Genius

I’ve been flipping through a James Gleick book I originally read during those heady Trichy-with-more-coconut-oil-in-the-hair-than-is-ideal engineering days.

It’s incredible, but just when I think I can’t be any more amazed by the brilliance – in every aspect conceivable – of one of the greatest scientists the world has ever seen, there suddenly comes this little nugget, that brilliant anecdote that raises the man to even greater heights. Apotheosis, if my rusty recollection of that blue-and-terrible-reprint Barrons book serve me right.

The latest cause of wonderment is the sheer respect a man like Oppenheimer had for what was, at that time (Los Alamos Bomb Labs), a 25 year old Feynman. Let’s leave the moral implications of what happened at Los Alamos during those frenetic years aside (will be saved for another day and another boring blog post), but the impact that – in Oppenheimer’s own words – ‘little Richard’ made on the best scientific minds of arguably any generation stands testament to the man’s remarkable, remarkable genius.

Oppenheimer, try as he did, was ultimately unsuccessful in taking Feynman with him to Berkeley (Feynman chose to go instead, with Hans Bethe to Cornell), but a trenchant letter to Raymond Birge (who was slow to make Feynman a Berkeley offer) evinces Oppenheimer’s respect for Feynman – “…Too much courage was not required in making a commitment to a young scientist… He is not only an extremely brilliant theorist, but a man of great robustness, responsibility and warmth, a brilliant and lucid teacher… we regard him as invaluable here; he has been given a responsibility and his work carries a weight far beyond his years…”

Both Bethe and Wigner were effusive in praise for the young genius – wih Bethe going so far as saying that he would rather lose any two scientists than lose Feynman, but perhaps the ultimate tribute came from Wigner at Princeton – “He is a second Dirac” Said Wigner, in direct reference to the Physics Demi god, “only this time Human”.

What a man. What a man.

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