Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Review of The Quark and the Jaguar

About 10 years ago, Murray Gell-Mann, the 1969 winner of the Noble Prize in Physics, wrote a rather interesting book: The Quark and the Jaguar. This book covers a whole variety of topics, but there seems to be two main points. The first point is scientific: that the universe is quite simple and from this simplicity all sorts of complex phenomena can emerge. The second point is polemical, namely that we should take care of the planet.

The author pretty much discusses or alludes to every famous scientific principle that is currently being talked about. Maxwell's Demon, genetic algorithms, Schrodinger's Cat, the theory of evolution, non-linear dynamics, market economies, Grand Unified Theories, and of course quantum mechanics, just to name a few. Gell-Mann clearly knows something about everything, and many of these things are interestingly discussed in the book, and a lot of them are even explained sufficiently so that you can get an idea of what it is.

(There is an interesting chapter on religious belief too, which I think might contain an early version of theories just coming out of cognitive science.)

Much of this sometimes seems disconnected, but the author is trying to describe the science of the simple and complex. Sometimes it seems to loose track of that. But the whole read, was, I thought, interesting.

At the end of the book it gets polemical. There is a slight nod toward explains the value of diversity on the planet. Both mostly there is a lot of discussion about how it should happen, what should be done, and what we would have to do to change. I thought that part of the book was weak, as I was not told why we should care about the rain forests, except that perhaps we might find some wonder drug there that some indigenous tribe has been using to cure cancer for millennia that noon picked up on yet. I would have liked to see some real good examples of what useful things ethnobotnists have found that we did not know about before. Also, I thought that the talk about the necessary change that would have to come about was very rough. I would have like some creative details.

But the book was a good read, and the style was sufficiently engaging. There were even a few interesting philosophical points along the way. It was definitely not time wasted in reading the book.

No comments: