Famous Synesthetes

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman © Jon Stich 2012

Richard Feynman, born in Far Rockaway, New York, was an American physicist, lecturer, and professor known as much for his quirky personality as for his contributions to the field of physics. His work was integral to our understanding of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED), and particle physics. For his contributions to the expansion of QED, Feynman received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965. Feynman loved to teach, drawing inspiration from his students, and was often referred to as The Great Explainer. His undergraduate lectures are collected in The Feynman Lectures on Physics. In 1948, Feynman created what later became known as the Feynman Diagrams, a series of visual “bookkeeping devices” intended to help physicists “find their way out of a morass of calculations” (Kaiser, 2005, p. 157). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Feynman’s (1988) description of his synesthesia is equally visual: “When I see equations, I see the letters in colors – I don't know why. As I'm talking, I see vague pictures of Bessel functions from Jahnke and Emde's book, with light-tan j's, slightly violet-bluish n's, and dark brown x's flying around. And I wonder what the hell it must look like to the students” (p. 59). Feynman also worked on the Manhattan Project and the investigation of the Space Shuttle Challenger catastrophe, which he pontificates on in his semi-autobiographical books, Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?

 

Sources:

Feynman, R. (1985). Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman! New York: W.W. Norton.

Feynman, R. (1988). What do you care what other people think? New York: W.W. Norton.

Kaiser, D. (2005). Physics and Feynman’s diagrams. American Scientist, 93(2), 156-165.