Saturday, June 07, 2008

Going Beyond Those Games We All Play

I have mentioned many favourite writers, indeed many preferred heroes, in these pages before.  One who looms large in these pages, as any search will show, is none other that the famous American Physicist and Nobel Laureate for Physics namely Richard P. Feynman.  His book of collected letters, edited by his loving daughter Michelle Feynman, is called Don't You Have Time To Think? and it portrays a very rounded human being, a multidimensional character who while he was exceedingly brilliant at science and physics, was also open to the human dimension of life in a very congruent and sincere way.  He also worked hard at his relationships and at enjoying life.  These letters, while they reveal scientific insights, also reveal a man who had suffered much but who had learned to laugh and cry at the appropriate times, and to adopt a philosophic and open approach to life and to all people whom he met, no matter what their station in life was.  He was truly a great scientist for the world and for our human progress; he was also a great humanitarian; but, more than that, he was a great son, a great father, a great husband and a great grandfather.

However, I quite readily admit that I, among many other humans,  can rattle off a rather long list of heroes like the Dalai Lama, Pope John-Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King among many, many others.  One might even mention writers, poets and psychologists like James Joyce, Sam Beckett, Paddy Kavanagh, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.  I could go on too long with such lists that run around always in my mind somewhere in the background, but doing so would be such a tedious exercise.  I note immediately the absence of women from my list, but that is not intentional - just a cultural fact I believe, because women, who are mothers for the most part, have so much else to do as well as caring for the "other child" who is their husband as well as for their sons and daughters among many others.  They often do not have the luxury to be reading, writing and experimenting.  However, there are, of course, many women heroes ( Is it politically correct today to use the word "heroine"?)  I think of Princess Diana, Mother Theresa,  Anna Freud, Marie Curie and others too.

Anyway, what strikes me about those whom we, of necessity, must call heroes is that they, to my mind at least, have gone past the playing of psychological games - which, for the most part, are so destructive or at least so stunting of personal growth.  They appear to me to have transcended the field of play where most "ordinary" mortals are, while in so doing they show themselves to us as beings so true to self that they have no need to play childish games anymore.  Here, of course, I hasten to add, that I am referring to psychological games as outlined in my last four posts by the work of the great psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr Eric Berne.

Among the many subjects Richard P. Feynman deals with in his letters is that of motherhood or mothers.  I'll let him speak for himself.  In the following letter he is writing to the mother of a scientist friend:

Dear Mrs Newman:

Well, what a pleasant surprise to get a letter of appreciation from the parents of a scientist.  I am glad to hear of how it looks from the point of view of a proud mother, who really doesn't understand what he is doing..  I know.  I had a wonderful proud mother who never understood what I was doing either.  How could "breaking my head" be fun?  And how can Tom, working so hard in the laboratory, be having fun?  But her support made my accomplishments possible - and I am sure it is the same for your family. (Richard P. Feynman, op. cit., 393)

I have also alluded to the point that Feynman was essentially Socratic in his approach to knowledge, that is, that he first admitted his ignorance firstly in any new specific area and then proceeded by scientific investigation from there.  A noble starting point, indeed.  Here is the famous mathematician and theoretical physicist showing us not just his humility but rather his Socratic approach to knowledge in a letter to a Venezuelan science teacher:

...I am sure of nothing and find myself having to say "I don't know" very often. (Ibid., 396)

And later in the same letter, he finishes  with the following greeting: "Good luck to you and your students, teaching each other." (Ibid., 396)  This short salutation contains a rather dynamic appreciation of what goes on in the teaching-learning process with its recognition of its being two-way rather than one-way!

Reading Richard's letter's has left me wishing that I had known this great man who was not alone a great scientist but a wonderful human being with insights into the mystery of life as it were.  Also I am left with a deep appreciation of this great human being's sense of fun in the enterprise we call life.  He throws off marvellous pieces of advice with utter integrity and a lightness of being viz., "...when you get older you find nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough." (ibid., 415) or this for a beautifully sensitive piece of advice to a father: "But the two of you - father and son - should take walks in the evening and talk (without purpose or routes) about this and that." (415)  Again there is a deep vein of wisdom in this piece of advice: "Don't think of what "you want to be," but what you "want to do." " (415)

He finishes this same letter to this worrying father with these marvellous words: "Stop worrying , Papa.  Your kid is wonderful.  Yours from another Papa of another wonderful kid." (416)


In all of these letters there are no poses being struck, no particular party lines being taken up or defended, no appeal to authorities of any rank whatsoever, only appeals to the priority of one's own search for meaning and to the truth or truths of life as they are manifested in one's own lived experience.  Indeed, Feynman had absolutely no time for authority qua authority - he follows wherever the lights of his own reason and intuition led him.  If that meant being unpopular so be it.  On point of principle he refused many honours including honorary doctorates as he felt the one he had earned at the early age of 24 was enough for him.  Nor did he believe in racial or territorial boundaries.  His letters show him admonishing in strong but polite terms those who wished to put on exhibitions on either Jewish or American scientists as being racist or discriminatory because science like truth belongs to the whole human race not to a particular race or to a specific country.  Our man Feynman, who was full of fun and games in the sense of real games which sought out fun, had no time for the petty psychological games which sought to score points at the expense of another human being.  I will return to Eric Berne's last chapter and quote these following lines which I believe Feynman managed to encapsulate in his approach to life:

For certain fortunate people there is something which transcends all classifications of behaviour, and that is awareness; something which rises above the programming of the past, and that is spontaneity; and something that is more rewarding than games, and that is intimacy. (Games People Play, 162)

To finish this post, I'd like to quote a lovely note Berne wrote on the difference between Mathematical and Transactional Games:

The reader should by now be in a position to appreciate the basic difference between mathematical and transactional game analysis.  Mathematical game analysis postulates players who are completely rational.  Transactional game analysis deals with games which are un-rational, or even irrational, and hence more real.  (Ibid., note on 152)

True friendship goes be yond psychological games! Above two TY students, Delphi, March 2006

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