Even Feynman got approached by the cops…


In talking about his late-night walks working on physics problems, Richard Feynman (who won a Nobel prize in physics) wrote:

On earlier occasions I was often stopped by the police, because I would be walking along, thinking, and then I’d stop — sometimes an idea comes that’s difficult enough that you can’t keep walking; you have to make sure of something. So I’d stop, and sometimes I’d hold my hands out in the air, saying to myself, “The distance between these is this way, and then this would turn over this way…”

I’d be moving my hands, standing in the street, when the police would come: “What is your name? Where do you live? What are you doing?”

“Oh! I was thinking. I’m sorry; I live here, and often go to the restaurant…” After a bit they knew who it was, and they didn’t stop me anymore.

(That’s from Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! — a book I’m finding alternately amusing and irritating. Irritating just in terms of some of the sorts of things he seemed to find “cool”, but mostly interesting and amusing.)

Except of course this whole scenario tends to work differently if you’re not a well-known physics genius, I suspect. (And no, I’m making no statements about Feynman’s neurology here. Just found it interesting that being deep in thought about physics problems also can get the cops suspicious, among many other things. And now I will go to bed, because I have to get up very early to get my wisdom teeth removed.)

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

25 responses »

  1. I’ve been stopped while out walking, or riding my bike, several times. Reasons given included “being out late” and “wearing dark clothing in the dark” — I guess both of those somehow raised suspicion, though I also suspect that my overall demeanor probably had something to do with it as well.

    Hopefully the wisdom tooth thing goes as well as that kind of thing can go, and that the aftermath doesn’t take too long to heal.

  2. My grandpa got stopped by the police for going out for a walk in the USA in the evening. They couldn’t understand why anyone would go out and just walk without nefarious intent. He got away with it by being English :)

  3. I will be thinking of you having your teeth extracted, and I
    hope that the recovery is not too bad. I never thought wisdom teeth were very smart, as they don’t do much except cause us problems.

    I often see people standing outside and having a conversation with themselves, but I live in a big, diversified, city. If they are having an amiable conversation, it doesn’t bother me. If they are angry, I tend to leave a wider birth.

  4. I think, if this has anything indirectly to do with Virginia Tech……..that it’s bs that after the chair of the english department expressed concerns to the police, they said that no action can be taken. That’s not right. Action was taken against Athena for that………..a few years ago. And I had to deal with that too……….more on that later. Too painful to think about before a math exam.


  5. Sorry, heard too late about the wisdom teeth extraction to advise you to ask for the nitrous oxide. But as to after the procedure, having been there (four wisdom teeth below the gum line removed at one time with subsequent surgical stitches in place–no fun), take the medication prescribed (don’t try to be stoic), find the towel-wrapped hot water bottle for your jaw, and take it easy.

  6. One statement I will make about any old body’s neurology is that I never cared for the position along the lines of “Hey, what’s the problem with (insert kind of person)s? Some of our most brilliant minds were (insert kind of person)s — for example, Famous Person X and Famous Person Y.” Which, of course, opens up the forum for savant stereotypes and exceptional superachiever stereotypes, which muddies the waters for (insert kind of person)s who are regular types.

    But you knew that was coming.

    Here’s to your moist sockets. I am very pleased to say that several months ago I had a wisdom tooth extraction experience that was about the best wisdom tooth extraction experience one could have. I wish that for you — I wish *better*, even.

  7. Funny, my partner & I were commenting on this very thing recently. With the proliferation of ear snails, how is one to tell who is conversing with onself and who is conversing on a cell phone any more? I am in the last generation to do a double-take when seeing an individual walking down the street, talking animatedly and waving his hands in the air, with no visible conversation partner.

    The lowly ear snail is changing the assumption of “crazy person walking down the street” into “person on a cell phone behaving normally.” Myself, I find it quite wonderful – maybe the cops will be less likely to stop future Feynmans and focus on other threats.

  8. RobDan: Laughing gas makes me forget to breathe. I got general anesthesia.

    At this point I’m still staying at Laura’s place to be observed (while she’s really sick, so it’s interesting) but have been doing pretty well, aside from the usual incapacitation from this sort of thing. The pain from the tooth extraction hurts less than the pain from beforehand, so so far I’m experiencing this as a relief.

  9. Hope you’re feeling better soon. I had to have one of my wisdom teeth extracted a few years back, after it came through and the pain was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.

  10. The pain from the tooth extraction hurts less than the pain from beforehand, so so far I’m experiencing this as a relief.

    Yeah…I had a root canal a few years back, and by the time I actually got the root canal, even the process of getting it (which had been described to me as scary and horrible) was, in relative terms, more pleasant than the horrible pain which had preceded it. Hopefully everything heals up nicely for you.

  11. When I had my wisdom teeth out, I used a bag of (frozen) peas held up to my jaw to help reduce the swelling. As said here before, take the pain medication as directed, it really does help. Hope you’re feeling better soon.

  12. The problem with the pain meds is they’re making me do a thing where if I am not thinking about it, it’s harder to breathe in than breathe out, and then it’s like all the air goes out of me, and then I sit there for somewhere between 10 and 30 seconds not breathing, before I remember to inhale again, and the whole thing repeats. I’m pretty dizzy. I’ve also had a few (complex-partial) seizures. This is why I hate Vicodin or whatever it is they have me on. But the pain meds are really working on the pain. Just need to somehow cut the dose down enough that they don’t completely screw up breathing.

    Laura is doing pretty bad. I spent all day in the emergency room with her, watching them pull all the usual “You’re not wheezing so it’s not too bad” crap that they pull when they don’t understand how asthma works. Right now it’s thought she might have mycoplasma infection or something like that.

    I’m really tired and I want to lie down, but when I lie down the breathing gets astronomically worse. I’m supposed to take more of these meds now but I am not sure I should or how much I should take if I do.

    I am also pretty disoriented, maybe shouldn’t be on the computer, but better than lying down. They hid my meds and it just took me awhile to find them. They all left earlier without explaining anything or telling me what would happen so I’m wandering around without staff trying to figure things out when my mind is mostly empty. They said they’ll check on me about half an hour from now. Maybe they’ll explain then. Things are confusing.

  13. I am sorry to hear how confusing things are for you. The pain meds certainly can make one disoriented. I do not like the idea of your being confused and on your own, even for a short time. I am sending you and Laura caring thoughts.

  14. When I had some hip surgery I woke up with no pain meds on board and started screaming. So they pumped me full of morphine. Lucky for me my mom was there to notice that I was so relaxed and happy I wasn’t bothering about breathing, since they forgot/didn’t bother putting me on an o2 monitor. It was an interesting feeling, every 15 seconds or so she would nudge me and say “breathe” and I’d go, oh yeah, and take a breath to keep her from nagging me.
    Hope you have somebody that can keep an eye on you, but it sounds like you’re pretty on top of making sure you’re getting enough air.

    Best of luck.

  15. Feynmann was a late talker, but I’ve read claims that he’s now social, “charismatic” even. (I just thought that was an interesting on-topic tidbit. I’m not diagnosing him or saying that physicists are autistic or anything like that).

  16. I once had a college math professor who would sit in the university plaza at lunchtime and talk to “nobody”. Since other people there were doing the same thing (and other “odd behavior”) he blended in, though. Maybe the cops avoided the area because of the work it would take to separate the “real crazies” from the professors.

    I used quotes on “”crazies”” because the most cogent, rational, professorially-sounding debater I ever heard there was a man with a white beard to his navel, who always wore a half t-shirt, flip-flops, and a skirt (and seemed to be homeless). And, on the flip side, the faculty there once included the Unibomber.

    “Poor people are crazy. Rich people are ‘eccentric.'”
    –Dennis Hopper, the movie “Speed”

    Best wishes to you & Laura for good luck with the doctors, illness, pain, meds, and all.

  17. “My grandpa got stopped by the police for going out for a walk in the USA in the evening. They couldn’t understand why anyone would go out and just walk without nefarious intent. He got away with it by being English :)”

    LOL yes indeed it seems something people in America rather don’t understand, in general, that someone would just want to walk… just for the heck of it. It’s easy to forget that. It’s the same here in the UK with bikes in many areas.

  18. Once upon a time I was walking home from the University when a line of police cars drew up. The officer in the first car announced that they were an armed response unit and they had been looking for me, as they had a report of someone with a gun wandering around the campus and I fitted the description.

    Fortunately they could see that someone had mistaken my flute for a barrelled weapon.

    After verifying that there was no maniac on the loose, it being obvious they had been called out on a fools errand, they simply drove off again.

    I used to be stopped fairly regularly by the police when I was younger, it was just the sort of thing you expected when you were out late at night and look eccentric.

    I have not been bothered by the police in many years now, except once in my landrover where I had forgotten to switch my lights back on after a temporary stop at night.

  19. Re, Laura and the problems at the hospital: would it help any if you could lend her that new asthma equipment you got a few weeks ago so she could measure HER baseline lung capacity? Then she could show that baseline data to the ER people the next time this happens to get them to see that, no, her lung functioning is NOT normal for her even without wheezing? (Though of course I hope it won’t happen again.)

  20. The title of that book really appeals to me. I mean “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” sounds like a prelude to a punch-line ^_^

    Truthfully though, i’ve never heard of him (Mr. Feynman). I’ll have to read-up on that; cause, if the title is this amusing, i can imagine how the book must be ^_~

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