The physicist was both a gentleman and scholar.
- Robert Oppenheimer wrote a telling letter of recommendation for Richard Feynman in 1943.
- After praising Feynman's intellectual prowess, Oppenheimer used most of the ink discussing the strength of his character.
- The letter is a stark reminder of the importance of emotional intelligence.
Feynman: Knowing versus Understanding<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7aa3757e3ba249f6addc35c33cde6280"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/NM-zWTU7X-k?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>At the time of this letter, however, Feynman was a 25-year-old learning how to stand on the shoulder of giants. Oppenheimer was happy to boost him up. Thank goodness he did: no one influenced 20<sup>th</sup> century physics like Feynman, a man who was able to step in front of large crowds to explain complex ideas in physics with ease, grace, and humor. </p><p>After explaining that Feynman is "the most brilliant young physicist here," Oppenheimer pivots to his emotional intelligence: his "engaging personality and character," a person who has a "warm feeling for physics in all its aspects." This is important, as many pit science as the cold, unfeeling counterpart to the warm fuzzies that religion offers. This assumption simply isn't true. Science is as much art as analytics, especially when dealing with theoretical physics. Thinkers who can embody this reality prove to be important educators in the gap between ideas and the public. </p><p>Oppenheimer notes Feynman's ability to work with colleagues and the "big shots" on whose shoulders the young physicist was standing on. An unfortunate reality of science (and academia at large) is the territorial nature of its elite. To be able to work with top thinkers in any discipline and not only <em>not</em> threaten but be embraced by superiors is a skill few accomplish. At this young age, Feynman dialed it in. </p><p>Most amusing is Oppenheimer's comparison of Feynman to Paul Dirac, an English theoretical physicist who was so brilliant and odd that Albert Einstein <a href="https://archive.org/details/diracscientificb0000krag/page/82" target="_blank">said of him</a>, "I have trouble with Dirac. This balancing on the dizzying path between genius and madness is awful." Perhaps Oppenheimer was responding to Dirac's criticism of his love for both science and poetry, which Dirac claimed were incompatible. Oppenheimer states that Feynman is as brilliant a thinker, "only this time human." </p><p>This letter is an important reminder that brilliance will get you far, but not far enough. Some will be remembered for their intellect alone. To be recalled for both your brain and humanity is much rarer. By all accounts, Richard Feynman embodied this fully.</p>
American physicist Richard Feynman stands and raises one hand, in front of some shelves at Cal Tech University, Sacramento, California, 1959.
Photo by Joe Munroe/Hulton Archive/Getty Images<p><em>Dear Professor Birge.</em></p><p><em>In these war times it is not always easy to think constructively about the peace that is to follow, even in such relatively small things as the welfare of our department. I would like to make one suggestion to you which concerns that, and about which I have myself a very sure and strong conviction.</em></p><p><em>As you know, we have quite a number of physicists here, and I have run into a few who are young and whose qualities I had not known before. Of these there is one who is in every way so outstanding and so clearly recognized as such, that I think it appropriate to call his name to your attention, with the urgent request that you consider him for a position in the department at the earliest time that that is possible.</em></p><p><em>You may remember the name because he once applied for a fellowship in Berkeley: it is Richard Feynman. He is by all odds the most brilliant young physicist here, and everyone knows this. He is a man of thoroughly engaging character and personality, extremely clear, extremely normal in all respects, and an excellent teacher with a warm feeling for physics in all its aspects. He has the best possible relations both with the theoretical people of whom he is one, and with the experimental people with whom he works in very close harmony.</em></p><p><em>The reason for telling you about him now is that his excellence is so well known, both at Princeton where he worked before he came here, and to a not inconsiderable number of "big shots" on this project, that he has already been offered a position for the post war period, and will most certainly be offered others. I feel that he would be a great strength for our department, tending to tie together its teaching, its research and its experimental and theoretical aspects.</em></p><p><em>I may give you two quotations from men with whom he has worked. Bethe has said that he would rather lose any two other men than Feynman from this present job, and Wigner said, "He is a second Dirac, only this time human."</em></p><p><em>Of course, there are several people here whose recommendation you might want; in the first instance Professors Brode and McMillan. I hope you will not mind my calling this matter to your attention, but I feel that if we can follow the suggestion I have made, all of us will be very happy and proud about it in the future. I cannot too strongly emphasize Feynman's remarkable personal qualities which have been generally recognized by officers, scientists and laity in this community.</em></p><p><em>With every good wish,</em></p><p><em>Robert Oppenheimer</em></p><p><span style=""></span>--</p><p>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>. His next book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</p>
Two meditation pioneers, Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, answer that question in their new book, Altered Traits.
It wasn't until after President Lincoln's death that we would discover one of his most important lessons, hidden in his desk drawer.
Want to be one of the greatest leaders of all time, with a wealth of success, power and respect? Try doing nothing for a change, says Harvard historian Nancy Koehn. This counterintuitive advice applies to moments of crisis, when the stakes are high and emotions are tense, because that is the very time when you're apt to make errors in your decision-making. Anger brings weakness, but you can conquer the trap of emotion by removing yourself from the situation, and sitting in silence to think. To prove that doing nothing in times of severe anger is a leadership skill worth developing, Koehn tells the story of the most important letter Abraham Lincoln never sent—if he had had email or twitter (i.e. quick reactions) back in 1863, the outcome of the Civil War and U.S. history may have been drastically different. It turns out you can win almost any fight if you learn how to respond thoughtfully in time, instead of reacting rashly in an instant. Nancy Koehn is the author of Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times .
In her new book, professor of psychology Lisa Feldman Barrett proposes a radical new theory of emotions.