Richard Feynman the explainer

There’s a beautifully written essay by someone who worked on a project with Richard Feynman, the quantum electrodynamics physicist.

The writer describes how Richard loved to explain subjects normally considered difficult and complex in simple, easy terms, and how he didn’t consider that he’d finished learning something until he had taught it to others.

I love this attitude. Fifteen years of preschool teaching convinced me that anyone can learn anything, as long as it’s taught intelligently. It’s a fun challenge to come up with a simple explanation—or demonstration—of, say, the fact that fire needs oxygen to burn. It’s a thrill when the five-year-olds understand you.

Feynman had a genius for teaching because he was fascinated with dismantling problems and concepts into the simplest pieces. He also had confidence that his audience, whether students or casual listeners, would understand him.

If this sounds interesting, take a look at Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!—one of the most entertaining books I’ve read. (I’m sure you can find it in your local library.) Feynman was a great scientist, a great teacher, a goofy prankster, and without fail, a wonderful storyteller.