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Thursday, March 21, 2013

"Stupid fools"

A friend sent me this letter from Feynman to Wolfram. Wolfram received a Caltech PhD in theoretical physics at the age of 20, before turning to other topics such as complexity and software development. Wolfram did not heed Feynman's advice: the next year he founded UIUC's Center for Complex Systems Research; then, in 1987, he formed Wolfram Research, the company responsible for Mathematica and, more recently, Wolfram Alpha.

I wish I had read this letter before taking my new job ;-)

CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
CHARLES C. LAURITSEN LABORATORY OF HIGH ENERGY PHYSICS

October 14, 1985

Dr. Stephen Wolfram
School of Natural Sciences
The Institute for Advanced Study
Princeton, NJ 08540

Dear Wolfram:

1. It is not my opinion that the present organizational structure of science inhibits "complexity research" - I do not believe such an institution is necessary.

2. You say you want to create your own environment - but you will not be doing that: you will create (perhaps!) an environment that you might like to work in - but you will not be working in this environment - you will be administering it - and the administration environment is not what you seek - is it? You won't enjoy administrating people because you won’t succeed in it.

You don’t understand "ordinary people." To you they are "stupid fools" - so you will not tolerate them or treat their foibles with tolerance or patience - but will drive yourself wild (or they will drive you wild) trying to deal with them in an effective way.

Find a way to do your research with as little contact with non-technical people as possible, with one exception, fall madly in love! That is my advice, my friend.

Sincerely,

(Signed, 'Richard P. Feynman')

Richard P. Feynman

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