Richard Feynman: The Great Explainer

You probably hear a lot about the genius scientists like Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton. But have you ever heard about Richard Feynman before? What makes him special is that he’s not only a brilliant mind, he’s also a great teacher. He became known as the great explainer because he was famous for his ability to explain complex scientific ideas in a very simple and understandable way.

Who is Richard Feynman?

Richard Feynman is a Nobel prize winning physicist, who’s known for his fundamental contributions to science (especially in the field of quantum electrodynamics). He’s famous for creating the Feynman diagrams, which are the foundation of our understanding of the subatomic world.

But in addition to being a great scientist, Feynman was also a great teacher and a great explainer. In order to be able to explain complex concepts in simple terms, he always made sure to understand them well himself. Feynman was famous for tirelessly working through equations until the concept he was working with became intuitively easy to understand in his mind. That’s why he was a brilliant teacher, and Bill Gates even called him “The best teacher I never had”.

The Feynman Technique

A famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein states that: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” That’s why one of the best ways to make sure that you understand a certain concept deeply is by trying to teach it to someone else (or at least pretending to do so). This technique of understanding became famous as the Feynman technique, since he’s one of the greatest people known to follow it. If you want to learn something new, deepen your understanding of something you already know, or even help yourself study for an exam, you can try this effective and simple technique.

  1. Choose a topic you want to learn about and start studying it.
  2. Once you feel that you understand it, get a piece of paper and write about it as if you were teaching it to a child. This helps you realize which parts you understand and which parts still have gaps.
  3. Whenever you get stuck on something, get back to studying and try to understand it better, then repeat step 2.
  4. The last step is to try to explain the topic using only simple language. One of the ways by which we trick ourselves is that we use complicated vocabulary and jargon to mask our lack of understanding. By eliminating this jargon, we’re pushing ourselves to see if we truly and fully understand the topic at hand.

Once you can explain an idea in simple language, you can know that you deeply understood it and you’ll remember it for a long time.

The Quotable Feynman

The Quotable Feynman is a book that contains around 500 quotes by Richard Feynman gathered by his daughter from many sources, including some of his unpublished work. They span a wide range of topics and are very inspirational and insightful. Here are some of the best quotes I like in this book:

  • “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.”
  • “Some people say, ‘How can you live without knowing?’ I do not know what they mean. I always live without knowing. That is easy. How you get to know is what I want to know.”
  • “I have a philosophy that it doesn’t do any good to go and make regrets about what you did before but to try and remember how you made the decision at the time.”
  • “The more I ask why, it gets interesting. That’s my idea, that the deeper a thing is the more interesting it gets.”
  • “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Image by: Unknown author / Public domain

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