Murray Gell-Mann, growing up on 15th St. in New York City.

Murray Gell-Mann as a child in New York City.

S+ Stimulant: Murray Gell-Mann


“I have been interested in phenomena involving complexity, diversity and evolution since  was a young boy.”


Murray Gell-Mann is a Nobel Prize winning physicist famous for his discovery of the quark – an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. The name of Gell-Mann’s discovery comes from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake:




Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure he has not got much of a bark
And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.

Gell-Mann explains:

In 1963, when I assigned the name “quark” to the fundamental constituents of the nucleon, I had the sound first, without the spelling, which could have been “kwork”. Then, in one of my occasional perusals of Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce, I came across the word “quark” in the phrase “Three quarks for Muster Mark”. Since “quark” (meaning, for one thing, the cry of the gull) was clearly intended to rhyme with “Mark”, as well as “bark” and other such words, I had to find an excuse to pronounce it as “kwork”. But the book represents the dream of a publican named Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Words in the text are typically drawn from several sources at once, like the “portmanteau” words in “Through the Looking-Glass”. From time to time, phrases occur in the book that are partially determined by calls for drinks at the bar. I argued, therefore, that perhaps one of the multiple sources of the cry “Three quarks for Muster Mark” might be “Three quarts for Mister Mark”, in which case the pronunciation “kwork” would not be totally unjustified. In any case, the number three fitted perfectly the way quarks occur in nature.

Gell-Mann’s homage to Joyce represents a beautiful marriage between one of the 20th Century’s most important scientific discoveries and one of its greatest literary masterpieces.

Murray Gell-Man

Murray Gell-Man

Gell-Mann is also the author of a popular science book about these matters, The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex. The title of the book is taken from a line of a poem by Arthur Sze: “The world of the quark has everything to do with a jaguar circling in the night”.



Seymour suggested reading: The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex  by Murray Gell-Mann


Seymour suggested viewing: Gell-Mann on Truth & Beauty in Physics

Published: September 17th, 2013

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