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

by Murray Gell-Mann

Paperback, 2002




Owl Books (2002)


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, or an artist implementing a creative idea. The Quark and the Jaguar 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 relationship between them becomes a series of exciting intellectual adventures.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member librisissimo
Substance: Ruminations over a large number of scientific topics, with biographical notes.
Style: Interesting and accessible.
(use for research in writing projects)
p. 182 on propagating misunderstandings
p. 211: multi-verse bubbles.
p. 264: on creativity
p. 270: Contains the true story of the
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greatest physics exam question ever: how do you measure the height of a building with a barometer? (Although Gell-Mann's book was not published until 1994, I first heard the story in a college physics class in 1970.)
p. 283: explaining irrational beliefs
p. 296: how maladaptive schema survive
p. 322: on irrational behavior and assumptions
p. 324: blinders in economic theory
Unfortunately, this book does not seem to contain the story of "the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect", which is referenced in Michael Crichton's essay, "Why Speculate?"; however, I know I have read the original story in some book in my library.
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LibraryThing member psiloiordinary
Thought provoking.

The title says it all in a cryptic kind of way. This book is about the QM world and the macro world we live in and the relationship between the two.

Whilst avoiding much math he does still manage to convey part of his own feeling of wonder at the subject and a notion of what the
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world really does seem to be like at the subatomic level. I was also pleased to see him railing against many of the more common misuses and usurpations of some "quantum" concepts in an attempt to justify some very unscientific claims of woo woo.

This book refuses to stick to one subject and branches out to cover complexity, the standard model of quantum physics, selection and evolution, diversity and the environment. All in well judged levels of details and in a very easy to read style.

A whistle stop tour of the issues of the day (although this was the mid nineties) and so some of his warnings about extremism and talk of cultural diversity just ring an odd note now and again.

Well worth a read.
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LibraryThing member abraxalito
Whilst the author is clearly a very bright spark, he can't hold my attention in this book. I doubt I'll ever get around to finishing it.
LibraryThing member tlockney
I liked the first few chapters, but will have to come back to this one later.
LibraryThing member mbmackay
Atomic physics, evolution & conservation from the man who even Feynman thought was scarily smart.
Read Mar 2004


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