Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mel Feynman & Paul Jobs

There are many things common to both Richard Feynman and Steve Jobs. Here's an interesting one, relating to their fathers.

From "What do YOU care what other people think", Feynman accounts the following incident with his father, which took place when he was an undergraduate student at MIT:

Once though, when I came back from MIT, he said to me, "Now that you've become educated about these things, there's one question I've always had that I've never understood very well."

I asked him what it was.

He said, "I understand that when an atom makes a transition from one state to another, it emits a particle of light called a photon."

"That's right," I said.

He says, "Is the photon in the atom ahead of time?"

"No, there;s no photon beforehand."

"Well,", he says, "where does it come from, then? Hoe does it come out?"

I tried to explain to him - that photon numbers aren't conserved; they're just created by the motion of the electron - but I couldn't explain it very well. I said, "It's like the sound that I'm making now: it wasn't in me before."

He was not satisfied with me in that respect. I was never able to explain any of the things he didn't understand.

From Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography, Isaacson describes the following story as they walk around his neighborhood, that involves Jobs' neighbor Larry Lang when Jobs was still in high school:

"He [Lang] took a carbon microphone and a battery and a speaker, and he put it on this driveway. He had me talk into the mike and it amplified out of the speaker."

Jobs had been taught by his father that microphones always required an electronic amplifier.

"So, I raced home and told my dad that he was wrong."

"No, it needs an amplifier," his father assured him.

When Steve protested otherwise, his father said he was crazy.

"It can't work without an amplifier. There's some trick."

"I kept saying no to my dad, telling him he had to see it, and finally he actually walked down with me and saw it. And he said, 'Well I'll be a bat out of hell.'"

I find those incidents very interesting, because they highlight the first time for Jobs and Feynman that they realized they were smarter than their fathers.