Murray Gell-Mann

Murray Gell-Mann developed the theory of quarks, the fundamental particles that constitute the atomic core. Here is an excerpt of his biography from the Nobel prize website.


Quoted from the official Nobel Prize Website.

“Murray Gell-Mann was born on 15th September 1929, in New York City. He obtained his B.Sc. at Yale University in 1948, and his Ph.D. in 1951 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1952 he became a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, during 1952-1953 he was instructor at the University of Chicago, from 1953 to 1954 he was Assistant Professor, in 1954 he was appointed Associate Professor for research on dispersion relations. In this period he developed the strangeness theory and the eightfold way theory. In 1956 he was appointed Professor, his research then turned more to the theory of weak interactions.


Murray Gell-Mann is one of today’s most prominent scientists. He is currently Distinguished Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute as well as the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor Emeritus at the California Institute of Technology, where he joined the faculty in 1955. In 1969 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles. He is the author of The Quark and the Jaguar, published in 1994, in which his ideas on simplicity and complexity are presented to a general readership.

Among his contributions to Physics was the “eightfold way” scheme that brought order out of the chaos created by the discovery of some 100 kinds of particles in collisions involving atomic nuclei. Gell-Mann subsequently found that all of those particles, including the neutron and proton, are composed of fundamental building blocks that he named “quarks,” with very unusual properties. That idea has since been fully confirmed by experiment. The quarks are permanently confined by forces coming from the exchange of “gluons.” He and others later constructed the quantum field theory of quarks and gluons, called “quantum chromodynamics,” which seems to account for all the nuclear particles and their strong interactions.

Professor Gell-Mann was a director of the J.D. and C.T. MacArthur Foundation from 1979–2002 and is a board member of the Wildlife Conservation Society.


Gell-Mann’s interests extend to historical linguistics, archeology, natural history, the psychology of creative thinking, and other subjects connected with biological and cultural evolution and with learning. Much of his recent research at the Santa Fe Institute has focused on the theory of complex adaptive systems, which brings many of those topics together. Currently Professor Gell-Mann is spearheading the Evolution of Human Languages Program at the Santa Fe Institute. Another focus of his work relates to simplicity, complexity, regularity, and randomness. He is also concerned with how knowledge and understanding are to be extracted from the welter of “information” that can now be transmitted and stored as a result of the digital revolution. Professor Gell-Mann lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and he teaches from time to time at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.


From Gell-Mann, Murray. The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex. St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995. Print.

  • 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.  P. 25
  • 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.  P.53
  • First of all, it is true that mathematics is not really a science at all, if a science is understood to be a discipline devoted to the description of nature and its laws. Mathematics is more concerned with proving the logical consequences of certain sets of assumptions. For this reason, it can be omitted altogether from the list of sciences (as it was from Nobel’s will) and treated as an interesting subject in its own right (pure mathematics) as well as an extremely useful tool for science (applied mathematics). P.108
  • For describing the universe, a more general interpretation of quantum mechanics is clearly necessary, since no external experimenter or apparatus exists and there is no opportunity for repetition, for observing many copies of the universe. P.137
  • 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. P.276

From his TED talk, see video below:

  • 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.
  • You don’t need something more to get something more. That’s what emergence means. Life can emerge from physics and chemistry plus a lot of accidents. The human mind can arise from neurobiology and a lot of accidents, the way the chemical bond arises from physics and certain accidents. Doesn’t diminish the importance of these subjects to know they follow from more fundamental things plus accidents.


Video from TED Talks, 2007.

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