Murray Gell-Mann

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Murray Gell-Mann in 2007
If I have seen further than others, it is because I am surrounded by dwarfs.

Murray Gell-Mann (15 September 192924 May 2019) was an American physicist who received the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles.


There is no point in introducing needless mystification where in fact no problem exists.
You don't need something more to get something more. That's what emergence means.
  • Possibly we will find an elegant model, in agreement with observation, that yields the pattern of lepton masses as well as the pattern of quark bare masses and even relates hadrons and leptons. This is our dream; touch us!
  • Today the network of relationships linking the human race to itself and to the rest of the biosphere is so complex that all aspects affect all others to an extraordinary degree. Someone should be studying the whole system, however crudely that has to be done, because no gluing together of partial studies of a complex nonlinear system can give a good idea of the behaviour of the whole.
    • Murray Gell-Mann in ISSS The Primer Project International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) seminar (12 October - 10 November 1997).
  • 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.
  • Niels Bohr brain-washed a whole generation of physicists into believing that the problem had been solved fifty years ago [Gell-Mann's comment on the Copenhagen interpretation]
    • In The Nature of the Physical Universe, the 1976 Nobel Conference, (1979, p. 29)

The Quark and the Jaguar (1994)

  • While many questions about quantum mechanics are still not fully resolved, there is no point in introducing needless mystification where in fact no problem exists. Yet a great deal of recent writing about quantum mechanics has done just that.
    • Ch. 12 : Quantum Mechanics and Flapdoodle, p. 167.
  • The principal distortion disseminated ... is the implication, or even the explicit claim, that measuring the polarization, circular or plane, of one of the [EPRB] photons somehow affects the other photon. In fact, the measurement does not cause any physical effect to propagate from one photon to the other. ...If on one branch of history, the plane polarization of one photon is measured and thereby specified with certainty, then on the same branch of history the circular polarization of the other photon is also specified with certainty. On a different branch of history the circular polarization of one of the photons may be measured, in which case the circular polarization of both photons is specified with certainty. On each branch, the situation is like that of Bertlmann's socks, described by John Bell... Bertlmann... always wears one pink and one green sock. If you see just one... you know immediately the other... Yet no signal is propogated... Likewise no signal passes from one photon to the other in the experiment that confirms quantum mechanics. No action at a distance takes place.
    • Ch. 12 : Quantum Mechanics and Flapdoodle, p. 172.
  • The false report that measuring one of the photons immediately affects the other leads to all sorts of unfortunate conclusions. ...the alleged effect ...would violate the requirement of relativity theory that no signal... can travel faster than the speed of light. If it were to do so, it would appear to observers in some states of motion that the signal were traveling backward in time.
    • Ch. 12 : Quantum Mechanics and Flapdoodle, pp. 172-173 see EPR paradox.

Quotes about Gell-Mann

  • I had barely sat down when he began to tell me... that science writers were "ignoramuses" and a "terrible breed" who invariably got things wrong: only scientists were really qualified to present their work to the masses. As time went on, I felt less offended, since it became clear that Gell-Mann held most of his scientific colleagues in contempt as well.
  • One of the things that makes Gell-Mann so insufferable is that he is almost always right.
  • Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.


  • The Feynman [Problem-Solving] Algorithm:
      (1) Write down the problem.
      (2) Think real hard.
      (3) Write down the solution.
    • Variant: Dick's method is this. You write down the problem. You think very hard. ... Then you write down the answer. (From an interview with Sidney Coleman, reported by James Gleick in Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992), p. 315.)
    • A remark about Richard Feynman's genius, often attributed to Gell-Mann, but no specific citations have yet been found.


  • That which is not forbidden is mandatory.
    • This has become a common phrase among quantum scientists, and is often attributed to Gell-Mann, but no citations of original source has yet been located; it is seems to have been derived from the assertion made in the ant-colony of The Sword in the Stone (1938), the first part of The Once and Future King by T. H. White : EVERYTHING NOT FORBIDDEN IS COMPULSORY.
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