Reading a book is a lot like a journey. Especially if it is Non-fiction. You have to mentally prepare yourself to embark on the journey, take time to savor the sights instead of rushing through it, mull over it to assimilate it for later remembrances, stick to the journey without giving up halfway and finally enjoy the feeling of having successfully completed it.
And so I have started a journey now. With Murray Gell-Mann's The Quark and the Jaguar - Adventures in the Simple and the Complex.
Murray Gell-Mann is a physicist, a Nobel prize winner. He postulated the existence of an elementary particle, he named as 'quark' a word taken from a novel by James Joyce. Simply put, the quarks are basic building blocks of all matter. Quarks combine to form the more familiar protons and neutrons. There is more. He named the six types (called them flavors) of quarks: up, down, charm, strange, top and bottom.
The book does not deal with elementary particle physics but is about the connections between the fundamental laws of physics and the complexity and diversity of the natural world including archaeology, linguistics, child development, computers and other complex adaptive systems. The title of the book comes from a line in a poem by Arthur Sze : "The world of the quark has everything to do with a jaguar circling in the night."
I read the Preface and the first two Chapters today.
"At most I require only a pencil, some paper and a wastebasket. Often, even those are not essential. Give me a good night’s sleep, freedom from distractions and time unburdened by worries and obligations and I can work. Whether I am standing in the shower, hovering between wakefulness and sleep on a late-night flight, or walking along a wilderness trail, my work can accompany me wherever I go."
When Murray planned to study archaeology or linguistics, his father wanted him to study Physics at the Yale University to which he replied that it was the dullest course in his high school curriculum.
"We had had to memorize such things as the seven kinds of simple machine: the lever, the screw, the inclined plane and so on. Also we had studied mechanics, heat, sound, light, electricity and magnetism but with no hint of any connections among those topics." Sounds familiar, eh?
To humor his father he went along and then he was hooked.
" My father had been right about relativity and quantum mechanics. I began to understand, as I studied them, that the beauty of nature is manifested just as much in the elegance of these fundamental principles as in the cry of a loon or in trails of bioluminescence made by porpoises at night."