Sunday, December 12, 2010

Stuck on a problem you can't solve? Try the Feynman algorithm

All of us, at some point or another, have found ourselves stuck while working on a difficult (or not-so difficult) problem. We all have different methods of coping with us. Some of us wallow in self-pity and despair; others bang their heads against the wall. Yet others go drown themselves in beer and Guinness.

Well people, fear not. Cast away your untrained, untested crude methods because I have here a sure-fire approach to problem-solving, patented and endorsed by none other than legendary physicist Richard Feynman .

Dick Feynman was an absolute beast at physics, but it is reputation outside of physics that made him into the larger-than-life figure he is today. Feynman defied the stereotype of the boring, awkward physics professor and exuded charisma and unbeatable energy. He played the bongo drums, enthusiastically took part in student plays at Caltech, cracked safes during the Manhattan project in Los Alamos, and drove around in a van with Feynman diagrams scrawled all over it. Oh and he won the Nobel prize in physics. Pretty damn good, I'd say.

Anyway, here is the time-tested Feynman algorithm you should all use whenever you need help. Just three easy steps:

 1. Write down the problem. Very critical step. If you don't know the problem, how the hell are you going to know what to solve, right?
2. Think really hard. And I mean really really hard.
3. Write down the solution. Voila! You are done! Not too shabby.

Now there used to be a variation of this algorithm that went like this:

1. Write down the problem.

2. Let Dick Feynman solve it.

3. Copy the solution.

Unfortunately since Feyman passed away in 1988, we can't use this anymore.

[The tongue-in-cheek Feynman algorithm was described by fellow Caltech physicist Murray Gell-Mann , a legend and a Nobel laureate in his own right. The Gell-Mann - Feynman rivalry during the 1960's riveted the physics community. It was like the Jersey Shore of their time.]

Here is an example of shenanigans Feynman was known for:

1 comment:

  1. Dunno, still prefer hittin the Guinness. lol