“The best way to get an idea “evaluated”* is simply to publish it freely and see what sensible people say – or better what how experiments to test its validity turn out… It is a wonderful problem you are working on I hope you can contribute something sen sound to it and not just another hairbrained idea…”
FEYNMAN OFFERS ADVICE AND ENCOURAGEMENT FOR A SCIENTIFIC ENDEAVOR.
An exceedingly rare two-page autograph letter from Richard Feynman from 1983, signed once in full cursive, once with a printed last name, once with his initials, and once with a printed “alias” “DR. –“.
The recipient of the letter – Stephan Arnold Mascari – has provided (in an included letter of provenance) the context of the letter:
“Here’s the story behind the letter: It was in the middle of 1983 that I decided to give up being a lawyer in Washington, DC, and devote my life to resolving the greatest mystery in science—the nature of the conscious mind. I had been studying the issue since my undergraduate days at Georgetown and became convinced that the mind must have some other basis than the neural machinery of the brain. And several eminent neuroscientists had convincingly argued for a dualistic mind—a soul if you will.
“But I had no illusions about the intellectual climate of the day. Materialism was (and is) the reigning dogma. Anyone is surely a heretic if they try to resurrect the antiquated notion of the soul. Even if I could discover a natural origin for souls, mainstream journals would reject my work. Why devote my life to this ancient dilemma if I had no way of publicizing my discoveries?
“Surely, the answer would be to assemble a world-class panel of unbiased experts and let them pass judgment. So I wrote to Richard Feynman. After explaining my mission and strategy, I asked him what he thought of this idea and whether he would consider joining such a panel. This letter contains Feynman’s response….
“I might add that Feynman himself had little to say about the nature of the mind. He did express the view in one of his books that he considered the conscious mind to be ‘yesterday’s potatoes’ but he left it at that. When I wrote to Feynman perhaps the best book on the subject was Brain, Mind and Computers by Stanley Jaki. I photocopied and sent thirty pages of this book to Feynman to challenge his ‘potatoes’ comment. He read it and quoted it back to me [in this letter] but he somehow mistook my handwritten word ‘Jaki’ to be ‘Likki.’ This then is the story behind the letter.” -Stephen Arnold Mascari
Feynman’s lengthy hand-written response to Mascari’s invitation to join his panel is as follows:
Sept 6, 1983
Dear Dr. +,
The best way to get an idea “evaluated”* is simply to publish it freely and see what sensible people say – or better what how experiments to test its validity turn out.
All this stuff about expert panels, attorneys, secret panelists or authors, etc. is all silly and unnecessary. I don’t want to be on such a panel, but thank you for thinking me worthy. On the other hand, if you do ever publish it in a normal manner, please send me a copy.
Also thanks for sending the note by Likki. Ten years later we are still confused. It is a wonderful (OVER)
*If you are unsure of its value thru your own checking, analyzing or experimenting
problem you are working on I hope you can contribute something sen sound to it and not just another hairbrained idea.
“These people who make assertions so promptly” Steno warned, “… (see page 120 of Likki “Brains, Mind and computers”.)
Good luck. Thanks for writing.
[signed] Richard Feynman
P.S. IF YOU CAN’T READ MY WRITING, I SAID “NO” TO BEING ON PANEL.
(ALIAS DR. – )
[The full quote by Steno that Feynman cites is indeed from Brains, Mind and Computers, p. 120 and is revealing of Feynman’s way of thinking:
"These people who make assertions so promptly," Steno warned, "will give you the history of the brain and the arrangement of its parts with the same assurance as if they had been present at the construction of that marvelous machine and if they had penetrated all the plans of its great Architect." As for himself, he was "resolved to be persuaded only by those who in looking for a solid science are unable to find satisfaction in all that had been written about the brain.” His caution stood him in good stead. It earned him three centuries later the praise of another great Danish man of science, Niels Bohr, who commended his forebear's open-mindedness in recognizing the great inadequacies in man's knowledge of his brain. Happily for science, Steno's open-mindedness is still alive in many leaders of science and causes them to reach conclusions hardly different from his. ]
Feynman addresses Mascari as “Dr. +” which is a little joke on his part, and he continues the joke by ending his letter by addressing himself as “Alias Dr. -“. As Mascari explained, “In my letter to him, I argued that the conscious mind cannot be explained by the known components of the brain or any other component of the universe for that matter. Something was missing from our understanding of reality. And it was my quest to discover what this missing ingredient (responsible for consciousness and mental reality) was. In other words, I hoped to add something to the inventory of reality. I assume that Feynman was trying to encourage me by designating me ‘Dr. +.’ (Personal correspondence.)
One 8.5x11 inch sheet of paper, written by Feynman on both sides in black ink. In cursive, except for the “P.S.” Usual folds, otherwise fine. Housed in handsome custom presentation folder.
AUTOGRAPH LETTERS BY FEYNMAN – PARTICULARLY WITH SUCH GOOD CONTENT – ARE EXCEEDINGLY RARE.
Price: $30,000 .