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Richard Feynman: Los Alamos from below

If you have 70 spare minutes and you are interested in the Manhattan Project or if you want some cool physics-based entertainment, watch (listen to) this:

On Thursday, February 6, 1975, Richard Feynman gave this talk in Santa Barbara.

The talk is pretty interesting, starting from the introduction involving some special and sophisticated praises of Feynman as a physicist (and drummer).

Feynman also unmasks lots about the sociology of the work over there, the relationship between men of different ranks, and so on. (Feynman hadn't completed his thesis yet.) On a committee, Compton would say something that was right. And tons of others said things and fog that didn't really agree or was alternative. But they remembered it and at the end, they approved the conclusion that Compton's point was the best one, anyway. ;-)

In the movies, guys like Feynman who would be giving lectures about the energy yield etc. would wear suits. Feynman would have a dirty shirt. The real world is often nicer than movies.

When they were moving to the place, they were warned that they had to buy train tickets from Princeton to Albuquerque through different places because it would be too visible for so many people to go from one small train station to a particular faraway distant town. People would figure out something was going on. So everyone bought tickets to random places except for Feynman who figured out that everyone would be choosing different places, so he could pick Princeton, NJ. ;-) However, the railway employees told him: "I see, so all this stuff is for you!" :-)

He talks about the landscape, the teams, the tricks to do the numerical calculation quickly in their heads. Feynman also mentions his simple trick to avoid having a roommate. He became a local representative because of some funny thing. The rules of censorship were delicately arranged – the censorship was "voluntary" – but Feynman and his wife found a trick to justify their encrypted letters. ;-)

Feynman couldn't mention the censorship but his wife was doing so. Feynman was ordered to tell his wife to avoid the word "censorship" but the letter where he asked her was censored, of course. He mentions some pranks done on Teller. But there is not too much space for fun because the time between the moment when Teller sees something is wrong and the moment when he knows exactly what happened is too short. :-)

He knew virtually everything about the research and bombs etc. so due to his rarity among the generals, he was treated as the ultimate genius. Which he was, sort of. But there are the funny things about how he wasn't able to read the maps. It was too late to ask what the sign meant. What happens when this valve gets stuck? He took the risk that it was not a valve. After some exchange, they would scream: You're absolutely right! :-)

The disease of playing with computer models is discussed, too. Tricks of his team to do the old-computer-assisted calculations quickly enough. His wife died. The test had to be done. Feynman rejected the glasses – the only guy who actually saw the first test. The sound came some time after the flash. William Laurence, a journalist sent by The New York Times to write about the event, would ask "what was that?" That was the bomb! ;-) Feynman has described his pedagogic patience with folks like the journalist moron in some detail.

Comments about post-Manhattan frustration when he returned to the civilization. He was thinking how large a territory around Cornell would be smashed by a bomb, and so on. The world look over for a while. Why do the people keep on building new bridges? Fortunately, they were right for 30 (now 70) years.

These stories appeared as one of the chapters of Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman.

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snail feedback (27) :

reader Rathnakumar said...

Dr. Motl,
I would like to know your comments on this 2009 article,
and its 2012 erratum,

reader John Archer said...

Yes, what a shame. And he was doing so well.

I have to say for a theorist you're a top-notch experimentalist too, albeit in sociology in this instance. Thumbs up to you. A convincing result, Luboš.

Just out of curiosity, how do think he officially classified this object of imperial censorship, your comment that is: as unhelpful, inappropriate or (good heavens!) unacceptable? Unofficially of course, it looks like a mincing 'scratch your eyes out out dearie' job to me. But then these labels all amount the same thing these days as far as I can tell. :)

reader bob said...

the first part was "funny", the second provocative and dumb, because soviet states were/are nowhere near being "ground states". so no connection to the "joke". either you are incredibly ignorant, because you have no clue how those places work, or, as i said, you're brain dead, if that's what those places represent in your mind.
I guess this is because people nowadays need stuff to appear constantly on the news in order to be noticed. Oh look no news from North Korea, must so peaceful there! Nobody talking shit there! Yea that's because they cut out people's tongues there.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Sorry, the URLs are wrong... they contain dots instead of some pieces of information.

reader cynholt said...

I'm not sure why anyone would debate the merits of socialism with regard to Russia and Ukraine. Russia is not a socialist country anymore and is not trying to export socialism to Ukraine. Russia's viewpoints seem much closer to the two principles that form the basis of international law, namely nonaggression and national sovereignty. US/EU foreign policy more closely resembles the principle of "might makes right" disguised in "R2P" rhetoric to keep the useful idiots on board.

reader Curious George said...

Barack Hussein will handle the situation with his usual charm, just like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Egypt.

reader John Archer said...

Dear Shannon,

I find it odd that you quote that saying about good fences when the raison d'être of the EU is nothing if not all about knocking them down in furtherance of its ultimate objective, namely the complete elimination of the nation state in a continent-wide power grab designed to form a superstate run by an claque of hideous unaccountable apparatchiks, like that twisted runt barroso and his sidekick gollum van rumpoid, all on a huge gravy train paid for by the likes of us peasants. Yes, peasants, because that's what we will be. Indeed we already are for all practical purposes. Government of the people by the people for the people? No. Government of the peasants by the new aristocracy for the new aristocracy. End of. Ring any historic bells for you, monsieur? A nice jaunty march to the past?

I've never understood what continental (so-called) 'eurosceptics' are after. They seem schizophrenic. Why appeal, as you seem to be doing, to an institution—the (again, so-called) European Parliament— that has no legitimacy whatsoever. Elections may take place to it but that means absolutely nothing. Its very existence presupposes something that doesn't exist in the first place and in all likelihood never will, namely an EU demos: the peoples of the nation states have never been asked if they want to expand their respective demoi to include vast numbers of foreigners having a say in how they are ruled.

One cannot simply lump a bunch of people together, tell them they each have a vote and claim it to be a democracy. It doesn't work like that. The people concerned need first to agree that they accept* each other as being equal determinants in how they are governed. That such a necessary step has never been taken—and the mere mention of it studiously avoided—by the demagogues behind this utterly deceitful construction of the EU shows one EXACTLY the nature of the scum one is dealing with.

As I say—and as we similarly used to say about the Nazis (I'd add kommies too)—the only good EU is a dead EU. QED.

But maybe you don't like my 'proof'. If so, please point out where you think it's wrong. I'd be grateful. Really. :)

* It's interesting that we ourselves are having a little local difficulty with some of fellow countrymen living up in Scotland. They don't see it that way and want Scotland to be independent but that's their decision. I regard them as mistaken — the people of the British Isles are far far older than any of the four (relatively) modern nations. Incidentally Eugene, if you're reading this, these people are the actual romantics here, inthrall to the poets and myth pedlars, whereas, just for the record, I don't do romance. At least I wouldn't call the peaceful ethnic cleansing I want to see romantic. :)

The contradictions in this business, with Alex Salmond pushing for Scottish independence yet also Scotland's membership of the EU, are utterly laughable, or would be if the ultimate consequences weren't so serious. But then vast numbers continentals are swallowing similar shit too. On balance, Europeans are mad.

reader John F. Hultquist said...

Here is a site with some review:

Scroll down to see the ref. to Henrik
Svensmark's paper.

reader John Archer said...


With respect, I think maybe you're overreacting to this.

"The lectures you reported as freely available on the net ... have been taken down."

Well, if so then they're back up again now because I can access them.

I skimmed your link but haven't taken in any of the finer points. For what it's worth my sympathies lie with Caltech, Mike Gottlieb and Rudolf Pfeiffer, or whoever the owners are. In my view it's entirely up to them to say what form of access others can have to them and decide all terms of use. They've been very generous to make them freely available online.

I agreed to the deal they offered and bought my epub/pdf copies so that I could read them conveniently offline. If I recall correctly such purchases are largely intended to support free online availability for others. If in addition the owners make a nice profit out of it and MG & co get suitably recompensed for their noble efforts then that's more than fine by me too. In short I think it was their general intention that those who can afford it should buy them, and those who can't are restricted to online access only but it's free. There's that little convenience incentive there to encourage purchases which presumably serve to make the whole thing possible. (If one thinks this is all a little too close to socialism for comfort, then that's fine too — no one is forcing anyone to go along with anything here.)

The problem seems to be that the Lectures are not (yet?) available for download to all platforms, the Kindle for example. I don't know exactly what the technical/legal issues are. Maybe they'll be overcome and purchases will become available for these other platforms too. Maybe not. Tough if not, but that's it — you want a downloadable copy then buy a suitable platform. That's the deal on offer. Meanwhile I don't see why others should not be party to the deal and get theirs free just because they own a Kindle or whatever.

"How is that different from disappearing the man's work?"

Come on, now! :) You can still by the printed edition.

But I agree, it was a real shame about the library at Alexandria. :)

reader jeff561983 said...

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reader Shannon said...

Dear John, no doubt we both agree about the EU. Only you see it with your roastfeef's eyes and I with my froggies' eyes ;).
The best way to undo the EU is to do it legally, democratically, and to get the full support from the people (the peasants as you say) and bring a majority of true Eurosceptics at the EU parliament. A question for you John: why does Nigel Farage (UKIP) keeps insulting our French National Front when they both defend exactly the same things? Marine Le Pen did bother her ass going in most European countries making alliances with the Eurosceptics. And she has been successful in doing so. What does Farage do ? Nothing, nada, rien. He talks like a comedian at the parliament to promote himself. To be honest he now gets on my nerves more than anything. He is turning like a clown to be put in the same shit bag as Cohn-Bendit.

reader Shannon said...

There are some other forces at play here Swine flu. The EU plays the role of the little doggie to the US. The US is the little doggie to other forces. Find out yourself.

reader Casper said...

Prof Masaryk seems to be a charming fellow and a wonderful president with exceptional handsomeness. But his concept of a universal surveillance device to curb wickedness is perhaps not thought through sufficiently?

Surely it would be better if wickedness was rooted out by the individual subjects themselves on moral path of enlightenment rather than by ubitiquous peeping tom/nanny state machine?

reader Luboš Motl said...

LOL, I think that we can't judge them by the present eyes. They would be so excited about the hypothetical possibilities that technology could offer that they didn't have enough time to realize how scary it would be. ;-)

reader Pavel Krapivsky said...

Dear Cynthia, I am visiting India and local scientists talk a lot about the Ukrainian crisis (and keep asking me about the history of Crimea etc.). Today they were telling me that India has indeed kind of supported Russia (there is a long history of very close ties between Russia and India), but last couple of days there is more and more criticism.

reader Rathnakumar said...

That's the paper. I consulted Dr. Shaviv, thanks!

reader Rob said...

Lubos, you are a friggin idiot. Your argument that one of the pictures you draw looks cleaner than the others, therefore "scientific intuition" points you to the fact that the cleaner one should describe the face of complexity theory is as misinformed as the insane guy's argument that there's a 50% chance that the world will be eaten by a black hole caused by LHC. Let us leave Aaronson aside, we are all aware that attempts to popularize his research fall into the trap of horribly bad examples (comparing math with science, or making analogies with Mozart), which people unfortunately resort to, in order to introduce their field to a wider audience.

Your personal issues with Scott Aaronson don't entitle you to make speculations about mathematical problems that you clearly do not understand. Therefore, I suggest that you leave these problems to people better advised than yourself. Or, at least, attempt to read an introductory textbook in complexity theory before doing that.

reader papertiger0 said...

Did Mike Gottlieb invent the hyperlink?

Otherwise he didn't invent a thing.
It's sort of like the librarian taking credit, ownership of, charging rent on Shakespear's Sonnets.

He didn't write a goddam thing. What he did was build a fence around the community park.

If a shyster drops a Sequoia across the road at the entrance to Yosemite, sets up his own toll booth before he'll let people through, does that mean he owns El Capitan?

reader thejollygreenman said...

Shannon, the le Pens would be a liability to Nigel Farage. The BBC and press has made sure that the British public view the Le Pens in the same light as the Neo-Nazi skinheads of Germany. Nigel has been advised to keep a respectful distance between those right-wing groupings and his party if he wants to succeed with the British electorate.

reader Shannon said...

Dear Jollygreenman, yes in France they used to call it the "cordon sanitaire" (=sanitary cordon) for years. We don't hear this expression these days because French people don't buy the FN diabolisation any more.

reader Eugene S said...

Does Ansel Adams hold copyrights on the snapshots his photographs?

Yes Tyger, he did. And now his heirs do (for 70 years after his death).

As for the particulars of the present case, I don't know enough to have an opinion.

reader papertiger0 said...

Stepping back a bit. Remember when Obama closed the national parks during the shutdown theatre rather than compromise even slightly on raising the debt ceiling?

Sort of metaphorically dropping a tree across the road, cutting off access to even roadside turnouts overlooking Mount Rushmore, in a fit of pique at the affront of the nation not giving him his way.

That's the way Obama has always campaigned.

Now look at the youtube of Feynman linked by Lubos.

Notice that there is a down vote button that doesn't work at the youtube.
The no button has been disabled.
That same disability has been adopted widely across the net just recently.

Youtube, Disquss, the local paper. Everywhere you look.
It's as if some unidentified central power is preparing a battle space, and it wants to fight against nothing tougher than a pliant army of yes men.

How does one create an artificial consensus?
First thing would be to make the word "no" impossible.
That takes care of the here and now.
For the past, pesky instances of "no" will have vaguely legalistic sounding roadblocks set up, roping them off from the public.

That's what this Feynman DMCA takedown notice is about.

reader thejollygreenman said...

Hi Shannon, in English the term is also cordon sanitaire and it has been common currency since world war one. Remember, there is no central language approval committee for English, if the guys like a foreign word, like for instance Taxi, they just hop on board and use it.

reader John Archer said...

Dear Shannon,

My apologies for the delay in responding. I wanted to answer you but I didn't want to turn it into a screed. So I huffed and puffed instead.

Well, I got fed up with that in the end, so here we go, but unfortunately it's not as brief as I'd hoped.

I'm glad we agree about the EU.

"The best way to undo the EU is to do it legally, democratically..." Yeah, sure. But I no longer care how it's done just so long as it's done. These people are NOT democrats; they are totalitarian cunts. We owe them nothing. If, say, you Frenchmen decided to go mob handed to Brussels and Strasbourg with pitchforks and guillotines you wouldn't find me playing the Scarlet Pimpernel. If that's what it took then I wouldn't lift a finger to stop it. Legal means very little these days anyway. For instance, there's no legitimacy to the legality of bastard brown's signing us up to the European Constitution (repainted as the Lisbon Treaty). And recall the Dutch and French dirent Nee and Non but that didn't stop the slime. Nor did Paddy's response (so they put the fix in and rigged an immediate second vote to ensure they got the answer they wanted). Legal? Fuck legal.

I don't know much about Marine Le Pen except the she and her father seem to have broadly the right attitude to immigration and immigrunts. I say 'broadly' because the impression I get is that they are ... well, let's say ... not quite as unequivocal in this respect as I would have them if I were a Frenchman. Also, I gather that there's some hint of a socialist element to their outlook (maybe more than a hint) which is something I would find unappealing, but I don't regard this as too serious an impediment: one can recover from socialism; after all it's not an existential threat in itself. On balance, and certainly compared to the rest of your politicians (little that I know about them beyond them being scum like ours), I wish the Le Pens great success.

I don't know much about Farage either but I think the JollyGreenMan's reply hits the nail on the head, unfortunately.

I will say this about him though. Much as I take a liking to Farage and enjoy his theatrics on YouTube, especially his sticking it to those nonentities—that greasy maoist runt and gollum the rat-faced worm of an eu president—I don't see him as an effective force to get us out of the EU. Moreover, I have good reason to believe he treats his party as a fiefdom, pisses on any talent who might shine too brightly, and won't fucking listen to sense. As a result I know he's a complete duffer when it comes to missing open goals and he's shown he doesn't have a clue about the need for a proper exit strategy. Only recently has the fuckwit finally given a vague and half-hearted nod to the need to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (the only realistic route). This is all bad news. Very bad. Yes, I'd very much prefer it if he didn't slag off Le Pen too, but frankly I'd swallow that if he showed any real sign that he could actual kill anything, so to speak. But he can't. In the end he's worse than a waste of space — he's in the way.

BTW: Cohn-Bendit. Yeah. We have plenty of shits like him too. Hey, you Frenchies and we Rosbifs — we have a lot in common! It would be nice if we got together and killed something — something really worthwhile killing that is, like the EU. Even nicer if everyone else joined in too. Make it a bloodfest, again in a manner of speaking of course, natch. :)

reader Shannon said...

LOL :-D !! You are hilarious big bad wolf.

reader Manfred said...

The negative would be that without the votes from the Krim, those sympathising with Russia would find it much more difficult to win a country wide election,.

Though I do not expect a fair election possible for a long time, after the SA in Western Ukraine have wiped out the formerly ruling parties and their infrastructure.

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