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Strangers by Choice

An Asocial Philosophy of Life.- Translated by Tul'si Bhambry and Agnieszka Waśkiewicz. Editorial work by Tul'si Bhambry.

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Andrzej Waskiewicz

Strangers by Choice explores voluntary otherness as a philosophy of life. This philosophy is asocial in the sense that its followers tend to privilege separateness over belonging, and yet it does not lead to alienation or isolation from society. Building on Simmel’s notion of the stranger, the author sheds light on the experience of spiritual idealists, both real and fictional, who maintain a distance from mainstream society in order to live by the laws of their transcendental homelands. Waśkiewicz addresses representations of strangeness from a broad spectrum of Western culture, including Stoic philosophy, Augustine of Hippo, Henry David Thoreau, the physicist Richard Feynman, and finally Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Highlighting how these writers and thinkers have negotiated individuality and community, this interdisciplinary study contributes to debates on identity in both practical philosophy and the history of ideas.
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Chapter 4. Between People and Elementary Particles

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Chapter 4

Between People and Elementary Particles

Feynman: passion versus fortune

The idea that a physicist who studies elementary particles could live aside from society in the sense of this book must seem quite extravagant. Today scientists largely depend on government grants; they carry out their research in the laboratories of great corporations. The epoch of lonely pioneers such as Marie Curie came to a definitive end when it turned out that their discoveries could be put to uses that reached far beyond the mere explanation of the universe. Paradigmatic of this development is Project Manhattan, which involved the scientific investigation of the structure of the atom. Such exercises in theoretical physics do not spontaneously come to mind as related to warfare, but the wartime Project Manhattan allowed the U.S. Army to developed the first atomic bombs, thus taking physicists from behind the scenes right to the cutting edge of military defines, even if they pursued their studies at a great distance from actual battlefields.

After the war, Richard Feynman, who had played a significant role in this project, decided to disengage himself from the development of a new weapon of mass destruction. Despite recognition from his superiors and proposals for continued employment, he withdrew into academic life, though his was not the campus-based life of a typical academic. Unlike most of his colleagues, who would move from one institution to another in the course of their careers, Feynman spent almost his...

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