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There's a story told about Feynman in a non-scientific book (whether written by him or another, I don't recall) that I'm trying to track down.

If I recall correctly: he's part of a group (perhaps while still a student) that's trying to think of an explanation for some phenomenon. He offers one - perhaps based in physics - and is praised for it. He then offers a completely different one, and claims that the exercise is nonsensical: he can always fit a theory to such limited data.

Does anyone have a reference for (or correction to!) this?

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See the story "Meeeeeeeeeee!" at

https://www.e-reading.club/chapter.php/71262/17/Feynman_-_Surely_Youre_Joking%2C_Mr._Feynman__Adventures_of_a_Curious_Character.html

in which he gives comparisons between poetry and physics but considers such analogies not to be meaningful since he thinks he could do the same between poetry and any other subject.

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I suspect you're referring to the Feynman anecdote about a submerged S-shaped sprinkler, which is mentioned in Part 2 of the book "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" (pages 63-65). The question he was discussing with other students was if the sprinkler is completely submerged in water and sucks in water rather than expelling it, which direction would it rotate? He described some of the back and forth of the conflicting arguments, and then described his attempted experiment in the Princeton cyclotron lab. Although the problem was not original with Feynman, the device is now sometimes referred to as a Feynman Sprinkler because of this story.

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  • $\begingroup$ I've just read the sprinkler story, but it doesn't fit my recollection. If memory serves, Feynman seemed to be trying to make a point about the lack of scientific rigour (in the social sciences, humanities?). Here, everyone seems to be trying to understand the sprinkler in good faith. $\endgroup$ – Colin Rowat May 29 '19 at 0:37
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I suspect you're thinking of Feynman's story "Is Electricity Fire?". See

https://www.e-reading.club/chapter.php/71262/46/Feynman_-_Surely_Youre_Joking,_Mr._Feynman__Adventures_of_a_Curious_Character.html

where he has frustrating discussions with people from the humanities at a conference on the "the ethics of equality" and also discussions about science with rabbinical students at the residence where he stayed during that conference.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks KCd: I'd forgotten about that. It didn't jog the memories I was looking for: the incident that I recalled had Feynman deliberately provoking social scientists/humanities - whereas here (except with the rabbinical students) he seems to be making a real go at understanding the ethics of equality in education. $\endgroup$ – Colin Rowat Jun 5 '19 at 9:14
  • $\begingroup$ See the Feynman story "Meeeeeeeeeee!" In it he mentions being able to make up analogies between poetry and any other subject, not just physics (though he does not directly give more examples in the story), so he does not consider such analogies to be meaningful. $\endgroup$ – KCd Jun 5 '19 at 12:59
  • $\begingroup$ that's the one KCd: can you suggest it as an answer so I can accept it? $\endgroup$ – Colin Rowat Jun 5 '19 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ Done............ $\endgroup$ – KCd Jun 5 '19 at 18:11

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