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In which Richard Feynman and Charles Weiner politely disagree

Hey--that's my tree.

Hey–that’s my tree.

The physicist Richard Feynman once got into an argument [about the belief that genius breakthroughs come from our gray matter alone] with the historian Charles Weiner. Feynman understood the extended mind; he knew that writing his equations and ideas on paper was crucial to his thought. But when Weiner looked over a pile of Feynman’s notebooks, he called them a wonderful “record of his day-to-day work.” No, no. Feynman replied testily. They weren’t a record of his thinking process. They were his thinking process:

“I actually did the work on the paper,” he said.

“Well,” Weiner said, “the work was done in your head, but the record of it is still here.”

“No, it’s not a record, not really. It’s working. You have to work on paper and this is the paper. Okay?

Every new tool shapes the way we think, as well as what we think about.

From Clive Thompson’s [quite excellent] Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better (NY: The Penguin Press, 2013)

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

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Written by kirkistan

October 8, 2013 at 8:33 am

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