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Stanley Mandelstam


1961 La Jolla meeting: Geoffrey Chew
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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At the meeting we had all these interesting results presented by the various people, but Geoffrey Chew had a surprise for us. He got up and announced that he had always been a modest calculator of effects, not somebody who made grand pronouncements about general theory, but that this time he was going to make an exception and he was going to say something very general and he thought very important, and then he would go back and hide in the bushes again and do his calculations but he had to tell us this important thing; namely that field theory was wrong, except maybe for electromagnetism and gravitation, but for strong interactions it was wrong–and instead something called S-matrix theory was correct. Whereupon he repeated everything that we had tried to teach him over the years about dispersion relations, crossing, and generalized unitarity, and how you could use those instead–on the mass shell instead of the usual apparatus of field theory in order to do calculations–provided you supplied some boundary conditions or a Born approximation or something. Well, I was appalled. I thought this was really peculiar because I continued to believe that all of this, that dispersion theory was just a way of doing field theory on the mass shell. And I didn't understand why he said that field theory was wrong but this other way of looking at it was right and so on.

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: Geoffrey Chew

Duration: 1 minute, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008