Murray Gell-Mann

“It’s been a wonderful experience to work as a theorist and to get to know in your own lifetime whether you’re right,” Gell-Mann said in the recorded remarks.

One of the pivotal experiences in his life, he said in those recordings, was when he was listening to a student dissertation at MIT about boson 10 and why it had a spin unit of one – something the physics establishment believed to be true.

Then, rather than one of the many distinguished professors putting forth a question, someone Gell-Mann described as “a grubby little man with a three-day growth of beard” who looked as though he had emerged from the basement, said the spin unit wasn’t one, it was three, because they had measured it.

The light broke with a realization that pleasing the high-and-mighty professors wasn’t the goal; finding the true answer in nature was, Gell-Mann said.

Murdock said Gell-Mann reminds him of Shakespeare’s character Prospero, who said, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

He described Gell-Mann’s eyes as glimmering and sparkling as he prepares to answer a question, as if reliving the moment when he first discovered that answer, revealing his “not-so-secret romance with knowledge.”

Upon his retirement from physics, Gell-Mann, through the Santa Fe Institute, launched himself and others into the science of complexity, feeding the dreams of researchers who “spend their lives searching for the truth,” Murdock said.

In his recorded remarks on how he wanted to be remembered, Gell-Mann said the life of a scientist includes a great deal of hard work, reversals and despair. But along the way, he said, there also is “a great deal of joy.”

That, he said, is what he’d like to be remembered.

More here. Hat tip Michael Mauboussin.


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