Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Richard Feynman's Designated Impostor

The Richard Feynman YouTube video that I recently posted created quite a few emails and also quite a few links to the post, so it's time to pass along a Richard Feynman story that is most likely not yet out there in the general public.

I have this hobby of trying to guess what influences have worked on people to make them the people they are today. With practice, you can become amazingly accurate at this.

One evening, a few years back, I was at the rooftop bar at the Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. As I sipped my gin and tonic, I noticed a quite attractive woman talking to two men. As I watched her, it struck me, by the way she was carrying herself and her stance, that she was comfortable around men. I thought to myself, she must have a very strong male influence in her life. As I continued to watch her, I noticed that, while she was comfortable with men, there wasn't the kind of chumminess in the way she conducted herself that would occur, if say, she was the one girl in a family of five boys. It was a different kind of comfortableness. I guessed at that point the influence was probably her father.

It was time for me to move in. I worked my way into the conversation and soon managed to get the other two guys to leave so that I was now one on one with her. As we talked, I noticed that she absorbed and processed information around her in vacuum cleaner like suction. I never witnessed a mind like hers before. She wasn't in any sense a nerd, but vacuum like is the only way to describe how she absorbed information and seemed to process it instantly.

With the earlier observation that her father was probably a very strong influence, I decided to take a shot. I said to her, "I'm guessing your father is a heavy duty scientist or something." At first, she was clearly taken aback by my comment, but then told me that her father was a physicist at Caltech.

I remarked, "Oh that's where, Richard Feynman taught." She told me that her father had been a colleague of Feynman's and that he had a passing resemblance to Feynman. She said that Feynman really got tired of all the reporters that wanted to interview him and that her father often gave the interviews as Feynman, especially to foreign press. This was before 300 channel television, the Internet and YouTube, so a foreign reporter, if he knew what Feynman looked like at all, probably had seen only one photo of him. So through out the rest of the world there are print, radio and television interviews with "Feynman" which were really done by Feynman's designated impostor, a Caltech colleague.

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