A Desk with My Stuff on It Dec 6, 2011

By Rick Rader, MD

I like to collect things.

Stuff is probably a better description of things I collect. On my desk I have a piston from an old race car, an Albert Einstein bobble head, a “Slinky,” a Zuni carving and an empty box of malaria pills. There’s no rhyme or reason for the ensemble. I accumulate stuff. Like most museums, my stuff gets rotated as I stumble on new stuff. The thing about my stuff is that it seems to send out messages to my colleagues. 

Word got out about the lone piston on my desk and there was a parade of co-workers presenting me with bearings, oil seals, valves and dashboard knobs. The “Slinky” encouraged the depositing of a host of Slinky-related offerings including “Crazy Eyes (glasses with Slinky extended fake eyeballs), a Neon Slinky and a Slinky Dog. I couldn’t bear to tell them that one Slinky was enough for me.

The empty box of malaria pills, a memento from my African treks, resulted in colleagues bringing me a bottle of Lydia Pinkham’s Tonic for Women, a vial of Dr. Bonker’s Celebrated Egyptian Oil, and a carton from Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. I am still not sure of the connection between the malaria pills and the parade of antique patent medicine containers. Surely my colleagues know that malaria is not a disease that has been conquered and relegated to antiquity like anasarca, aphthae or lues (those diseases still exist; the names are the only things that were jettisoned). 

Interestingly enough, the bobble head figure of Einstein (my hero) resulted in the best booty. Firstly, my admiration for Einstein does not relate to an interest in theoretical physics. I just gravitate to anyone who can get away with appearing disheveled and still have his own office.  Besides that, borrowing from the line from the movie Jerry Mcguire, he “had me at” his line, “All that is valuable in human society, depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.” So that line and his ungainly hair and tattered sweaters were enough to wish I could have shared some ice cream with him (his favorite food).

So word gets out that Dr. Rader loves physics. And of course the reality is I love physics as much as I love the idea of getting stuck in traffic, but the flow of “physics stuff” began. First came the “Balancing Bird,” followed by the gyroscope and then “Newton’s cradle.” While they kept me mesmerized for hours, the best “physics gift” was left in my mailbox on a Friday afternoon.
Someone left me a tattered copy of “The Feynman Lectures on Physics.”
Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988) was a scientist, teacher, raconteur, and musician. He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb, expanded the understanding of quantum electrodynamics, translated Mayan hieroglyphics, and cut to the heart to the Challenger disaster. But beyond all of that, Richard Feynman was a unique and multi-faceted individual.

According to his biographer, “The Feynman Lectures on Physics” is perhaps the most popular physics book ever written. It has been printed in a dozen languages. More than 1.5 million copies have sold in English, and probably even more in foreign language editions. “The Feynman Lectures on Physics” has endured for over 40 years, and they have influenced thousands of people.”

In his famous Lectures on Physics, Richard Feynman presented this interesting speculation:

“If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or the atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.”

Fascinated by Feynman’s question, the science magazine Seed put a similar one to a number of leading thinkers: “Imagine—much as Feynman asked his audience—that in a mission to change everyone’s thinking about the world, you can take only one lesson from your field as a guide. In a single statement, what would it be?”

This idea of a “single statement” geared to changing everyone’s thinking about the world intrigued me to no end. I tried to apply it to our world, the world of the Exceptional Parent, the world of people struggling not only for their rights, but for opportunities. What would that single statement be?  I’m still struggling with it. But I did dig out an old tattered sweater that I plan on wearing tomorrow in the hope that I will come up with something - something that would please Albert, Richard, and all my friends bearing gifts.  But, more important, something that would please the special needs community.

Until I come up with it, I want to share and put forth the challenge for readers of EP Magazine (Exceptional Parent).  What is the single statement about parenting a child with special needs that could change everyone’s thinking about that reality? 

<< Back to EDITORIAL Page