Weekend Special: Great Teacher, Short Question, Wild Answer : Krulwich Wonders... In attempting to answer the question, "Why do magnets work?" legendary physicist Richard Feynman takes a different tack and instead ponders the word "why" itself. He asks: "How does a person answer the question of why something happens?"
NPR logo Weekend Special: Great Teacher, Short Question, Wild Answer

Weekend Special: Great Teacher, Short Question, Wild Answer

The question was simple enough. Richard Feynman, one of the greatest science teachers of our age, physicist, scholar, Nobel Laureate, bongo player, a man who could explain pretty much anything, is sitting, a little uncomfortably, in an easy chair and the reporter interviewing him asks: Why do magnets work?

Feynman shifts a little. "You're asking..." and he gives the reporter a look that almost says "This is what you want to ask me...come on..."

"I think that's a perfectly reasonable question," the reporter says.

"Of course it's a reasonab — it's an excellent question," says Feynman. "But how does a person answer 'Why something happens..?' "

Then Feynman does what he does. He lets loose and ponders the word "Why?"

Just sit back and watch him fly.


For those of you in the New York area, I will be talking to Radiolab regular Jonah Lehrer about his new book, Imagine, on Monday, March 19. The book investigates how people come up with new ideas, all kinds of different ideas: how to surf backwards on a wave, how to create a martini infused with bacon, how to perform brilliantly on a cello, how to create a dust mop, how write poetry, rock ballads, how the mind generates new ideas. It's not really a "How To," it's more a "How Do?" as in How do brains do that?

Jonah and I will be at Barnes & Noble, 33 East 17th Street at 7 p.m. Everybody's welcome.