Does Desire for Accomplishment Overrule Morality? Feynman Part 2

Richard Feynman, the author and subject of the autobiography that I am currently reading brings up an interesting idea. Feynman was key in the creation of nuclear weapons in World War Two, and talks about the reaction amongst the group of scientists after the first successful tests of the bombs that they had created. He says “After the thing went off, there was tremendous excitement in Los Alamos. Everybody had parties, we all ran around. I sat on the end of a jeep and beat drums and so on. But one man, I remember, Bob Wilson, was just sitting there moping. … He said, ‘It’s a terrible thing that we made.'” 

While most everyone involved in the project was celebrating the fact that their goal had been achieved, Feynman only noticed one person who actually considered the impact of what they created. Even he acknowledges that he had ignored it, stating that the project was “started for a good reason, then you’re working very hard to accomplish something and it’s a pleasure, it’s excitement. And you stop thinking, you know; you just stop.”

In what other cases has something like this occurred? How often do we get so caught up in our goals that the desire to achieve distracts us from considering what we are working on, and whether it still has the same impact on us and those around us as it did when it was begun?

Learn to Love the Problems

For my biography project this spring, I decided to learn about the life of Richard Feynman through his autobiography, “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” Having made it through nearly half of the work, the thing that strikes me is the unique way that Feynman approached his life and passions.

It was clear at a very early age, both to Feynman and to outsiders looking in, that he loved to learn and figure out how things work. His autobiography consists of a selection of personal stories told in chronological order, and it becomes clear to the reader that he exemplifies the idea that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. Feynman studied physics at MIT, and this became his primary focus. He loved to solve problems, and always had a good time facing the academic challenges in front of him, physics-related or otherwise. This brought Feynman respect and success in his field and others, and led to his work with the U.S. government in World War 2, specifically on nuclear weapons.

However, this is not particularly unique. There are many people who are passionate about problem solving and their intellectual pursuits, and have used that love to win fame and respect similar to Feynman. The thing that makes him unique is that he brought the same enthusiasm, happiness, and drive to everything that he did. He was very outgoing, and was able to make even menial occurrences and interactions entertaining. From solving an ant infestation in his home, to trying to pass gibberish for Italian, Feynman had fun at every moment of the thing that he liked to do most, living his life.

The biggest thing that stands out and that I hope to take away from my time spent with this autobiography is that if you live your life being excited to overcome the obstacles that get in your way, you will be much more successful than if you dread the difficulty that they present.

I am the morning quiet.

those who sleep,

those who are rising.

I fade, I wander,

I disappear.

but I know I will return.

I am the clear stream.

the life within it.

wholly viewed,

eternally complex.

I am the shade.

protecting, relieving

sometimes permanent,

other times not.

I am the rock on which

the valleys center.

distinctly alone,

yet always supported.

I am the blue whale


and always nervous.

I am the black hole.

the infinite, the absence.

the light or the dark.

the good or the bad.

depending on how you look at it.

Where do Poems Come From?

The desire to create poetry stems from a very different beginning than prose. While both poets and authors intend to convey some story or moral, their medium of choice provides great insight into how they planned to deliver this story. Writers set out simply to get their story on paper, and often times their work has a very clear surface narrative for which readers judge them. Poets ask their readers to look past the surface, and they enjoy weaving their meaning into poems that readers can interpret. This creates a certain beauty when readers see significance beyond the surface-level simplicity.

Poems are appealing for the same reason as songs, and often it is hard to determine where poetry ends and music begins, as there is a large overlap. Humans are drawn to the musical nature of writing, which is why rhythm and presentation are so important for poetry as well as music. Like music, good poetry has accents and a tempo, which causes both poets and readers alike to continue to return to poetry because it is interesting to create and experience.

Lastly, poetry is appealing because allows the poet to be cryptic. Writing about or discussing difficult or traumatic experiences can be beneficial to those who experience them, but it can also be hard to do. Poetry provides this outlet without making the poet feel exposed. He/she can talk through the event while disguising the meaning, which can be therapeutic for many.