This week, we honor one of the giant minds of our time, as Murray Gell-Mann – Nobel laureate, co-founder of the Santa Fe Institute, intense and curious person – is laid to rest.
What strikes me most about Murray’s career – and his mind – is how he explored the highest heights and deepest depths of his designated field, while continually maintaining intense awareness, focused engagement, and meaningful connection to an even greater whole.
Physics and biology. Economics and poetry. Birds and dolphins. Equations and pottery.
Dear friends, whatever it is we love, let’s let it spiral it outward, beyond the silos we’ve invented and back towards the glorious web of reality.
If we love gardening, surely we must love mathematics as well. If we love equations, as Murray notes, surely we must also love sonnets. If we love poetry, surely we must love people (at least some of them). If we love people, surely we must love biology. If we love our home planet, surely we must love all of the others.
Let’s explore. Let’s learn. Let’s wonder.
Here are the short remarks Murray Gell-Mann made at the Nobel dinner when he won the Prize for physics (minus the final sentences which were delivered in Swedish, where I could not find a translation):
As a theoretical physicist, I feel at once proud and humble at the thought of the illustrious figures that have preceded me here to receive the greatest of all honors in science, the Nobel prize. I think also of my colleagues in elementary particle theory in many lands, and feel that in some measure I am here as a representative of our small, informal, international fraternity.
We are driven by the usual insatiable curiosity of the scientist, and our work is a delightful game. I am frequently astonished that it so often results in correct predictions of experimental results. How can it be that writing down a few simple and elegant formulae, like short poems governed by strict rules such as those of the sonnet or the waka, can predict universal regularities of Nature? Perhaps we see equations as simple because they are easily expressed in terms of mathematical notation already invented at an earlier stage of development of the science, and thus what appears to us as elegance of description really reflects the interconnectedness of Nature’s laws at different levels.
For me, the study of these laws is inseparable from a love of Nature in all its manifestations. The beauty of the basic laws of natural science, as revealed in the study of particles and of the cosmos, is allied to the litheness of a merganser diving in a pure Swedish lake, or the grace of a dolphin leaving shining trails at night in the Gulf of California, or the loveliness of the ladies assembled at this banquet.