Surely Youre Joking, Mr. Feynman!
by Richard P. Feynman
So it was to be my first technical talk, and Wheeler made arrangements with Eugene Wigner to put it on the regular seminar schedule.
A day or two before the talk I saw Wigner in the hall. Feynman, he said, I think that work youre doing with Wheeler is very interesting, so Ive invited Russell to the seminar. Henry Norris Russell, the famous, great astronomer of the day, was coming to the lecture!
Wigner went on. I think Professor von Neumann would also be interested. Johnny von Neumann was the greatest mathematician around. And Professor Pauli is visiting from Switzerland, it so happens, so Ive invited Professor Pauli to comePauli was a very famous physicistand by this time, Im turning yellow. Finally, Wigner said, Professor Einstein only rarely comes to our weekly seminars, but your work is so interesting that Ive invited him specially, so hes coming, too.
By this time I must have turned green, because Wigner said, No, no! Dont worry! Ill just warn you, though: If Professor Russell falls asleepand he will undoubtedly fall asleepit doesnt mean that the seminar is bad; he falls asleep in all the seminars. On the other hand, if Professor Pauli is nodding all the time, and seems to be in agreement as the seminar goes along, pay no attention. Professor Pauli has palsy.
I went back to Wheeler and named all the big, famous people who were coming to the talk he got me to give, and told him I was uneasy about it.
Its all right, he said. Dont worry. Ill answer all the questions.
So I prepared the talk, and when the day came, I went in and did something that young men who have had no experience in giving talks often doI put too many equations up on the blackboard. You see, a young fella doesnt know how to say, Of course, that varies inversely, and this goes this way. . . because everybody listening already knows; they can see it. But he doesnt know. He can only make it come out by actually doing the algebraand therefore the reams of equations.
As I was writing these equations all over the blackboard ahead of time, Einstein came in and said pleasantly, Hello, Im coming to your seminar. But first, where is the tea?
I told him, and continued writing the equations.
Then the time came to give the talk, and here are these monster minds in front of me, waiting! My first technical talkand I have this, audience! I mean they would put me through the wringer! I remember very clearly seeing my hands shaking as they were pulling out my notes from a brown envelope.
But then a miracle occurred, as it has occurred again and again in my life, and its very lucky for me: the moment I start to think about the physics, and have to concentrate on what Im explaining, nothing else occupies my mindIm completely immune to being nervous. So after I started to go, I just didnt know who was in the room. I was only explaining this idea, thats all.