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Writing The Quark and the Jaguar


The decision to write The Quark and the Jaguar
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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I mention in the first few pages of the book, The Quark and the Jaguar, how on a... a trip to Central America to look at birds and mammals, I had a… I was... I had been looking for birds and trying to record them in an area of Belize full of unexcavated Maya ruins and thick forest and lots of birds and mammals, and it was the middle of the day and I hadn't encountered any new birds for a while and I was in sort of a... I was not paying too much attention to my surroundings, in... kind of a half-trance state as I walked through the forest, when suddenly I notice a jaguarundi standing crosswise across the trail not very far ahead. I was delighted to see this beautiful animal so close. I had seen jaguarundis before, but never had I had an encounter like this–a close encounter like this–all by myself as a lone person with a lone jaguarundi in the middle of a forest. With a jaguar it would have been even more exciting of course, but the jaguarundi is a splendid creature. Anyway, at that moment it suddenly occurred to me that my interest in diversity and evolution and individuality and so on and so on, and my other interest in elementary particles and the fundamental laws of the universe, that these did have a relationship to each other which I had begun dimly to understand, and I would like to discuss it with the public. And I decided right then I would write a book and Marcia, my wife, who's a poet, pointed out a… a verse by our friend Arthur Sze who is a local poet here, Chinese American poet, that included the line: 'The world of the quark has everything to do with a jaguar circling in the night'. That immediately gave me the title for the book, The Quark and the Jaguar, the quark symbolizing the simple laws, underlying laws of nature with identical particles and so on, and the jaguar representing complexity, diversity, evolution and so on. And Arthur perceived that these have everything to do with each other, so the book is about the relation between them: how complexity arises from simple laws, a simple initial condition, and the operation, the relentless operation over and over again of chance.

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: The Quark and the Jaguar, Belize, Arthur Sze, Marcia Southwick

Duration: 2 minutes, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010