Dr. Gell-Mann was an early champion of superstrings, hypothetical particles that, if ever verified, can be much more basic than quarks. Later in his profession he started considering in different instructions, puzzling over the way in which easy legal guidelines of physics give rise to the sweetness and intricacy of the residing world. He explored the concept in a preferred ebook, “The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures within the Easy and the Advanced” (1994).

In 1992, a bit of greater than a decade after his spouse, Margaret, died of most cancers, he married Marcia Southwick, a poet he had met in Aspen, Colo., the place he had a summer season residence. After retiring from Caltech and being named a fellow on the Santa Fe Institute, he moved along with her to New Mexico. The wedding resulted in divorce. He’s survived by his two youngsters and by a stepson, Nicholas Southwick Levis.

By the point Dr. Gell-Mann realized he would obtain the Helmholtz Medal from the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, he was in a wheelchair accompanied by an attendant. So the academy got here to him, bestowing the prize in a ceremony on the Santa Fe Institute.

Afterward, Dr. Gell-Mann’s good friend, the novelist Cormac McCarthy, raised a champagne toast. Throughout the ceremony, Dr. Gell-Mann had been described as “one of many nice physicists of the latter half of the 20th century.” Mr. McCarthy objected to the qualification. Dr. Gell-Mann, he stated, is “undoubtedly certainly one of the nice scientists of the 20th century.”

In a chat in 2007, Dr. Gell-Mann in contrast the final century of physics to pulling again the skins of an onion, discovering at each layer that the identical arithmetic applies — and hinting that an goal actuality can conceivably be defined sometime by a common set of legal guidelines.

“Someplace on another planet orbiting some very distant star, possibly in one other galaxy, there may nicely be entities which are a minimum of as clever as we’re,” he stated. “Suppose they’ve very completely different sensory equipment — they’ve seven tentacles, and so they have 14 funny-looking little compound eyes and a mind formed like a pretzel.” However, Dr. Gell-Mann stated, we could be assured that these creatures would uncover the identical basic legal guidelines. Some folks consider in any other case, he added, “and I believe that’s utter baloney.”

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