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The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex Paperback – Sep 15 1995


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (Sept. 15 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805072535
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805072532
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #366,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In this sweeping synthesis, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Gell-Mann ponders the universe's mix of simplicity and complexity, regularity and randomness, as he ranges from quarks (the fundamental subatomic particles which he discovered) to complex adaptive systems like bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics, mobile robots, jaguars, and people interacting with and learning from their environment. Along with often technical chapters on information theory, time, biological evolution and the workings of the subatomic zoo of particles, Gell-Mann devotes special attention to superstring theory, the first viable candidate in physicists' search for a grand unified theory encompassing all the elementary particles and forces. Stressing the urgent need to control population and to preserve biological and cultural diversity, he advocates a multidisciplinary research agenda geared toward a sustainable future for the human race and the biosphere. $50,000 ad/promo; author tour.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Gell-Mann, a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist and a pioneer in the science of complexity, here examines that important concept, focusing on complex adaptive systems. Such systems are capable of learning and are able to adapt or evolve successfully. The intricate processes used by a child to learn a language, for example, constitute a complex adaptive system, as do the processes used by bacteria to develop resistance to drugs. These systems provide a context or framework for a stimulating discussion of quantum mechanics and the unified theory. Gell-Mann also explores topics such as natural selection, species diversity, and the evolution of human culture in relation to complex adaptive systems. While the topics are technical in nature, Gell-Mann's presentation is clear and will be readily understood by scholars and informed lay readers. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.
Donald G. Frank, Harvard Univ., Cambridge, Mass.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Oliver Harris on Feb. 22 2003
Format: Paperback
Gell-mann is, quite simply, an expert in more fields than most people have a passing interest in. Added to this is a lucid, entertaining writing style, and the ability to knit together seemingly disparate concepts from the fields of physics, cosmology, genetics, information theory, evolution, behavioural psychology, sociology...you name it.
It seems a few people have been criticising Gell-mann for overextending himself, boasting about his own achievements or simply writing a dislocated, jumbled book. My advice to these people is to 'look for the patterns behind the apparent randomness', as Gell-mann might have put it (because they are there, all right), give him his due for his own (considerable) contributions to physics and admire his courage in even attempting to connect so many ideas, let alone succeeding as well as does.
I loved this book, and I think anyone interested in just about any aspect of science ought to like it too.
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The tour from the infinitesimal and lonely world of the fundamental particle to the fully integrated and interdependent world that we live in as presented by Gell-Mann seems lacking in details in the most important parts. Also, the tenor of the book changes as his interest in certain topics like particle physics (for which he won the Nobel Prize) and environmental conservation increase and his interest in topics like mathematics, artificial intelligence and schemata dwindle.
His soft approach to this presentation of topics is refreshing and very informative. For the topics that he has an especially keen interest in, the book is a pleasure to read. At times, I felt that the topic of particle physics was finally presented in a way that was understandable to me.
The final chapters where Gell-Mann becomes excited about conservation is where he seems to go off the deep end, though. Contrasted with the previous chapters that were based on quantifiable data and hard evidence, Gell-Mann treats the reader to a lot of vague hand waving and allusions to the mysterious knowledge of native people. His generalizations are a little overboard (as are mine, I suppose) and his conclusions are not based on clear logic but rather guessing games. It would not be right to critique his stance on protecting the environment or his "let them weave baskets to earn income" view of lesser developed countries here in a short book review, but it can be said that if he wanted to discuss this topic, he could have at least provided evidence of the vast wasting and extermination of the environment and indigenous cultures that he wishes to stop.
Overall, this is a book that starts the discussion about our future. It contains a lot of physics (don't be put off!
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Information is rapidly becoming the new currency of business and scientific advancement. To understand information in any area, it is necessary to understand what the fundamental units are, both of information and in the area in question. However, quantum mechanics is probably unique, in that movement to the fundamental level increases the complexity. The actions that occur at the quantum level are so counter to our usual experience that it almost becomes an act of faith to believe that this is indeed how nature behaves. Gell-Mann, a Nobel prize-winning physicist, spends a great deal of time explaining the fundamentals of quantum mechanics and does it very well.
He explains the fundamentals of quantum mechanics and then moves on to clear up some of the common misconceptions concerning what is allowed and disallowed. A chapter is dedicated to an explanation of superstring theory, which is a theory that may explain all the forces of nature, but is still speculative and may never be verified or refuted.
His chapters on information in biology and how it operates in natural selection are also very well done. Given the current controversy concerning the role of natural selection in education, it is refreshing to hear a firm voice of reason arguing in favor of natural selection. He also delves into some of the more dubious areas of science, that of ball lightning and fish and frogs falling from the sky. While there have been many eyewitness accounts to fish falling from the sky, some of the strongest evidence is biological in nature. Biologists doing surveys of fish in distinct bodies of water have expressed puzzlement as to how the same species of fish can be present in two lakes that have no connection.
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The title of this review, and my low rating, are not meant as a condemnation Murray Gell-Mann as a scientist or visionary thinker. The problem is that this book has little focus and apparently does not know what it wants to be. It's difficult to tell if Gell-Mann is writing a biography of his own personal research history, or if he's attempting to draw large conclusions from his highly varied works. Gell-Mann is truly a polymath and has drawn insights into all kinds of disparate fields such as physics, chemistry, biology, linguistics, and psychology. All of these areas and more receive coverage in this book, and Gell-Mann tries to draw them all together into a unified theory of everything, using his most recent research into complex adaptive systems as a framework. Hence the sub-title of this book, as an attempt is made to draw together the very simple (quark) and the very complex (jaguar). Unfortunately, this grand connection fails to materialize as the book drags on, and the proposition of complex adaptive systems as the missing link is ultimately unconvincing. I'm also suspicious of all of Gell-Mann's reminiscing about his colleagues and exploits at Cal-Tech and the Santa Fe Institute. These almost seem like part of a fund-raising drive for these institutions. Gell-Mann would have been better served just putting together a compendium of his scientific achievements, without the attempt to tie them all together, which he doesn't quite accomplish here.
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