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Millionshchikov's message to me


Meeting Millionshchikov
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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Carl Kaysen, who had just been the deputy to McGeorge Bundy who was the National… Presidential Assistant for National Security; he had just come back to academic life from being the deputy to Bundy. Jack Ruina, who had been, or maybe still was, the head of ARPA: the… the Advanced Research Projects Agency… Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense. Those two and I presented a paper on the dangers of deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems around metropolitan areas. And out of courtesy to the Soviet delegation, we presented the paper to them first, before circulating it generally. Well, they read it, and the next morning we had an appointment at breakfast. Most of the Soviet delegation consisted of scientists who were pretty much afraid to open their mouths. But the head of the group was the Vice President of the All-Union Academy of Sciences, a physicist named Millionshchikov and Millionshchikov was a… in good odor with the Party and so on and so on and he of course could… could talk. Well, what happened at breakfast was remarkable. We sat outdoors, looking out at the lake that surrounded us, watching flocks of Alexandrian Parrots fly screaming from one island to another in the lake; tall, barefoot servants wearing turbans or tarbushes or something were serving us breakfast and no one said a word, no one said anything till after we'd finished our coffee. And then Millionshchikov started to talk, and he said, 'Niels Bohr once said that in the present state of physics a theory to be correct must be crazy'. He said, 'Well, your paper amply satisfies this requirement. It is completely crazy. Why, everyday in our beautiful capital city of Moscow people come up to me, they recognize my picture, they recognize me from my pictures and they say Comrade Milionshchikov, what can you do? What can our Soviet scientists do to protect us from this terrible threat of American missiles? And I tell them don't worry, comrades, Soviet science can accomplish anything. We will protect you. We will construct a system that will protect you from these awful missiles with their nuclear warheads. Then you'll be able to sleep quietly at night. Now you, with your exchange ratio arguments from the Rand Corporation, you suggest that we should not defend ourselves against these awful missiles? Why? If the Soviet Government adopted this policy it would not receive a single vote at the next election'. Well, we covered out mouths and tried not to laugh too loud at this. Anyway the conversation continued in that vein and was not very productive.

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: ARPA, Soviet Union, Moscow, Rand Corporation, Carl Kaysen, McGeorge Bundy, Jack Ruina, Mikhail Millionshchikov, Niels Bohr

Duration: 3 minutes, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008