Last Week’s Potatoes

Richard Feynmann (1918-88) was an interesting man. Ambitious, inevitably, but he had the kind of mind that looked for the unimaginable, ‘left the door open’ to the impossible, and when the unthinkable poked its head above the parapet he had the courage to relax into the ‘beauty and majesty’ of it. All of which could be a description of how to approach the spiritual, don’t you think?

He was a physicist and a romantic. Perhaps the two always go together and I’ve never noticed before… Anyway, he fell in love with a beautiful girl who had tuberculosis, a death sentence in the late 40s, and married her so he could take care of her. I like this man.

In ‘What do You Care What Other People Think?’ Further Adventures of a Curious Character, he wrote:
“Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers: you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age.
“Perhaps one of the reasons for this silence is that you have to know how to read music. For instance, the scientific article may say, ‘The radioactive phosphorus content of the cerebrum of the rat decreases to one-half in a period of two weeks.’ Now what does that mean?
“It means that phosphorus that is in the brain of a rat—and also in mine, and yours—is not the same phosphorus as it was two weeks ago. It means the atoms that are in the brain are being replaced: the ones that were there before have gone away.
“So what is this mind of ours: what are these atoms with consciousness? Last week’s potatoes! They now can remember what was going on in my mind a year ago—a mind which has long ago been replaced. To note that the thing I call my individuality is only a pattern or dance, that is what it means when one discovers how long it takes for the atoms of the brain to be replaced by other atoms. The atoms come into my brain, dance a dance, and then go out—there are always new atoms, but always doing the same dance, remembering what the dance was yesterday.”
And he had a great sense of humour…

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