The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex

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From one of the architects of the new science of simplicity and complexity comes a highly personal, unifying vision of the natural world. As a theoretical physicist, Murray Gell-Mann has explored nature at its most fundamental level. His achievements include the 1969 Nobel Prize for work leading up to his discovery of the quark—the basic building block of all atomic nuclei throughout the universe. But Gell-Mann is a man of many intellectual passions, with lifelong interests in fields that seek to understand ...

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Overview

From one of the architects of the new science of simplicity and complexity comes a highly personal, unifying vision of the natural world. As a theoretical physicist, Murray Gell-Mann has explored nature at its most fundamental level. His achievements include the 1969 Nobel Prize for work leading up to his discovery of the quark—the basic building block of all atomic nuclei throughout the universe. But Gell-Mann is a man of many intellectual passions, with lifelong interests in fields that seek to understand existence at its most complex: natural history, biological evolution, the history of language, and the study of creative thinking.

These seemingly disparate pursuits come together in Gell-Mann's current work at The Santa Fe Institute, where scientists are investigating the similarities and differences among complex adaptive systems—systems that learn or evolve by utilizing acquired information. They include a child learning his or her native language, a strain of bacteria becoming resistant to an antibiotic, the scientific community testing new theories, an artist implementing a creative idea, a society developing new customs or superstitions, a computer learning to play chess, or the human race evolving ways of living in greater harmony with itself and with other inhabitants of the Earth.

The Quark and the Jaguar is an engaging, elegantly written introduction to the life's work of one of this century's most accomplished and influential scientists. This is Gell-Mann's own story of finding the connections between the basic laws of physics and the complexity and diversity of the natural world. The simple: a quark inside an atom. The complex: a jaguar prowling its jungle territory in the night. Exploring the relationships between them becomes a series of exciting intellectual adventures.

What does a quark inside an atom have to do with a jaguar circling his jungle territory? What can the study of particle physics add to our understanding of natural selection, linguistics, child development, economics, and computers? Find out with Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann's personal account of his search for the connections between the universe's fundamental laws and nature at its most complex. 40 illustrations.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A stimulating, provocative, and uncommon cut across compartments of human knowledge that are usually hermetically sealed."—Carl Sagan

"An exhilarating voyage of learning. Not a sparrow takes wing, not an idea rises, not a quark quivers that does not inspire Murray Gell-Mann. He has made his life an adventuresome quest along the frontiers of knowledge."—Bill Moyers

"A grand tour of one of the most powerful and richly structured complex adaptive systems of our time: the mind of Murray Gell-Mann. The tour is very much worth taking."—Science

"A book every bit as interesting as its author. Gell-Mann weaves together such seemingly disparate elements as chimpanzee behavior, avalanche mechanics, superstring theory, and Shakespeare. Extraordinary!"—Mark J. Plotkin, author of Tales of a Shaman Apprentice

"A book about how the wonderful diversity of the universe can arise out of a set of fairly simple basic laws. It is written by an expert in both the fundamental laws and the complex structures they can produce."—Stephen W. Hawking

"The Quark and the Jaguar emerges as a work of considerable felicity. It can be read by anyone with an interest in science, and it has a clarity and integrity that can only be produced by sustained effort."—The New York Review of Books

"A most important book."—The Washington Post

"A wide- ranging book, reflecting a mind that has never ceased to be curious and that has been able to indulge that curiosity through travel and contact with experts from diverse fields. Thus, the book opens with a description of his close encounter with a jaguarundi—a wild cat—in the Guatemalan rain forest surrounding the Mayan ruins at Tikal. The moment was something of an epiphany: Gell-Mann perceived that out of the simple and uniform emerge the complex and individual—the organism or system with a history, able to interact with the environment. The book plays out this theme in chapters that move from quarks and superstring theory to biological evolution, language development, culture, consciousness, creativity, and the present world ecological dilemmas. Along the way, the author offers introductions to theoretical constructs like measures of complexity, randomness, and depth; and he gives discourses on entropy and the arrow of time. All in all, this is a wonderfully heady experience. It is not particle physics made easy; it is an insight into the mind of an idealist and theorist—and polymath—whose company is a pleasure to share."—Kirkus Reviews

"A grand tour of one of the most powerful and richly structured complex adaptive systems of our time: the mind of Murray Gell-Mann. The tour is very much worth taking."—Science

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this sweeping synthesis, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Gell-Mann ponders the universe's mix of simplicity and complexity, regularity and randomness, as he ranges from quarks (the fundamental subatomic particles which he discovered) to complex adaptive systems like bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics, mobile robots, jaguars, and people interacting with and learning from their environment. Along with often technical chapters on information theory, time, biological evolution and the workings of the subatomic zoo of particles, Gell-Mann devotes special attention to superstring theory, the first viable candidate in physicists' search for a grand unified theory encompassing all the elementary particles and forces. Stressing the urgent need to control population and to preserve biological and cultural diversity, he advocates a multidisciplinary research agenda geared toward a sustainable future for the human race and the biosphere. $50,000 ad/promo; author tour. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Gell-Mann, a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist and a pioneer in the science of complexity, here examines that important concept, focusing on complex adaptive systems. Such systems are capable of learning and are able to adapt or evolve successfully. The intricate processes used by a child to learn a language, for example, constitute a complex adaptive system, as do the processes used by bacteria to develop resistance to drugs. These systems provide a context or framework for a stimulating discussion of quantum mechanics and the unified theory. Gell-Mann also explores topics such as natural selection, species diversity, and the evolution of human culture in relation to complex adaptive systems. While the topics are technical in nature, Gell-Mann's presentation is clear and will be readily understood by scholars and informed lay readers. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Donald G. Frank, Harvard Univ., Cambridge, Mass.
Booknews
Gell-Mann, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery of the quark and one of the founders of the new science of complexity, tells his own story of finding the connections between the basic laws of complexity and diversity in the natural world. The book is divided into four parts: Gell-Mann's personal experiences, the laws of physics and fundamental particles, selection pressures operating in complex systems, and policy matters and advocacy. Written for the general reader. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780716727255
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/15/1995
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 375
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 10.30 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Meet the Author

Murray Gell-Mann is Professor and Co-Chairman of the Science Board of the Santa Fe Institute, and Robert Andrews Milikan Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology. In 1969 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix
Part I The Simple and the Complex
1 Prologue: An Encounter in the Jungle 3
2 Early Light 11
3 Information and Crude Complexity 23
4 Randomness 43
5 A Child Learning a Language 51
6 Bacteria Developing Drug Resistance 63
7 The Scientific Enterprise 75
8 The Power of Theory 89
9 What Is Fundamental? 107
Part II The Quantum Universe
10 Simplicity and Randomness in the Quantum Universe 123
11 A Contemporary View of Quantum Mechanics: Quantum Mechanics and the Classical Approximation 135
12 Quantum Mechanics and Flapdoodle 167
13 Quarks and All That: The Standard Model 177
14 Superstring Theory: Unification at Last? 199
15 Time's Arrows: Forward and Backward Time 215
Part III Selection and Fitness
16 Selection at Work in Biological Evolution and Elsewhere 235
17 From Learning to Creative Thinking 261
18 Superstition and Skepticism 275
19 Adaptive and Maladaptive Schemata 291
20 Machines That Learn or Simulate Learning 307
Part IV Diversity and Sustainability
21 Diversities Under Threat 329
22 Transitions to a More Sustainable World 345
23 Afterword 367
Index 377
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