A Cruel Prank on a Genius

For your mid-sunday viewing pleasure, here is a delightful documentary from NOVA about the interesting life of Richard Feynman. Feynman is a Noble prize winning theoretical physicist and über genius who identified himself as an explorer.

I’m an explorer, okay? I get curious about everything, and I want to investigate all kinds of stuff.

Upon his death at the age of 69, the New York Times eulogized him as “arguably the most brilliant, iconoclastic and influential of the post war generation of theoretical physicists”. He played percussion instruments, travelled places and explored a multitude of ideas, cultures and languages all in the name of fun. Of all the things he was curious about, the obscure land of Tanna Tuva held a special place in his mind and heart. By his own account, he found out about it when he was a kid and wanted to visit the place for, you guessed it, ‘fun’. This is how he recollects what made him yearn to go to Tuva.

We saw that the capital, this is what did it, the capital was K-Y-Z-Y-L. [We] grinned at each other because anyplace that got a capital named K-Y-Z-Y-L just gotta be interesting.

The almost hour-long video is laced with brilliant insights from Mr.Feynman where he casually, but with great pleasure and amusement, details some of his works and thought processes but the central plot is his fascinating and a bit obsessive quest to visit the Republic of Tuva which was part of the then USSR. Although he was well-known for his work as a researcher and intellectual, cold war bureaucracy prevented him from making his much desired trip. Along with his friend Ralph Leighton, he came up with all kinds of schemes like participating in a vocal singing competition held in Mongolia which would allow him to visit parts of Russia ,from where he could reach Tuva undetected by the authorities, each of his scheme falling through somehow unsuccessfully. His final plan, arranging an elaborate arts show for the cultural artifacts from the ‘Silk Road‘ countries, at last gave him the needed paperwork for ‘an all expenses paid’ visit to Tuva only to be stopped by a cruel and insurmountable joke by fate.

One often languishes in the pain of trying to understand the complexities of one’s being and his surroundings. Lives of people like Feynman are testimony to the most clichéd but probably the truest way to live – curiously. His plan was not to find happiness or fame or even wisdom but to simply be open and curious about everything and to maintain the high of the beginner’s mind throughout his life.

[Post: 245 of 365] [Days Missed: 69]
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