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Inspired by a recipe
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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In that paper I referred to a… a recipe that Valentine Telegdi had claimed existed, a recipe of Escoffier or somebody like that, for cooking turkey breast between two slices of veal. You use the veal for flavor and then you throw the veal away. The… so what I suggested there was that the… we use for abstraction this theory, which we'd used before actually, but without the quarks. Namely three spin one half fermions—formally they were neutron, proton and lambda, now they were U, D and S quarks, much better of course—and a single neutral vector boson to hold them together. We knew this was the wrong theory, of course, but it must have had… we thought… I thought it had some of the properties of the correct theory. Actually the only thing it lacked was the color variable. This neutral vector boson was correct, but it was a color octet and it was a Yang-Mills generalization of vector meson theory that was needed, that's all. That, and a soft mass mechanism for giving a mass to the gluon. In any case, what I suggested was using this field theory to abstract current algebra results and things of that kind and then to throw away the theory, because it was a wrong theory. And again these vultures, these historians and so on of... of these episodes have claimed that what I wanted to throw away was the quarks, but of course that's not true! What I wanted to… and... and other people have claimed that I wanted to throw away the field theory,  that's also not true. I wanted to throw away that field theory, which… when everybody knew to be wrong. And that… that's simply the case. Now that paper was flawed, unfortunately, by one of those hesitations that I described at great length in my paper for the troubadour in Catalonia. And that is I knew that the axial vector charges should be used to generate low mass pseudo-scalar bosons. We'd been working on that since 1959, but in this particular paper for some reason I reverted to the idea that they would be approximate symmetries of multiplets, giving rise to degeneracy. So I had degenerate—very, very poorly degenerate multiplets—of both parities, which of course is not right. So that paper is marred by that silly, silly hesitation, silly error. But the… the other part is perfectly okay and it's clear that what's to be thrown away is this wrong field theory, not the concept of field theory, nor the quarks.

New York-born physicist Murray Gell-Mann (1929-2019) was known for his creation of the eightfold way, an ordering system for subatomic particles, comparable to the periodic table. His discovery of the omega-minus particle filled a gap in the system, brought the theory wide acceptance and led to Gell-Mann's winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969.

Listeners: Geoffrey West

Geoffrey West is a Staff Member, Fellow, and Program Manager for High Energy Physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He is also a member of The Santa Fe Institute. He is a native of England and was educated at Cambridge University (B.A. 1961). He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1966 followed by post-doctoral appointments at Cornell and Harvard Universities. He returned to Stanford as a faculty member in 1970. He left to build and lead the Theoretical High Energy Physics Group at Los Alamos. He has numerous scientific publications including the editing of three books. His primary interest has been in fundamental questions in Physics, especially those concerning the elementary particles and their interactions. His long-term fascination in general scaling phenomena grew out of his work on scaling in quantum chromodynamics and the unification of all forces of nature. In 1996 this evolved into the highly productive collaboration with James Brown and Brian Enquist on the origin of allometric scaling laws in biology and the development of realistic quantitative models that analyse the influence of size on the structural and functional design of organisms.

Tags: Catalonia, Valentine Telegdi, Auguste Escoffier

Duration: 3 minutes, 21 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008