never did like physics at MIT, and explained the reason as follows: Even at MIT, physics teachers were of bad quality. One day, she went to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to visit a friend there, and they attended an informal question-and-answer session led by Richard Feynman. Then she thought, "If I could just learn physics from this man!" I did not expect to find the words of praise for fine lectures of the theoretical physicist Feynman in the book on nanotechnology. Considering the fact that he was the creator of the concept of this technology, however, this was quite natural.

In "Nano!" we also read about Feynman's son, Carl. In January 1981, Eric Drexler gave a series of lectures on molecular-scale devices at MIT. At the beginning of the talk, he asked if anyone in the audience had ever heard of an idea like this. Then a young guy in the back raised his hand and said, "Well, a talk by Richard Feynman in 1959." Drexler said, "Yes, that's the first citation in my paper. Anyone else?" No. So he went on with his lecture, but the guy turned out to be Carl Feynman afterward.

A similar anecdote about a great physicist and his son, who talked about his father's thought, is found in John Horgan's book "The End of Science" (Addison-Wesley, 1996). The American theoretical physicist John wheeler has the faith that humans will one day find The Answer to describe not only the final theory of physics but also the secret of life and the solution to the riddle of the universe. However, his mentor Niels Bohr had the opposing thought. Wheeler learned of Bohr's view not directly from the great man but from his son only after Bohr's death.

Now let us return to "Nano!" Eric had become friendly with Carl after that lecture, and had invited him to parties. One night Carl came with his father. Eric recalled that being embarrassed to say, "This is Richard Feynman," he introduced Feynman as "Richard." Why was Eric embarrassed? I thought the reason to be that Eric, as the host of the party, had been forced to introduce Feynman in spite of the fact that the latter had been well known by all the attendants. However, this was not the case. Regis writes about one of the attendant, Kevin Nelson, who had enjoyed talking with Feynman, thinking him to be "some kid's father." Thus the reason must have been that receiving the visit of an important person, Eric was at a loss how to treat him.

There is a further story about Feynman in that party. Nelson recalls that Feynman talked about Eric's molecular device, "That's simple stuff. Why doesn't he work on something different?" This is a remark only a no-ordinary genius can say.

3. Feynman's Tall Order

Some of Japanese physicists, Torahiko Terada and Ukitiro Nakaya for example, are known as a good essayist. The Nobel-Prize physicists Hideki Yukawa and Sin-itiro Tomonaga also produced appealing writings. Fumiko Yonezawa, who was the first lady President of the Physical Society of Japan, recently published her second collection of essays. I, a humble physicist, am enjoying writing essays on Richard Feynman too.

I had been thinking such a relation between physicists and essays to be a phenomenon peculiar to Japan. These days, however, there are also good essayists among American physicists. Examples are Hans Christian von Baeyer and Alan Lightman. Both of them are a theoretical physicist. The former is the recipient of the Science Journalism Award of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The latter teaches the technique of writing besides physics at MIT, and published two novels, "Einstein's Dream" (Pantheon, 1993) and "Good Benito" (Pantheon, 1994).

Each of 17 essays in Baeyer's "The Fermi Solution" (Random House, 1993), a slim book of 172 pages, teaches us various aspects of physics (from experimental to theoretical, and from particle to solid-state physics) and includes the author's light and witty comment. Lightman's "Dance for Two" (Pantheon, 1996), also a thin book of 169 pages, consists of 24 selected essays of wide variety: physicist's eye description of a scene, easy introduction to physics and its history, a criticism of the science policy and short science fictions.

In the essay entitled "Nothing but the truth" in "Dance for Two," Lightman gives a recollection about Richard Feynman. Lightman first writes as follows: Writers and artists modify their direct experiences in their works to fit their purposes. Similarly, scientific facts cannot simply be grasped without appropriate interpretation of experimental results. Thus personal prejudices happened often in the history of science.

As an example of misleading interpretations, Lightman describes about a three-page paper, "On the Theory of Stars," published by the famous physicist Lev Davidovich Landau in 1932. Landau theoretically studied the balance of inward gravitational forces against the outward quantum mechanical pressure in burnt-out stars and got the result that such stars would suffer complete inward collapse if slightly more massive than the sun. Considering that this result was contradicted to the observed facts, Landau concluded that the laws of quantum mechanics were violated. He was lead to the wrong conclusion because he did not notice that the stable massive stars observed were not the burnt-out stars his calculations applied to. Even the great Landau was fooled by the result that was so disturbing to common sense but could have been one of the first predictions of the existence of black holes.

Lightman's another example in theoretical physics is the following famous story: In 1917 Albert Einstein modified his 1915 theory of gravity in an ad hoc manner, because it predicted a dynamic universe in contradiction to the then held static nature of the universe. However, Einstein repented the modification in 1929, when Edwin Hubble found observationally that the universe was expanding.

Further examples are taken from experimental physics, i.e., Joseph Weber's report on the first detection of gravitational radiation in 1969 and Buford Price's announcement of the evidence for the detection of magnetic monopoles. Both of these results were not confirmed by more sensitive measurements made later. Lightman concludes his story with Richard Feynman's commencement address given to future scientists. The address is summarized as follows: "When we do scientific research, when we publish our results, we should try to think of every possible way we could be wrong." Lightman adds, "His words hovered in the thick air, blending with the various ambitions and beliefs gathered there. It was a tall order."

"The discovery of cold fusion" announced by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons in 1989 is one of the latest cases in which the scientists lacked the consideration of Feynman's tall order.

(Feb 1997; Engl. transl. Nov 1999)

4. Scientists' Required Reading

Richard Feynman gave a course at Caltech called "Potentialities and Limitations of Computing Machines" from 1983 to 1986. The lecture note of this course was published as a book entitled "The Feynman Lectures on Computation" (Anthony J. G. Hey and Robin W. Allen ed., Addison-Wesley, 1996). One of the editors, Hey, writes in the foreword, "Although the lectures were given some ten years ago, much of the material is relatively 'timeless' and represents a Feynmanesque overview of some standard topics in computer science . . . His philosophy of learning and discovery also comes through strongly in these lectures."

Not a few persons would wonder why the theoretical physicist Feynman gave the lectures on computation (I myself was one of such persons). Feynman's interest in computers dates back to the years when he joined the Manhattan project as a youth before getting Ph.D. This story is written in the section "Loss Alamos from Below" of the book "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" He was the leader of the IBM group to calculate the energy release during the bomb's implosion by the method of "parallel computing" in the present terminology.

Hey gives an afterword in "The Feynman Lectures on Computation"; it is entitled "Memories of Richard Feynman." The same article was also published in "Physics Today," September 1996 issue, pp. 44-49. In this article Hey writes, "Feynman's Nobel Prize lecture should be required reading for all aspiring scientists" (note that he does not say "physicists" but "scientists"). I have been idle and have never read Feynman's Nobel Prize lecture, but wish to read it in the near future to find why it is required reading.

Hey also refers to the other piece of required reading for students of all disciplines, Feynman's article on "Cargo Cult Science." A modified version of this article was published as the last story of "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" Hey explains that it was originally Feynman's commencement address to new Caltech graduates in 1974. This may be the same address as the one Alan Lightman referred to (see the previous section of this essay).

(May 1997; Engl. transl. Dec 1999)

5. "Cargo Cult Science"

I was curious about what was the title "Cargo Cult Science" in the Japanese edition of "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" So I looked at it in the book at a bookstore, finding that the translator Ms. Onuki only used the phonetic copy in Japanese characters of the English words. At the place of its first appearance, she wrote also a Japanese phrase meaning "science believing in cargoes" in parentheses.

I have thought of the translation "Chakuni Negai no Magai-Kagaku" (pseudoscience to hope the arrival of cargoes). In the original title, "cargo" and "cult" alliterate. This is converted into an end rhyme between "negai" (hoping) and "magai" (pseudo) in the translation. I flatter myself that I have done well in this translation. (In fact it has come into my mind without much pondering.)

The title "Cargo Cult Science" comes from the following story: It happened on a southern island, which had been used as a transit base of the airforce during the war. The people of the island got the benefit of good materials from airplanes landing there. After the war they wanted the same thing to happen and made an apparent copy of runways, fires along the sides of these and a wooden hut for a control person with headphones and antennas (made of wood and bamboo). The form was perfect, but it did not work because of the missing of something essential. Feynman called this fake situation "cargo cult science."

Feynman says that what is missing in cult cargo science is a kind of scientific integrity. When I was writing the Japanese version of this essay, I stopped writing at this point for a few days to find a good Japanese word for integrity. Then I found an interesting poster of a labor-information magazine in the commuting train. The title of an article in the advertised issue included the English word of "integrity." The topic of the article was features necessary for the technical employee in coming years, and the Japanese translation given there for integrity was "ikkanse" (consistency). This seemed to me to contradict another feature the author mentions, double career, to some extent.

Feynman gave the following example for integrity: "If you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid." Thus Feynman's "integrity" is considered equivalent to honesty. Onuki gives two words in her translation, one of them in parentheses: "ryoshin (keppekisa)" [conscience (fastidiousness)]. Both of these words are rather similar to honesty.

It sounds a little strange to say that the people of the southern island lacked honesty in making their contrivances. From our viewpoint, however, their works were false things. Therefore, they were cheating themselves unconsciously owing to their scientific illiteracy. Namely, they were scientifically dishonest without noticing it.

Scientists should not be dishonest either consciously or unconsciously. Not to be dishonest consciously is partly the matter of moral. For not being dishonest unconsciously, scientists have to be well trained in their subject.

(May 1997; Engl. transl. Jan 2000)

6. Feynman and "The Golem"

Feynman's advice in the same line as his talks described in the previous chapters "Feynman's Tall Order" and "'Cargo Cult Science'" can also be found in the book "The Golem: What Everyone Should Know about Science," written by Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993). The golem in the title of this book is a creature of Jewish mythology, a human-shaped being made by man from clay and water. It becomes stronger and stronger day by day, follows orders, does his master's work and protects him from the enemy. The golem is however clumsy and dangerous, and may kill the master with vigor.

Collins and Pinch compare the golem to science. Using case studies, they explain the following: All the results of scientific experiments do not allow us a clear-cut interpretation, but a definitive interpretation is mostly established only after different opinions are weeded out on the basis of good theories and judgments. The case studies range from the experimental confirmation of the theory of relativity to the sex life of the whiptail lizard. Among those episodes, the one that includes Feynman's words is the last chapter on the story of the missing solar neutrinos.

The source of solar energy is the nuclear fusion reaction. As a result of this reaction, sub-nuclear particles called neutrinos are produced, and some of them come to the earth. Neutrinos have no electric charge and zero or very tiny mass, so that they interact with matter scarcely. This makes it extremely difficult to detect them. Ray Davis's group at Brookhaven National Laboratory tried to detect solar neutrinos for twenty years and got the first results in 1967. They indicated a very low flux of neutrinos compared with the theoretical prediction made by John Bahcall, who was then a post-doctoral student at Cal Tech.

Bahcall initially co-operated with Davis's group for the experimental project, so that he tried to correct the theoretical value as much as possible by replacing the input data by new ones in order to show that the theory was consistent with the experiment. Richard Feynman said to him, "You did nothing wrong. If there is a contradiction, it makes the result more rather than less important." The authors of "The Golem" write that it seems to have been good advice and that Bahcall has managed to continue to make a career out of solar neutrinos by stressing the scientific importance of the problem.

Bahcall's career did not suffer from the conflict between the experimental results and the theoretical prediction; he won prizes for his work on solar neutrinos and got the highly prestigious post of Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. This is one of the stories that indicate the excellence of Feynman's advice. As for the conflicting results of the solar neutrino flux, the authors write in "Postscript 1992" that negotiations were still in progress.

(Nov 1997; Engl. transl. 7 Aug 2001)

7. Feynman and "The End of Science"

In the section entitled "Feynman and Nanotechnology" I mentioned the book "The End of Science" written by John Horgan. An article just like a summarized version of the book was published in the "Back Page" column of APS News Vol. 5, No. 11 (1996). This column always carries such an article that evokes discussion about the relation between physics and society. In his article Horgan cites Feynman's words to support his own argument. So I would like to give a summary of the summary here.

The title of Horgan's article is "Is Science a Victim of its own Success?" First, he describes about various situations that make funding for basic research difficult and about different limits brought about by the advancement of science itself. He insists that in spite of these the greatest threat to science's future is its past success. Then he anticipates that in science at its purest and grandest, i.e., in the primordial human quest to understand the universe and our place in it, further research may yield no more great revelations or revolutions but only incremental, diminishing returns. The vast majority of scientists would be content to fill in details of the great paradigms laid down by their predecessors.

There would be however some ambitious scientists who want to create revolutions in knowledge analogous to those triggered by Darwin's theory of evolution or by quantum mechanics. However, they have to rely on the method of speculative, non-empirical mode. Hogan calls it ironic science. Ironic science, he considers, might offer points of view interesting and provocative but does not converge on the truth.

As an example of ironic science, Hogan refers to superstring theory, which for more than a decade has been the leading contender for a unified theory of physics. Superstring theory posits that all the matter and energy in the universe and even space and time stem from infinitesimal, string-like particles wriggling in a hyperspace consisting of 10 (or more) dimensions. Unfortunately, probing the realm of superstring directly would require an accelerator 1,000 light years around. This problem led the Nobel laureate Sheldon Glashow of Harvard University to compare superstring theorists to "medieval theologians."

Next, Hogan describes an counterargument against some optimists who asserts science's boundless possibilities, and cite the following words of Richard Feynman:

"The age in which we live is the age in which we are discovering the fundamental laws of nature, and that day will never come again."

These words are taken from "The Character of Physical Law" (BBC, London, 1965; MIT Press, Cambridge, Ma, 1967). Hogan concludes as follows:

Modern science has left many deep questions, which will probably never be definitively answered. These unanswerable questions give rise to superstring theory and other ironic theories. Ironic science, like great literature or art or philosophy, can ensure that we retain our sense of wonder before the mystery of the universe, but cannot give us the truth.

Four comments submitted against Hogan's article and his reply to them were published in later issues of APS News. I will introduce you to them in the next section. We will also read Feynman's other words there.

(Jun 1998; Engl. transl. 5 Jul 2002)

8. Feynman Drives Out Feynman

(To appear soon)

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