One of my favorite scientists is Richard Feynman. I’m a HUGE fan. His work in physics was an vital stepping stone in our understanding of particle behavior but his process of working and the personality he brought is what continues to endear him to me. As a hardcore fucking nerd, I’ve always loved the way geeks fall in love. There are a lot of unscrupulous scientists who have committed horrible deeds and I grieve the way a lot of our collective knowledge has been uncovered and implemented. Still, the study of science has always been scrutinized and dehumanized. When it uncovered information that counters the prevailing cultural climate, it’s the science and the people who identified it, who are castigated.
Making fun of “four-eyed” nerds is a lighter form of the systemic torture, incarceration, and murder of knowledge seekers that has plagued humanity for a long time. I think its remnants are seen in the way we dehumanize geeks and nerds as those who could never get laid and certainly never fall in love or get googly eyed and read poetry and enjoy living life. Prejudice and privilege are why we haven’t just sorted out resources (we have enough, we really do) to ensure that all humans get to eat nutritious food, receive medical care and vaccinations so they can live beyond the age of 5, have access to our bodies of collected wisdom and knowledge, have a safe place to sleep, and get a chance to experience play and pleasure so that we can all live in peace and explore the universe together. We could, you know. It pisses me off that we act like it’s just inevitable that don’t. Inevitable is a stupid word for human behavior, any way. Not even William Gibson saw iPhones coming.
Richard Feynman won my heart with the way he instilled life into physics. He was a prankster, a lover, and a wild-eyed maniac who loved ideas. When his favorite strip club was tackling puritanical interference, he came forward openly to testify in its defense in Los Angeles by constructing a long defense about how he spent many hours scrawling physics equations onto cocktail napkins because people need a place to escape to and that this was good for society. One of my favorite stories about his van which he decorated by painting his work onto the exterior. One day, he was parking his car outside a university when someone said, “You know that those are Feynman diagrams on your fan, right?” His response was shout, “I am Richard Feynman!” with a grand gesture before charging towards his destination.
Anyway, here’s Richard Feynman talking about partner negotiation with his much beloved first wife who died tragically young of an illness she suffered the entirety of their truncated marriage:
Arlene and I began to mold each other’s personality. She lived in a family that was very polite, and was very sensitive to other people’s feelings. She taught me to be more sensitive to those things, too. On the other hand, her family felt that “white lies” were okay.
I thought one should have the attitude of, “What do you care what other people think!” I said, “We should listen to other people’s opinions and take them into account. Then, if they don’t make sense and we think they’re wrong, then that’s that!”
Arlene caught onto the idea right away. It was easy to talk her into thinking that in our relationship, we must be very honest with each other and say everything straight, with absolute frankness. It worked very well, and we became very much in love–a love like no other that I know of.
After that summer I went away to college at MIT. (I couldn’t go to Columbia because of the Jewish quota.) [NOTE- there was a cap on the number of spaces available to Jewish students at the time of Feynman's studies] I began getting letter from friends that said things like, “You should see how Arlene is going out with Harold,” or “She’s doing this and she’s doing that, while you’re all alone up in Boston.” Well, I was taking out girls in Boston, but they didn’t mean a thing to me, and I knew the same was true with Arlene.
Excerpt from What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard Feynman