Thursday, July 16, 2015

Quark Findings from Leslie

Leslie, who is one of our Santa Cruz Wakers, jotted off an email to us all the other day and has given me permission to post it to the blog.

Now that scientists at the HCL have today announced the discovery of a new particle called the "pentaquark" (see here:, I decided to revisit Murray Gell-Mann's reasons for naming his discovery back in the 1960s(?) the "quark." And I say I gotta love this explanation of his that I found (credited as being from M. Gell-Mann (1995). The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex. Henry Holt and Co. p. 180. ISBN 978-0-8050-7253-2.]:

"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 a 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 dreams 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."
Interesting that he had come up with the word (though with the different pronunciation) before he found it in the Wake. And I learned from other online reading this evening that the particles now known as quarks occur in threes. Gell-Mann must have been over the moon when he saw that passage in the Wake! (Don't forget, of course, that Joyce--via the squawking of the gulls--was talking about the triad relationship between Tristan, Isolde, and Mark, in that particular ditty. Richard Wagner would so love that he ended up being a proximate cause of the name of the particle, I'm sure.)
Thanks, Leslie. I especially liked "in one of my occasional perusals of Finnegans Wake". Oh so offhandedly...

Friday, July 10, 2015

Finnegans Wake in 15 Minutes and...the last thunderclap!

I've been meaning to mention it for a while now, but a short intro style ebook called Finnegans Wake in Fifteen Minutes, written by Bill Cole Cliett, has been slowly making the rounds with us now. It may seem like stuff you already know if you've been living with this book for awhile, but at least for us, it has reinforced some of our own impressions. Obviously, it doesn't take long to read. I'm also interested in another book of Cliett's called Riverrun to Livvy in which he analyses the first page of the Wake for the many many themes that will come up subsequently.

And yes--we have reached the tenth and final thunderclap (page 424) of the Wake this last session! Which doesn't mean we are anywhere near the end--not by a long shot. Incidentally, Tom and maybe one or two of the others have looked into Eric McLuhan's book The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake
which breaks down each of the thunderclap words into some of their many different meanings. Apparently it all has to do with successive waves of technology. And yes, Eric is Marshall's son.