The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

This is one of my favorite anecdotes. It is from Richard P. Feynman, a truly brilliant mind with a tremendous sense of humor. Since this is such a favorite of mine, my LOML (love of my life) wrote it out for me.

I would like to report other evidence that mathematics is only patterns.  When I was at Cornell, I was rather fascinated by the student body, which seems to me was a dilute mixture of some sensible people in a big mass of dumb people studying home economics, etc., including lots of girls.  I used to sit in the cafeteria with the students and eat and try to overhear their conversations and see if there was one intelligent word coming out.  You can imagine my surprise when I discovered a tremendous thing, it seemed to me.

I listened to a conversation between two girls, and one was explaining that if you want to make a straight line, you see, you go over a certain number to the right for each row you go up, that is, if you go over each time the same amount when you go up a row, you make a straight line.  A deep principle of analytic geometry!  It went on.  I was rather amazed.  I didn’t realize the female mind was capable of understanding analytic geometry.

She went on and said, “Suppose you have another line coming in from the other side and you want to figure out where they are going to intersect.” Suppose on one line you go over two to the right for every one you go up, and the other line goes over three to the right for every one that it goes up, and they start twenty steps apart, etc.—I was flabbergasted.  She figured out where the intersection was!  It turned out that one girl was explaining to the other how to knit argyle socks.

I, therefore, did learn a lesson:  The female mind is capable of understanding analytic geometry.  Those people who have for years been insisting (in the face of all obvious evidence to the contrary) that the male and female are equal and capable of rational thought may have something.  The difficulty may just be that we have never yet discovered a way to communicate with the female mind.  If it is done in the right way, you may be able to get something out of it.

April 1966 address to the National Science Teachers’ Association.

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One Comment to “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out”

  1. This is true, I smiled the entire time I read it. 🙂
    Dawn

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