Friday, February 20, 2009

Richard Feynman on honors

"I don't like honors. I appreciate it for the work that I did, and for people who appreciate it, and I notice that other physicists use my work. I don't need anything else. I don't think there's any sense to anything else. I don't see that it makes any point that someone in the Swedish Academy decides that this work is noble enough to receive a prize. I've already got the prize. The prize is the pleasure of finding the thing out, the kick in the discovery, the observation that other people use it. Those are the real things. The honors are unreal to me. I don't believe in honors. It bothers me; honors bothers me. Honors is epaulettes; honors is uniforms. My poppa brought me up this way. I can't stand it; it hurts me.

When I was in high school, one of the first honors I got was to be a member of the Arista, which is a group of kids who got good grades — hmm? Everybody wanted to be a member of the Arista. And when I got into the Arista, I discovered that what they did in their meetings was to sit around to discuss who else was [in a lofty tone of voice] worthy to join this wonderful group that we are. Okay? So we sat around trying to decide who it was who would get to be allowed into this Arista. This kind of thing bothers me psychologically for one or another reason I don't understand myself. Honors — and from that day to this — always bothered me.

I had trouble when I became a member of the National Academy of Science, and I had ultimately to resign. Because there was another organization, most of whose time was spent in choosing who was illustrious enough to be allowed to join us in our organization. Including such questions as 'We physicists have to stick together, because there's a very good chemist that they're trying to get in, and we haven't got enough room for so-and-so.' What's the matter with chemists? The whole thing was rotten, because the purpose was mostly to decide who could have this honor. Okay? I don't like honors."

From a 1981 BBC interview, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (my transcription)
[Richard Feynman was a joint-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.]

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