Optimal thought and optimal fitness through reason, logic, science, passion, and wisdom.
Method Matters: All Human Reasoning Must Be Placed Second to Direct Experience
Method Matters: All Human Reasoning Must Be Placed Second to Direct Experience

Method Matters: All Human Reasoning Must Be Placed Second to Direct Experience

Have more confidence in your own ideas than in reality at your own peril. And that of others.

We need a passionate commitment to the truth, not irrational commitments to some idea or emotion and not irrational commitments to social prestige or “saving face.”

See also the unfortunately related “One Of The Deadliest U.S. Accidental Structural Collapses Happened 40 Years Ago Today” (NPR 17Jul2021) by Joe Hernandez, about the Hyatt Regency Collapse, where they say “After the collapse, investigators would conclude that a seemingly minor design change contributed to the disaster. The elevated walkways were held up with rods connected to the atrium roof. But the second-floor walkway was connected to the fourth-floor walkway — not the roof. That meant that the fourth-floor walkway was taking on double the intended load.”

We need more people with the commitment of Richard Feynman.

In The Challenger Disaster, they write: “After the space shuttle Challenger and its crew were destroyed in a fiery, catastrophic explosion on January 28, 1986, NASA appointed members of the Rogers Commission to investigate the cause of the disaster. When he was asked to be a part of this commission, Feynman rather reluctantly accepted. Little did he know that he would be the one person to discover the exact cause of the explosion.

Feynman was always the inquisitive type; he had to have the facts. To find out what happened to the shuttle, he went straight to the people who put the shuttle together. He learned many things from these people that would help him to discover the cause of the explosion; and also information that helped him realize what a risky business flying a shuttle really is. NASA officials said that the chance of failure of the shuttle was about 1 in 100,000; Feynman found that this number was actually closer to 1 in 100. He also learned that rubber used to seal the solid rocket booster joints using O-rings, failed to expand when the temperature was at or below 32 degrees F (0 degrees C). The temperature at the time of the Challenger liftoff was 32 degrees F.”

In “How Legendary Physicist Richard Feynman Helped Crack the Case on the Challenger Disaster” (Literary Hub, 9Jun2021; Excerpted from The Burning Blue: The Untold Story of Christa McAuliffe and NASA’s Challenger Disaster by Kevin Cook. Published by Henry Holt and Company. Copyright © 2021 by Kevin Cook.), Kevin Cook writes:

“When they resumed, Rogers clicked a red button on his microphone. Now he was live on national TV. ‘Dr. Feynman has one or two comments he would like to make,’ Rogers said.

“Sally Ride smiled.

“Feynman pressed the red button on his mic. ‘This is a comment for Mr. Mulloy,’ he said. He held up a chunk of O-ring for the TV cameras, explaining, ‘I took this stuff that I got out of your seal, and I put it in ice water. And I discovered that when you put some pressure on it for awhile and then undo it, it doesn’t stretch back. It stays the same dimension. In other words, there is no resilience in this particular material when it is at a temperature of 32 degrees. I believe that has some significance for our problem.’

“Rogers broke in. ‘That is a matter we will consider in the session we will hold on the weather,’ he said, ‘and I think it is an important point, which I’m sure Mr. Mulloy acknowledges.’ But there was no denying the impact Feynman’s demonstration had on the proceedings. His waving a chunk of chilled rubber for the cameras would be played and replayed all over the world. As Feynman’s friend and fellow physicist Freeman Dyson put it, ‘The public saw with their own eyes how science is done, how a great scientist thinks with his hands, how nature gives a clear answer when a scientist asks her a clear question.’

“During three months of hearings that spring, Feynman continued his detective work between visits to a Washington hospital for cancer treatments. ‘I am determined to do the job of finding out what happened—let the chips fall!’ he wrote to his wife. He expected the agency would try to overwhelm him ‘with data and details . . . so they have time to soften up dangerous witnesses, etc. But it won’t work because (1) I do technical information exchange and understanding much faster than they imagine, and (2) I already smell certain rats that I will not forget, because I just love the smell of rats, for it is the spoor of exciting adventure.’ ”

See also “An Outsider’s Inside View of the Challenger Inquiry” (pp. 26-37, Physics Today, Feb 1988) by Richard Feynman. At the end they say “A slightly different version of this article, edited by Ralph Leighton, appeared in the Fall 1987 issue of Caltech’s Engineering and Science magazine. The article is reprinted here by permission of the Caltech Alumni Association.” It’s entitled “Mr. Feynman Goes to Washington.”

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