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

Murray Gell-Mann

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

392 Pages



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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 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.


Praise for The Quark and the Jaguar

"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

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Murray Gell-Mann

  • 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.