Murray Gell-Mann


American physicist, Awarded Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles

Author Quotes

A child learning a language does indeed make use of grammatical information, acquired over the years from examples of grammatical and ungrammatical sentences. But instead of constructing a look-up table, a child somehow compresses this experience into a set of rules, an internal grammar, which works even for new sentences that had never been encountered before. But is the information obtained from the outside world, for example from a parent who speaks the language in question, sufficient to construct such an internal grammar? That question has been answered in the negative by Noam Chomsky and his followers, who conclude that the child must come already equipped at birth with a great deal of information applicable to the grammar of any natural human language. The only plausible source of such information is a biologically evolved innate proclivity to speak languages with certain general grammatical features, shared by all natural human languages. The grammar of each individual and which also contains additional features, not biologically programmed. Many of those vary from language to language, although some are probably universal like the innate ones. The additional features are what the child has to learn.

I thought of killing myself but soon decided that I could always try MIT and then kill myself later if it was that bad but that I couldn't commit suicide and then try MIT afterwards. The two operations, suicide and going to MIT, don't commute.

So the old Copenhagen interpretation needs to be generalized, needs to be replaced by something that can be used for the whole universe, and can be used also in cases where there is plenty of individuality and history.

You know, there was a time, just before I started to study physical science, when astronomers thought that systems such as we have here in the solar system required a rare triple collision of stars.

As a theoretical physicist, I feel at once proud and humble at the thought of the illustrious figures that have preceded me here to receive the greatest of all honors in science, the Nobel Prize.

If I have seen further than others, it is because I am surrounded by dwarfs.

Sometimes the probabilities are very close to certainties, but they're never really certainties.

Both biological and cultural diversity are now severely threatened and working for their preservation is a critical task.

If someone says that he can think or talk about quantum physics without becoming dizzy, that shows only that he has not understood anything whatever about it.

The chaos can act as a magnifier of quantum fluctuations so that they can produce sizable effects in the world around us. But we know that that can happen often.

But I don't actually adopt the point of view that our subjective impression of free will, which is a kind of indeterminacy behavior, comes from quantum mechanical indeterminacy.

If we look at the way the universe behaves, quantum mechanics gives us fundamental, unavoidable indeterminacy, so that alternative histories of the universe can be assigned probability.

The mathematics clearly called for a set of underlying elementary objects?at that time we needed three types of them?elementary objects that could be combined three at a time in different ways to make all the heavy particles we knew. ... I needed a name for them and called them quarks, after the taunting cry of the gulls, ?Three quarks for Muster mark,? from Finnegan's Wake by the Irish writer James Joyce.

But when researchers at Bell Labs discovered that static tends to come from particular places in the sky, the whole field of radio astronomy opened up.

In 1963, when I assigned the name "quark" to the fundamental constituents of the nucleon, I had the sound first, without the spelling, which could have been "kwork." Then, in one of my occasional perusals of Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce, I came across the word "quark" in the phrase "Three quarks for Muster Mark." Since "quark" (meaning, for one thing, the cry of a gull) was clearly intended to rhyme with "Mark," as well as "bark" and other such words, I had to find an excuse to pronounce it as "kwork." But the book represents the dreams of a publican named Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Words in the text are typically drawn from several sources at once, like the "portmanteau words" in Through the Looking Glass. From time to time, phrases occur in the book that are partially determined by calls for drinks at the bar. I argued, therefore, that perhaps one of the multiple sources of the cry "Three quarks for Muster Mark" might be "Three quarts for Mister Mark," in which case the pronunciation "kwork" would not be totally unjustified. In any case, the number three fitted perfectly the way quarks occur in nature.

The persistence of erroneous beliefs exacerbates the widespread anachronistic failure to recognize the urgent problems that face humanity on this planet.

Contemplating patterns of human thought, we can, in a crude fashion, identify superstition with one kind of error and denial with the other. Superstitions typically involves seeing order where in fact there is none, and denial amounts to rejecting evidence of regularities, sometimes even ones that are staring us in the face. Through introspection and also by observation of other human beings, each of us can detect an association of both sorts of error with fear.

In fact any experiment that measures a quantum effect is one in which the quantum effect is aligned with the behavior of some heavy, macroscopic object; that's how we measure it.

The world of the quark has everything to do with a jaguar circling in the night.

Enthusiasm is followed by disappointment and even depression, and then by renewed enthusiasm.

Is it imaginable that in the 13 or 14 billion years before human life appeared there was no quantum mechanics That is ludicrous.

Think how hard physics would be if particles could think.

Even when the classical approximation is justified and quantum-mechanical indeterminacy is correspondingly ignored, there remains the widespread phenomenon of chaos, in which the outcome of a dynamical process is so sensitive to initial conditions that a miniscule change in the situation at the beginning of the process results in a large difference at the end.

Just because things get a little dingy at the subatomic level doesn't mean all bets are off.

Three principles ? the conformability of nature to herself, the applicability of the criterion of simplicity, and the ?unreasonable effectiveness? of certain parts of mathematics in describing physical reality ? are thus consequences of the underlying law of the elementary particles and their interactions. Those three principles need not be assumed as separate metaphysical postulates. Instead, they are emergent properties of the fundamental laws of physics.

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American physicist, Awarded Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles