Note on Four Levels of Writing to 'Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman'

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“Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!”

Literal Comprehension

Richard P. Feynman is a man associated with many great names in the world of Physics. In his autobiographical work, he describes how he had desperation of learning subjects beyond Physics. In his writing, Feynman begins with a scene where he was advised to join some other school than MIT for his graduation by Professor Slater. The main objective was to let Feynman explore the world beyond the gates of MIT. Feynman then joins Princeton which had a completely different set of formalities and regulations. Feynman then arrives at a scene where he was having difficulties in deciding where to sit and how to behave when he mistakenly asks for both cream and lemon in his tea to Mrs. Eisenhart. And in response to his mistake, he hears the laughs mocking him “Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman.” After spending some time in Princeton, Feynman was able to realize those mockeries which are described as “heh-heh-heh-heh-heh” in his writing was a sign of social error. Feynman describes how Princeton, unlike MIT, was bounded by formalities and how students had to wear academic gowns to dinner. In the other scene, he narrates how he desperately wanted to see the cyclotron of the Princeton and how he found the cyclotron to be in absolute chaos. He then concludes that MIT was brilliantly managed while Princeton was not; and for some reason, he acknowledges Professor Slater and finds his decision of joining Princeton to be entirely correct.

In another scene, Feynman describes that everybody in Princeton sat in their own groups in the dining room but he wanted to know what the other groups beside the physicists looked like. Soon he joined the philosophers and was invited to participate in their seminar. In their seminar, Feynman led the entire group to debate on what an “essential object” referred to and if a brick could’ve been considered an “essential object” or not.

After spending time with the philosophers, Feynman then joined the biologists. He outlines his trials in pronouncing words and understanding topics related to Biology. But he also explains how easy it was to find a question that was very interesting and that nobody knew the answer to in Biology, unlike Physics. He also attended the lectures and seminars held in Caltech including some of the greatest biologists, which only added sparks to his enthusiasm. He then took a phage course in which he tried to demonstrate and study every detail about mutations in the phages. However, he did not continue with the research and shifted to a different subject regarding ribosome, unfortunately, nothing useful tend to come out from the experiment. He narrates their failure to the experiment was due to his amateur and sloppy acts. Feynman explains that he had gone a long road with Biology and gained knowledge on its different aspects, however, he ends his autobiography depicting his love to Physics and desires to return back to where he actually started.


Knowledge sees no boundary. Feynman was one of the few kinds who had the ultimate desire for achieving knowledge from every possible source. Feynman not only achieved knowledge about biology and philosophy but also about the hard work and determination one requires in reaching the ultimate objective. Mind is an open book and one might leave it empty if he remains confined to what he has easy access to. If Feynman had not left MIT, his mind would not have secured the height he had reached by the end of his autobiography. He discovered the world beyond MIT and tackled all the obstacles on his way without hesitation. His autobiography illustrates the power behind knowledge. Feynman met people who claimed themselves as philosophers and biologists but failed to reason behind the facts written in their notebooks. Feynman looked upon things which remained unnoticed and diverted people’s attention from mugging up the facts to reasoning the facts. Feynman’s desire to seek knowledge and determination upon his work puts him as an example setter to many generations. The way Feynman demonstrates everything around him including the college formalities, human nature, scientific techniques and philosophical reasoning are few of the many things to learn from his autobiography. His biography concludes that knowledge is never limited but spreads as one’s desires expand.

Critical Thinking

The autobiography of Richard Feynman represents a social message of spreading one’s wings as far as one possibly can which is very worthwhile, but people do come with negative responses regarding the extreme use of informal phrases and words in his autobiography. His autobiography also creates barriers in clear understanding of readers due to the excessive use of biological and scientific terminologies. A person who hasn’t studied Biology barely understands the second half of his autobiography. Beside this, questions may arise on how Mrs. Eisenhart recognized Feynman in her first glance. Also, the idea of Feynman skipping from one subject to another without completing it may get judged. Moreover, for a person to acquire knowledge in every sector is not very ordinary. Feynman’s extraordinary biography can rarely be related to any ordinary person.


Autobiography of Richard Feynman is an exquisite example acknowledging the power of knowledge. Also, the autobiography pictures failures as a part of seeking knowledge. Barriers and trials shall occur in the process of learning but one must be able to challenge them and enhance failures as opportunities without fearing the loss. Feynman failed a lot but he continued to further his knowledge which led him to receive the Nobel Prize in the latter years. Feynman motivates people to move ahead of their discomforts and lean towards their ultimate objective. His autobiography also pushes people to move outside their comfort zones to identify and demonstrate the world lying on the other side. To understand people and their natures directly influence one to identify his own potentials. His autobiography as a whole generalizes the bulk of knowledge to be wider than anyone’s imagination. A desire to achieve the undefined knowledge from everywhere is what makes a person stand among the thousand others.


Nissani, Moti and Shreedhar Lohani. "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!". Ekta Publication, 2013.




  • Richard P. Feynman had joined Princeton for his graduation.
  • Though physics was his major subject, his interests did not end in physics alone.
  • He had made remarkable prints in the fields of philosophy and biology as well.

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