March to the Beat of a Different Drummer
Physicist Richard Feynman has long been something of a hero of mine. Not, I assure you, because of my deep and abiding love of physics. While I am familiar with the fundamental principles of physics, I can do pretty much none of the calculations needed to solve the puzzles of the universe.
He is a hero because he was a thinker and a free spirit. He worked on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos and solved the puzzle of the Challenger Explosion. He won a Nobel Prize for his work with computing the probability of a transition of a quantum from one state to some other subsequent state. He was involved in one of the greatest love affairs in modern history with his wife Arline in the few years they had together before her early passing. In his later years while a professor at Cal Tech he would do calculations in a strip club in Pasadena in a determined effort to as Josh Roslar wrote in the Oxonian Review to “Do his part in bridging the great divide between theoretical physics and female nudity.” He played bongos at department gathering and did his own thing his way while excelling in his field.
Before we go any further with this go over to Amazon right now and order his two books, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman and What Do You Care What Other People Think?. Once that is done, order Perfectly Reasonable Variations which is a volume of collected letters over his lifetime. You will thank me, and I will graciously accept all thanks in the form of cash or rare wine. Order the hard copies, not digital, as you will find yourself referring to them often.
There are a few Feynman principles that we should all take to heart as we go about our daily lives. Richard Feynman was a great thinker on matters outside the purview of math, and many of his conclusions were profound, and the adherence to some of his thoughts might just make the world a better place.
“I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain.”
This is a big one. I have touched on it several times in the past, but the world would be a better place if folks would learn just to say “I do not know”. You do not know the meaning of it all; you do not have Gods name and address in your little black book, there is no proof that your version of the powers of the universe is any better or more accurate than anyone else’s. Your thoughts on love, life, sex, fun and the world are are no more valid than anyone else’s. You may think, you may passionately believe, but you do not know. Your political theories are as dumb as the next guys. Far from just not knowing everything the fact is that none of us really know very much about this world and this life. Just admit you do not know and shut the fuck up.
People treat it as a blow to our ego and a reduction of our net worth in the world to admit we do not know something. People who have no clue how to get there will give detailed directions to Muscogee to a stranger who stops to ask. Better the poor traveler spends hours being lost and frustrated than simply admit we do not know. It seems to be a universal flaw and perhaps instead of doing self-ratification and praise routines in the mirror each morning as some self-help gurus suggest we should simply look ourselves in the eye and admit we do not know 100 times.
The best part about admitting that we do not know is that we are now free to search for the answer. We may never find it but rather than just blindly accept a belief some cleric or bureaucrat insists you accept as truth we are now free to delve into the matter and find things out for ourselves. Of course, we also build up karma points as we will fuck up a lot fewer lives by giving incorrect answers with a high degree of certainty.
Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is fascinating if you go into it deeply enough.
This would be the next logical maxim to adopt in our lives. You may never know, but you can explore to your heart’s content. A passionate curiosity and love of reading are the only reason I have made it this far in life. Finance, baseball, poker, horse racing, history, politics, religion or just about anything that interests me I have taken a deep dive reading, studying and learning as much as I can on the subject. I have never found the ultimate answer to any of them or all the answers or even most of the answers about much of anything at this point in my life. However, I know a lot more than I did before I dove into them and on balance, this has made my life a lot better. The world is a fascinating place, and life offers stupendous opportunities but to find them you have to explore. The meaning of it all is not discoverable until perhaps that last nanosecond before we pass but the exploration of it all is possible. This exploration makes for a much more interesting and entertaining life than just accepting what you are told.
“We are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.”
Challenge everything you think you know all the time. Hold all your carefully held ideas and ideals up to the deepest scrutiny. Blow up your cherished conclusions as often as possible. Ask what if often.
Charlie Munger, another of my favorite thinkers recently said “I think it’s my duty to destroy old ideas”. I know so many people whose main problem of life, is that the old ideas displace the entry of new ideas that are better. That is the absolute standard outcome in life. There’s an old German folk saying, “We’re too soon old and too late smart.” That’s everybody’s problem. And the reason we’re too late smart is that the stupid ideas we already have, we can’t get rid of! Now, it’s a good thing that we have that problem, in marriage that may be good for the stability of marriage that we stick with our old ideas. But in most fields, you want to get rid of your old ideas. It’s a good habit, and it gives you a big advantage in the competitive game of life. Other people are so very bad at it. What happens is, as you spout ideas out, what you’re doing is you’re pounding them in. So you get these ideas, and then you start agitating them and saying them and so forth. And of course, the person you’re really convincing is you who already had the ideas. You’re just pounding them in harder and harder.”
What Do You Care What Other people Think?
The title of one of Feynman’s book holds some sound advice. He also once said that ““You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.” It is your life. It does not matter than old Aunt Ethel does not like your lifestyle. Let the old biddy live her life as she sees fit, and you do the same. Find the work you want, the people you want around you, your passions, your desires and quit giving a rats ass about what the world thinks about your choices. You may have to care what your boss thinks, and what your spouse thinks occasionally but as for the great mystical “they” let them sally forth and go fuck themselves.
This is your life. In the final closing moments of your life “they” will not be there with you when you wished you had done things differently. “They” do not care if you like your life. Their only concern is that it conforms to their idea of what your life should be. Quit giving half a shit what the part of the world that is not an intimate part of your life thinks.
There is a flip side to this. As long as it does not cause you, direct harm quit giving a shit what other people do with their life. If your neighbor prefers a joint while you like a nice scotch at the end of the day, who cares? If the guy in the next office prefers boys to girls why should you give a shit? If you see some older dude with a hairline receding like the Philadelphia Phillies midway through the season wearing an ugly tropical shirt strolling along, it’s probably me and why the hell should you care how I dress?That’s my wife’s problem, and she leaves too early in the morning to stop me! How other people live their life is up to them, and you should not care even the smallest bit.
Quit worrying about what other people think and quit caring how other people live. Your life will be much better for it.
“The highest forms of understanding we can achieve are laughter and human compassion.”
Once you begin to explore and understand yourself and your role in the world you will quickly discover that if you do not learn to laugh at all, you are likely to go mad. Laugh often. Make others laugh when given a chance. Laughter really is the best medicine at the end of the day. Consider some of the absurdities of life. Examine the human body and contemplate that the recreational areas are near the sanitation facilities. One of the physical endowments that men most admire in women is actually just fat glands that nature provided for the purpose of feeding offspring. Consider the brave soul who ate the first oyster. Think about the amount of money spent on lawn care in the US alone. Contemplate the fact that North Carolina actually has a law that says elephants may not be used to plow cotton fields. Ponder the fact that the fastest growing nail is on the middle finger and all the social and communication elements present in such an interesting fact. Life is absurd. Read any set of laws or the tax code and consider how idiotic all of this has become. Learn to laugh. It prevents homicidal rage.
I am a big fan of Ayn Rand and think a lot of her main points are spot on. However, I must part ways with the Randian beliefs when it comes to compassion for our fellow humans. Not everyone’s reduced circumstances is a lack of effort or ability or desire to live off the efforts of others. There is some of that, but some people are born so far behind the 8-ball they will never escape without a hand. I don’t think the way we have waged the war on poverty is working, but we need to care about the worst off in our society. We need to do what we can to lift more folks out of poverty. Have the compassion to help fix a badly broken educations system and help figure out to create real jobs among the worst hit areas of the world.
Show some compassion as you go through the day. The guy who brushed by you with a snarl on the way into work may have just found out that his wife was banging the pool boy and planning to abscond with half his assets. That slow moving waitress could be at her second job of the day and worried about her kid home alone sick with the flu. Sometimes folks are just having a shitty day so don’t be an asshole in return. Throw a bum $20 bucks one in a while. Yeah, they are going to use it on dope and booze but when you fall that far down anything that chases away the pain is probably not a bad thing. Who the hell are we to judge? Try a little kindness once in a while or just practice not being an asshole if that’s too much for you.
I can go on and may at some future point but buy the Feynman books and practice passionate, curious, compassionate living as done by one of the greatest thinkers of our, or any other, time