Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman

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Today is Feynman’s 100th birthday. I got to know him from one of his famous books, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman. Since then Dr. Feynman became one of the persons that I admire the most. His books made a profound impact on my career as well as on my life. He was never afraid of questioning the authority. He was the type of person who is curious about nearly everything and never afraid of asking questions.

I grew up in a distant small town in China where at that time (and even today) most of us were taught to “behave well”: in the class, we had to listen to what the teacher said; at home, we should not doubt what our parents told us. Even when we grew up to be an adult, we had to obey the will of the old generation: we had to get married and bear children regardless of what our choice truly was. In the old but still prevailing Chinese tradition, women should be the subordinate and the weak, man must be the dominant role in the family or even in the workplace. There was such a clear cut between the genders: one to lead the other has to follow. Thousand years have passed, and we are still the same old type: we are just the extended edition of our last generation and never think why we should keep doing the same. Or we simply can’t, because even though when we questioned why we should do so we got no answer but just to comply.

Feynman taught me that “you have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.”

When I thought of my future life, Feynman taught me: “Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn’t stop you from doing anything at all.”

Regarding the relation of art and science, Feynman told me a story: “I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say ‘look how beautiful it is,’ and I’ll agree. Then he says ‘I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,’ and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”

I enjoy doing science as my career, but in the meantime, I am so much fond of the art. They are never on the two opposite sides, but instead, more like the two eyes of a person: with both ones, we get a full perspective of things.

Dr. Feynman taught me so many things in my life. To me he is like a hermit who retired deep into the mountains so that I never saw him in real life but his voices spread so out loud into the world that each of us in the society can hear and find our inner peace through his guidance.

Whenever I make decisions, or learn new things, or go somewhere I have never gone before, I remember his words.

-‘I don’t feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.’

-‘Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman.’

-No. When you start to know something, and you keep going deeper to unveil more of it, you will soon discover ‘the pleasure of finding things out.’  Afterall, ‘I… a universe of atoms, an atom in the universe’. So ‘what do you care what other people think?’

 

Happy birthday, Mr. Feynman!

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在困难的日子里

作为学生党,穷困虽不潦倒,却真心感到生活拮据,觉得太对时间都花在了思考各种生活用品怎么买什么时候买最划算上。因为穷,只能住郊区很便宜的公寓,很久不买新衣服,不敢做说走就走的旅行。所做的一切跟金钱有关的事情都要事先安排好,从来不是什么随便就能进行的。说来讽刺,作为学生和研究人员,本着对心底最深处的理想追求,应该生活得更纯粹、更精神,可现在却是被困在最现实、最物质的囚笼中无法自拔。

这段时间一直在思考贫困的问题,我时刻体会着人穷志短,因为没钱会开始担心未来的生活以至于不能专心过现在的生活,会担心自己做的研究是否会因为没人关注而找不到工作,会担心自己能力不够强不能在这个残酷的学术竞争中生存下来,甚至会想去做一些热门又容易出paper的工作……人穷志短,由此可见。

但昨晚,突然回想起高中老师朱云方有段时间每节课都会给我们念的一篇路遥的短篇小说《在困难的日子里》。隐约的印象是饥荒时期一个农村的穷困学生上学的故事。昨晚回去读了一遍,深深被主人公的坚强、崇高精神所感动,原来穷困只是考验人品格的渠道,一个人可以很清贫,但依然活得有志气;可以因为饿去山里挖草根但绝不会去寻求施舍的目光或者贪图便宜;也绝不会缩回慷慨助人的手——这些是他去掉皮囊最根本的属性,绝不会以贫困为由而拒绝施行。他饿到东倒西歪时却毫不犹豫把自己存着的土豆玉米送给逃荒的母女,他拾金不昧强忍饥饿将近晕厥却把拾到的一盒子粮票交给了班主任,他为了保护自己最好的朋友不受流言伤害,悄悄退学放弃自己最大的希望……我佩服他在最艰难时却能忍住饥饿抵抗严寒并且拥有强大的理性和心怀去关心周围的人。我羞愧于自己生活在如此美妙的环境,没有饥饿寒冷,没有疾病烦恼,却抱怨生活不公。生活本来就不平等,这是本该面对的事实,也无可逃避,可生活的姿态却能展现人与人真正的不同。也不能因为生活不能给予你所需而拒绝付出,敷衍了事,那才是真的枉过一生!只要活着,就应该把最好的自己献给生活、献给世界、献给自己爱的梦想、人、和社会。

不禁回想起《滕王阁序》的“穷且益坚,不坠青云之志。” 我们时常念叨“淡泊明志”,其实仅仅是自我劝勉,真正能做到的却是少数。因此由心底里佩服那年仅十四却写出如此豪言的王勃心中高远的志向。

我们要做的是更好的自己,这力量并不是物质能够赋予我们的,物质给我们体能,但精神的富足才真正让自己坚强让人生伟大。就像小说主人公一样,活得勇敢坚强和高尚。

春风十里

这次回国是在立春前,从蒙特利尔深冬的寒风中飞到了江南冬末春初那种绵绵暖暖的草木里。我在的几日几乎都是阳光明媚的晴朗天气,没风没雨,温暖舒适。山上草木青葱,瓯江上泛着烟波、映着绿莹莹的春色,可谓“江上烟波春拍岸”。这么美好的日子,却只前后待了两周,实在舍不得。

印度回来后的一周里,几乎每天都跟妈妈到丽水闲逛,这也要归功与在武汉与高同学的一日游激发了我出门的好情绪,加上妈妈每日都会提议去一个新地点,于是兴趣也日增。

有一日妈妈电话里问我要不要骑车去百货大楼找她,我咕哝一阵懒意未消,但也还是拿了公交卡出门,踏出大门的那一瞬间懒意已去,租了自行车坐上去时便已经似风神附体“呼”一下就窜大街上去了。由于之前太懒,对丽水地形从未细细了解,每次回来都十分陌生,分不清东南西北。这回用了手机导航才知道原来丽水并没想像中那么大,纵横总共也不过几条主街。跟妈妈会合后我骑着自行车她开着电瓶车我们一前一后地沿着中山街慢慢开着,两边在修水管,跟麦大门口一样,堵了许多地方,但效率明显很高,这些工程是去年底才开始的,眼看已经做了大半。我们开过了梅山小学,似乎正值放学期间,门口站满了家长,路过一条不起眼的小街口妈妈突然提议让我往右看,只见这街口生得奇特,一路石台而上,房屋沿着大坡建起,老墙上铺满了植物,一片生机勃勃古意盎然。我们把车停了下来,打算上“山”去转转,山顶是梅山公园,干干净净的平台,周围一条游廊,游廊边长满了草木,树上挂着热闹的灯笼,阳光下红灯绿树白墙黑瓦交织成一副迷人的风景画。
下了山我们去了南明门,这是丽水现存的唯一老城门,原来叫大水门,是曾经的处州府城门,护城河的水已经干了,露出两墙间的空地,水闸也没有了门。上了城墙,南临瓯江,远眺是连绵青山。这座立了七百多年的门逆光下就如同网游里精心设计的一个场景。

又有一日,我跟妈妈本想去白云山公园转一转,提着一袋零食拿着公交车卡出门等Y1路,可是怎么等车也不来,于是打算改变行程去附近的处州公园走走。走到一片竹荫下,只见石子路两旁立了我不认得的处州古时十大名人碑。草丛中的仿石头音响中正放着弦子的《醉清风》,我俩决定就在旁边的木椅上坐下休息。我拿出龙应台的《孩子你慢慢来》沉浸在了她与两个儿子的故事中,妈妈在一旁看电视剧,我俩就这么各自沉浸地坐了一下午,听着音乐和竹林里遥相呼应的鸟鸣声。这些密密的婉转的千奇百怪的江南鸟儿对话方言我从未在蒙特利尔听到过,比起来这儿的色彩要淡雅却又丰富,连鸟的种类也似乎要多许多。

安安静静地在城市里走,下午街上人少,为评文明城市又重新整治过的干净的大街小巷,没有大都市中的霾,丽水就像一颗镶嵌在一大块玉石中的珍宝,微小却精致,让人流连忘返,沉湎不止。

春风十里,江南的景最让人心醉。

飞向南印王国·杂想

我的办公室同事安普丽塔来自印度南部的科摩林角(Kanyakumari),孟加拉湾、阿拉伯海与印度洋相汇的地方。她与他的男友卡南打算二月结婚,于是邀请了我们系里的几个好友前去印度。婚礼在哥印拜陀举行,那是他男友的家。

他们的婚礼准备得很仓促,时间是去年底某日早晨醒来一拍大腿决定的,于是我们去印度的决定也来得仓促。虽然有过一丝的犹豫,但对这片未知的天竺圣地的好奇胜过了所有的彷徨,最终决定了把归国日期也定在那附近,这样就可以顺带回家。不过正直春运,而因为在加拿大这种地广人稀的国度待久了以后对人群流体的大规模运动产生了巨大恐惧,所以一想到要给全国人民添堵了也是十分心慌。

中间也有过后悔,为甚么这个时候?为甚么冲动地决定去了?为甚么不留在学校专心念书?

十万个为什么敌不过一个对未知领域探求的心,早早地买好了机票订好了行程让自己安心的同时也给自己要去印度这件事板上钉钉:花了那么多钱,所以既来之则安之吧。

中间忙忙碌碌地也并没有怎么念想着印度的事情,只是偶尔听到安普丽塔对这场婚礼的焦虑以及为我们伴娘定制莎丽时需要量一量三维,转眼间离回国不到一周,离去南印度不到半个月了,才想起自己真的要去参加印度婚礼了啊!在此之前,我对印度的了解只限于南北印度的地理文化分割、唐僧取经地、众多的人口、以及季风。她未婚夫是印度教的,而她的父母是基督教徒,在印度这个宗教大国,信的神明不同基本人生轨迹也很难有交叉,虽然她没有跟我提太多这中间遇到的困难以及父母方面的反对,我却能充分想象得出,也十分倾佩他们最后坚定地走在了一起。

读博以后基本没有进行过背包/探险之旅了,所以想到要去一个陌生的国度,想到可能出现的各种问题,对新事物的渴求之心竟然被忧虑取代,加之加国漫长萧索、千山鸟飞绝的冬季的压迫下,更是又开始各种后悔。于是我的忧虑加深了:我因自己产生还未去到新国都就打退堂鼓的思想而忧虑。作为一名渴求知识的博士,原本应该是对新生活保持热忱的、渴望的,如今呢?是不是该反省一下自己这些年节节败退的好奇心和勇气?远离了故土数年的自己,反而对内心的枷锁更加严重了。

再读费曼的那句话:

“一个人年轻的时候,你有很多事情要担心:要不要到这个地方,你的母亲又会怎样等等。你担心、做决定,但又发生了其他的事情。事实上,比较容易的作法是什么都不管,就那样决定。不用管那么多——再没什么能使你改变主意了。”

也许成长的过程遇到的起伏与反复比想象中要多要大,不论自己多大岁数了,也还是在不断地进步、退步、停滞不前。也许是在巨大的逆境中看到了童年最脆弱的自己,也许是在跌倒与畏惧中积蓄爆发的力量。

“悔恨,在顺境中积累,在逆境中爆发。”我遇到了前所未有的瓶颈,我处在前所未见的人生路口,所有的一切都如此陌生,所有的决策都要自己做主,我面对最平淡的生活,却恐惧它的平淡,我面对全新的挑战,却惧怕它的新奇。

也许这次,是一个契机,南印王国,我要来了!我要去见达罗毗荼族人千年前建立的庙宇,我要去听古老的泰米尔语。人生不是写得完美的程序,而是需要不断除虫、不断更新部件的代码。时刻都可能面对未知和危险,但我愿意努力做准备去迎接它拥抱它,这才是人生。

文末附朱熹《观书有感》二首

半亩方塘一鉴开,天光云影共徘徊。

问渠那得清如许?为有源头活水来。

昨夜江边春水生,艨艟巨舰一毛轻。

向来枉费推移力,此日中流自在行。

希望下一篇是正经的准备攻略