- May 2022
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scanned for solutions to long-standing problems in his reading,conversations, and everyday life. When he found one, he couldmake a connection that looked to others like a flash of unparalleledbrilliance
Feynman’s approach encouraged him to follow his interests wherever they might lead. He posed questions and constantly
Creating strong and clever connections between disparate areas of knowledge can appear to others to be a flash of genius, in part because they didn't have the prior knowledges nor did they put in the work of collecting, remembering, or juxtaposition.
This method may be one of the primary (only) underpinnings supporting the lone genius myth. This is particularly the case when the underlying ideas were not ones fully developed by the originator. As an example if Einstein had fully developed the ideas of space and time by himself and then put the two together as spacetime, then he's independently built two separate layers, but in reality, he's cleverly juxtaposed two broadly pre-existing ideas and combined them in an intriguing new framing to come up with something new. Because he did this a few times over his life, he's viewed as an even bigger genius, but when we think about what he's done and how, is it really genius or simply an underlying method that may have shaken out anyway by means of statistical thermodynamics of people thinking, reading, communicating, and writing?
Are there other techniques that also masquerade as genius like this, or is this one of the few/only?
Link this to Feynman's mention that his writing is the actual thinking that appears on the pages of his notes. "It's the actual thinking."
As told in Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman byJames Gleick
Forte cleverly combines a story about Feynman from Genius with a quote about Feynman's 12 favorite problems from a piece by Rota. Did they both appear in Gleick's Genius together and Forte quoted them separately, or did he actively use his commonplace to do the juxtaposition for him and thus create a nice juxtaposition himself or was it Gleick's juxtaposition?
The answer will reveal whether Forte is actively using his system for creative and productive work or if the practice is Gleick's.
new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to seewhether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, andpeople will say, “How did he do it? He must be a genius!”
You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a
Gian-Carlo Rota, Indiscrete Thoughts (Boston: Birkhäuser Boston, 1997), 202.
Richard Feynman indicated in an interview that he kept a dozen of his favorite problems at the top of his mind. As he encountered new results and tricks, he tried applying them to those problems in hopes of either solving them or in coming up with new ideas. Over time by random but combinatorial chance, solutions or ideas would present themselves as ideas were juxtaposed.
One would suspect that Feynman hadn't actually read Raymond Llull, but this technique sounds very similar to the Llullan combinatorial arts from centuries earlier, albeit in a much more simplified form.
Can we find evidence of Feynman having read or interacted with Llull? Was it independently created or was he influenced?
I had an example of this on 2022-05-28 in Dan Allosso's book club on Equality in the closing minutes where a bit of inspiration hit me to combine the ideas of memes, evolution, and Indigenous knowledge and storytelling to our current political situation. Several of them are problems and ideas I've been working with over years or months, and they came together all at once to present a surprising and useful new combination. #examples
Link this also to the idea of diffuse thinking as a means of solving problems. One can combine the idea of diffuse thinking with combinatorial creativity to super-charge one's problem solving and idea generation capacity this way. What would one call this combination? It definitely needs a name. Llullan combinatorial diffusion, perhaps? To some extent Llull was doing this already as part of his practice, it's just that he didn't know or write explicitly about the diffuse thinking portion (to my knowledge), though this doesn't mean that he wasn't the beneficiary of it in actual practice, particularly when it's known that many of his time practiced lectio divina and meditated on their ideas. Alternately meditating on ideas and then "walking away" from them will by force cause diffuse thinking to be triggered.
Are there people for whom diffuse thinking doesn't work from a physiological perspective? What type of neurodiversity does this cause?
- statistical thermodynamics
- Albert Einstein
- diffuse thinking
- combinatorial creativity
- lone genius myth
- James Gleick
- cognitive neuropsychology
- lectio divina
- cross-disciplinary studies
- Richard Feynman
- Llullan combinatorial diffusion
- Llullan combinatorial arts
- Feynman's 12 Favorite Problems
- commonplace books
- Mar 2022
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RichardFeynman once had a visitor in his office, a historian who wanted tointerview him. When he spotted Feynman’s notebooks, he said howdelighted he was to see such “wonderful records of Feynman’sthinking.”“No, no!” Feynman protested. “They aren’t a record of my thinkingprocess. They are my thinking process. I actually did the work on thepaper.”“Well,” the historian said, “the work was done in your head, but therecord of it is still here.”“No, it’s not a record, not really. It’s working. You have to work onpaper, and this is the paper.”
Genius: The Life And Science of Richard Feynman,” James Gleick, Pantheon Books, 1992 (see pg. 409).
- Sep 2021
Another effective technique is to start your notetaking by writing a short summary of each chapter and transcribing any meaningful passages or phrases. If you are unsure how to simplify your thoughts, imagine that someone has tapped you on the shoulder and asked you to explain the chapter you just finished reading. They have never read this book and lack any idea of the subject matter. How would you explain it to them?
The so-called Richard Feynman technique, n'cest pas?
From whom did he crib it? Did he credit them, or was it just distilled into part of the culture?
This is also similar to the rubber duck method of debugging a program in some sense.
- Jul 2021
This distinction is familiar in terms of the differences between being able to remember something and being able to explain it.
This quote is similar and generally related to the Feynman Technique. (see: https://fs.blog/2021/02/feynman-learning-technique/) It's based apparently on quotes attributed to Feynman which include:
- "I couldn't reduce it to the freshman level. That means we really don't understand it."
- "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't really understand it."