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...

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