May 20, 2013

I'm Not Joking!

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

I've started reading "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" by Richard P. Feynman on my Kindle.

It's a series of autobiographical anecdotes by one of the last century's greatest scientific minds. So far, very interesting.

Since I was a teenager, when I read as many of Isaac Asimov's non-fiction science essays as I could find, I've always enjoyed reading about the history of science. Reading Feynman feels very much like that.

This is a book you'll occasionally find on Amazon's Kindle Daily Deals. Grab a copy for yourself. 

Quotes I enjoyed from the book:
The question of trying to figure out whether a book is good or bad by looking at it carefully or by taking the reports of a lot of people who looked at it carelessly is like this famous old problem: Nobody was permitted to see the Emporer of China, and the question was, What is the length of the Emporer of China's nose? 
To find out, you go all over the country asking people what they think the length of the Emporer of China's nose is, and you average it. And that would be very "accurate" because you averaged so many people. But it's no way to find anything out; when you have a very wide range of people who contribute without looking carefully at it, you don't improve your knowledge of the situation by averaging.
Sometime later I heard the energy-makes-it-go book was going to be recommended by the curriculum commission to the Board of Education, so I made one last effort. 
At each meeting of the commission the public was allowed to make comments, so I got up and said why I thought the book was bad. The man who replaced me on the commission said, "That book was approved by sixty-five engineers at the Such-and-such Aircraft Company!" 
I didn't doubt that the company had some pretty good engineers, but to take sixty-five engineers is to take a wide range of ability - and to necessarily include some pretty poor guys! It was once again the problem of averaging the length of the emperor's nose, or the ratings on a book with nothing between the covers. It would have been far better to have the company decide who their better engineers were, and to have them look at the book. I couldn't claim that I was smarter than sixty-five other guys, but the average of sixty-five other guys, certainly! I couldn't get through to him, and the book was approved by the board.

Happy reading!

This article originally appeared in my blog: All Things Quality
My name is Joe Strazzere and I'm currently a Director of Quality Assurance.
I like to lead, to test, and occasionally to write about leading and testing.
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  1. Nice one! I liked the one you have mentioned, seems interesting , will get me copy soon.