I recently finished reading "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" and found his life to be often profound, sometimes cringe, and consistently wonderful. Here is my ranking of some of his advice.
Above all else, always focus on true understanding. The kind which you get from experiencing, teaching others, and extrapolating beyond the homework. This idea was best summed up by an analogy in which he blasts the Brazilian physics program for its emphasis on volume and rote. Unfortunately, the style of education on blast has become the norm.
Then I gave the analogy of a Greek scholar who loves the Greek language, who knows that in his own country there aren't many children studying Greek. But he comes to another country, where he is delighted to find everybody studying Greek—even the smaller kids in elementary schools. He goes to the examination of a student who is coming to get his degree in Greek, and asks him, "What were Socrates' ideas on the relationship between Truth and Beauty?"—and the student can't answer. Then he asks the student, "What did Socrates say to Plato in the Third Symposium?" the student lights up and goes, "Brrrrrrrrr-up"—he tells you everything, word for word, that Socrates said, in beautiful Greek.
But what Socrates was talking about in the Third Symposium was the relationship between Truth and Beauty!
What this Greek scholar discovers is, the students in another country learn Greek by first learning to pronounce the letters, then the words, and then sentences and paragraphs. They can recite, word for word, what Socrates said, without realizing that those Greek words actually mean something. To the student they are all artificial sounds. Nobody has ever translated them into words the student can understand.
Try and understand the phenomena itself instead of just the word.
The answer was, for the wind-up toy, "Energy makes it go." And for the boy on the bicycle, "Energy makes it go." For everything, "Energy makes it go."
Now that doesn't mean anything... The child doesn't learn anything; it's just a word!
Make sure you have a real example to test your understanding.
He thinks I'm following the steps mathematically, but that's not what I'm doing. I have the specific, physical example of what he's trying to analyze, and I know from instinct and experience the properties of the thing.
It is foolish to seek the wisdom of the crowd.
This question of trying to figure out whether a book is good or bad by looking at it carefully or by taking the reports of a lot of people who looked at it carelessly is like this famous old problem: Nobody was permitted to see the Emperor of China, and the question was, What is the length of the Emperor of China's nose? To find out, you go all over the country asking people what they think the length of the Emperor of China's nose is, and you average it. And that would be very "accurate" because you averaged so many people. But it's no way to find anything out; when you have a very wide range of pople who contribute without looking carefully at it, you don't improve your knowledge of the situation by averaging.
Reflect on the value of what it is you're achieving. It's easy to get caught up in the joy of achievement.
After the [atomic bomb test] went off, there was tremendous excitement at Los Alamos. Everybody had parties, we all ran around. I sat on the end of a jeep and beat drums and so on. But one man, I remember, Bob Wilson, was just sitting there moping.
I said, "What are you moping about?"
He said, "It's a terrible thing that we made."
I said, "But you started it. You got us into it."
You see, what happened to me—what happened to the rest of us—is we started for a good reason, then you're working very hard to accomplish something and it's a pleasure, it's excitement. And you stop thinking, you know; you just stop. Bob Wilson was the only one who was still thinking about it, in that moment.