the great explainer

How is it possible that a Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman is declared by the American army to be mentally unfit for military duty while an out-and-out mental case like Adolf Eichmann is judged “normal” by six Israeli psychiatrist. Perhaps there is something in the universe of what is psychologically normal that is detached from reality. A mild mannered bureaucrat with an unengaged moral intuition rises through the ranks to be an architect of mass destruction. Or, there is a relationship within the spectrum of normal that contains a component of obedience and normality is graded in part, by reception to authority and a volition to act.

Eichmann was said to have had a normal family life and was described as very average; Feynman experimented with drugs, counted a strip bar as a favorite haunt, painted – as best he could- and played bongos. Unusual, but hardly exceptional. But, not a boring figure subject to bouts of inertia. With Eichmann, given  there was ostensibly nothing unusual about him, there is an unsettling potential  that his behavior was partly produced by the  social situation he was immersed in, and, as Milgram later proved, there was no significant obedience gene in Germanic culture which meant  that within the right contexts, most of us are capable of extreme acts.

---an Army psychiatrist pronounced mentally unfit for service--``Thinks people talk about him; thinks people stare at him; auditory hypnogogic hallucinations; talks to self; talks to deceased wife; maternal aunt in mental institution; very peculiar stare``--because he did not take the psychiatrist seriously. That story of the inane misjudging the sane is typical of Feynman`s adventures.--- Read More:

from Cracked: …Richard Feynman’s another kind of character. He frequented strip clubs quite often, and he even enjoyed the atmosphere to scrawl his ground-breaking physics on napkins. The next time your girlfriend suggests a study date at the library, convince her that you do your best work with a margarita on the rocks and two legs around your head….

---Here we get to the heart of the matter: the “greatest moral and legal challenge of the whole case”, for Arendt. That Eichmann’s very “normality”, in the context in which he found himself, was not a foundation for a strong internal sense of “right and wrong”, but was instead precisely what could lead to his inability to distinguish them, what could drive him to commit atrocities because, in Arendt’s paraphrase of his position, what would have bothered his conscience most was “if he had not done what he had been ordered to do – to ship millions of men, women, and children to their death with great zeal and meticulous care” --- Read More:

When Los Angeles decided to outlaw strip clubs a while back, one such club sent out pleas among its regular patrons to testify before a court of law to keep the strip club in business. Nearly everyone who was contacted denied association or refused to testify at the trial, except Richard Feynman. His argument? That people often need a place to escape to, even to do their work.Read more: Richard Feynman |

For Eichmann,tThe most plausible theory centers around the helplessness of the individual to have impact on events, in spite of what may appear to be an elevated level of narcissism. That is small acts of resistance will have little or no impact on the aggregate whole providing a rationale that the risk of witholding is to great considering the “reward” for acting courageously. Another aspect is what some regard as an attraction to, a  fetish quality of certain types of atrocities, a bit similar to those stopping at traffic accidents. … A Feynman is such an off the wall figure, he would be considered unmanageable within a rigid institutional structure, too questioning of underlying assumptions and, known as the great explainer, he was himself simply unexplainable.And unpredictable. The man who flunked Feynman on his psych-eval may have been an Eichmann archetype.


And this:  …A rather funny aversion from Richard Feynman’s autobiography: he was denied entry on the grounds of being a loony, simply because he would occasionally hold one-sided conversations with his deceased wife. Also, he answered honestly the question of whether he thought people were staring at him. There are a bunch of people waiting in the room to take their test, but it’s a mostly empty room with nothing to look at except the people who are currently being tested, so Feynman drew the logical conclusion.

His guess was dead-on too, at least before other people started looking. And he reported each new person too. The psychiatrist, not even looking up from his clipboard to verify the number, thought he was a narcissist. Another version goes that everything was going smoothly until the shrink asked him what he thought was the value of a human life, to which Feynman responded “64″. When asked why he picked 64 and not, say, 72, he replied “‘Cause then you would have asked me “Why 72?”.” The upshot of all this is that Feynman later wrote a letter to the draft board protesting his failed psych-eval, on the grounds that he was insane enough not to want to take advantage of it. See below. Read More:



This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>