Quantum theory via 40-tonne trucks

Marcus Chown in The Independent:

ScreenHunter_04 Jan. 17 12.18 In the mid-1980s, I was lucky enough to be taught by Feynman as a student at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Before arriving at Caltech, I had watched a BBC TV Horizon programme about the man. For 50 minutes, the camera simply focused on Feynman while he talked engagingly about his life, his children and his father, who had no formal education but had nevertheless infected Feynman with a deep curiosity about the world. Unusually, my mum watched the whole thing, declaring when it was finished: “What an interesting man.”

Now my mum had no interest whatsoever in science, and I was forever trying to explain to her why, for instance, people in Australia did not fall off the other side of the world. So when I arrived at Caltech, I had an idea: plucking up my courage, I knocked on Feynman's office door and asked, nervously, whether he would write to my mum.

He did. “Dear Mrs Chown,” he wrote. “Please ignore your son's attempts to teach you physics. Physics is not the most important thing. Love is. Richard Feynman.”

It wasn't quite what I had expected. It is not every day, after all, that the world's greatest living physicist announces that physics is not the most important thing. But I was not discouraged. Although my attempt to explain science to my mum had ended in abject failure, I persisted in trying to communicate the fun things I had learnt at Caltech, eventually becoming a science writer.

More here.