Friday, 12 November 2010

Richard Feynman's dad

Melville Feynman was a little known businessman.  He made a major contribution to physics, the development of the atomic bomb, science teaching and popularising physics.


When all the other dads were teaching their kids "That's the Lesser Spotted Winzelschmurter", Melville encouraged his son to observe what this curious creature did, how it survived and thrived.

He also trained his son to translate facts into domestic terms, by answering the question "What does that mean in real terms?".  Melville would take the details given of the height of an object and tell Richard "That means this was as high as 3 copies of our house stacked on top of each other."  His Nobel prize winning son found himself making this translation as a natural reflex.

I'm a fan of Melville because he discouraged the practice of labelling and switching off brain.  Above all he was a great user of the 'So what?' question.  

What a pity Melville was just a closet scientist and didn't turn his attention to personality, temperament and cognitive style.  He might have encouraged us to think about the results of personality inventories.  If he had, we might not keep tripping over the jargon of inventories.  We'd also have a clearer idea of how the results show up in our lives.

Above all, we'd focus more on how to cope with individual differences and work to our strengths.

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