Murray Gell-Mann

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ORAL HISTORIES
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Interviewed by
Dan Ford
Interview date
Location
Telephone interview
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Interview of Murray Gell-Mann by Dan

Ford on 2017 January 15,Audio and video interviews about the life and work of Richard Garwin, 2004-2012Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/40912-9

For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.

In this interview Murray Gell-Mann discusses topics such as: Richard Garwin, University of Chicago, particle physics, strangeness, Leon Lederman, nuclear defense policy, JASON, electronic fence, President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), Richard Nixon, supersonic transport (SST), Jay Keyworth, Star Wars. This interview is part of a collection of interviews on the life and work of Richard Garwin. To see all associated interviews, click here.

Transcript

Gell-Mann:

Hello.

Ford:

Professor, this is Dan Ford calling.

Gell-Mann:

Hello.

Ford:

How are you?

Gell-Mann:

I’m okay, thanks.

Ford:

Good.

Gell-Mann:

How are you doing?

Ford:

Good. Is this still a good time to talk about the Garwin…

Gell-Mann:

Yes, it’s fine. It’s fine.

Ford:

Good. Well, I’ve been reading your own biography — or the one by George Johnson.

Gell-Mann:

Oh, that’s not a biography. It’s a work of fiction masquerading as a biography.

Ford:

I see. Actually one of the things as someone attempting a biography of a scientist, I wanted to ask you what you felt about his work.

Gell-Mann:

It’s really awful. I mean he pays absolutely no attention to truth. Of course, that’s a familiar problem with journalists.

Ford:

His contention that he is raising science writing to literature, that certainly doesn’t work, but I’m obviously not in a position to judge the truth of this.

Gell-Mann:

Well, I don’t care to… the book is a page turner. It’s very interesting reading, I think. I’m not sure it’s great literature but it is very interesting reading. But it’s not about me.

Ford:

I see the problem.

Gell-Mann:

If he’d given it a different name it might have been all right. I mean, as a work of fiction he could have made the hero, the protagonist, somebody else, so then it would be all right. But it fails almost completely to recount correctly things that I’ve done or things that I’ve… He has a theory about my father which is very odd and none of it is conforming to reality.

Ford:

Very strange. Well, at any rate, to get to the Garwin business, when did you first interact with him? If I understand the timeline you were involved with Fermi and Chicago but more or less just as Garwin was leaving.

Gell-Mann:

Well, something like that. It’s not quite true that he was leaving, but he left after a while. Let’s see if we can get the chronology straight and so on. I was a graduate student at MIT, of Vicki Weisskopf.

Ford:

Whom I met many times.

Gell-Mann:

You knew Vicki Weisskopf?

Ford:

A wonderful man.

Gell-Mann:

A wonderful man. You knew him?

Ford:

Oh, yes, because I worked with Henry Kendall at MIT for almost ten years.

Gell-Mann:

Okay. Well, anyway, he was a wonderful guy and I was one of his graduate students and his graduate students and his post docs all occupied a big room with several desks, four or five desks, so I got to know these people fairly well. They were graduate students a year or so ahead of me and they were post docs like “Murph” Goldberger, Marvin L. Goldberger. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him.

Ford:

Yeah, I interviewed him for the book.

Gell-Mann:

Anyway, Murph was there and he had just come from Chicago where he had gotten his PhD with, I guess, Enrico Fermi. But anyway he knew Enrico very well. So Murph and I spent a lot of time together and talked about things together. I learned a lot from him and he might even have learned something from me, but he was a post doc and I was a graduate student. I should have finished in June of 1950 but I delayed writing up my dissertation for another term, reading Evens-Wentz translation of The Book of the Dead and things like that, anything to avoid doing the dissertation. So I finished up in January of 1951 instead of June 1950 which meant I was 21 instead of 20. Then I went to the Institute for Advanced Study for a year. In the meantime, Murph had gone back to Chicago as an assistant professor. He turned down Harvard and accepted Chicago.

And he arranged for me to be invited to Chicago. He told people I was a good person and so they invited me to be an instructor at Chicago which doesn’t sound like much of a job but actually it was pretty good. Frank Yang had that job and Richard Garwin and some other fellow whose name I don’t remember. It’s rather obscure but several important people had that job. I asked Frank Yang about it. I said “They’re offering me this instructorship. I know what an instructor is like at MIT or at Harvard. It’s sort of below janitor. Is that the case in Chicago?” He said “No, absolutely not.” So I said “Well, how many instructors are there who are competing with one another for a promotion?” He said “You’ll be the only one.” And I said “But I’ll be an academic. I’ll have to teach. How many hours will I have to teach?” He said “You’ll teach one course for one quarter.”

So I began to realize that this was a very special instructorship. There wasn’t anything like this anywhere else. And the pay was princely, $4300 per year, can you imagine anything that big?

Ford:

This is 1952 or so?

Gell-Mann:

1951, yes.

Ford:

1951.

Gell-Mann:

Wait a minute, yeah, January 1951 it was when I went to the Institute for Advanced Study so it was a year later. It was January 1952 when I went to Chicago, January of 1952, yes. So Garwin had been promoted from this job to assistant professor and he was there. And then, as you say, he left after a while to go into industry but we did know each other that term, January to June 1952 at least if not longer. You know exactly when he left?

Ford:

He left some time in 1952. [December 1952.]

Gell-Mann:

Okay, so that would be June 1952. Okay, it was that term then, those two quarters, the winter and the spring quarter, I guess, of 1952 would be when knew each other. I didn’t interact very much with him but a little bit. One occasion was particularly striking for me at least, we had every week a sort of Quaker meeting at the Institute for Nuclear Studies which was later called the Fermi Institute after one of our more noted physicists. We just sat around and somebody would get up and speak. The spirit would move somebody to get up and speak. We referred to it actually as the Quaker meeting. And one day I got up and talked about what later became known as strangeness. It was a solution to a very important puzzle that a lot of new particles were being discovered in cosmic radiation which were produced copiously and decayed very slowly.

That is to say in 10 billionths of a second or so which on a nuclear scale is very slow. The standard for speed would be made up of the velocity of light and the width of a nucleus, something like that. Right? So 10 to the -13 cm and 3 x 10 to 10 cm per second so something in the order of 10 to the -10 seconds is extremely slow on that scale. So I said that I thought the reason was that there were strong interactions and weak interactions, the strong interactions responsible for the nuclear force and weak interactions which included beta decay and various related phenomena and then what happened was that there was some selection rule preventing these particles from decaying by the strong interaction but allowing them to decay by the weak interaction. That was why they were produced copiously and decayed slowly. And then I gave my detailed theory which is a very simple theory that these were charged multiplets that were displaced from the usual position. So instead of the average charge of the multiplet being zero as it was for the known bosons it was the half for these things and for fermions, for the known fermions, the average was the half or minus a half, and in this case it was zero.

So I had to overcome a lot of prejudice and superstition about this. People had certain ideas that were fixed and wrong. That’s very often the case in science, as you know. What holds you up is that certain things are generally agreed upon and believed to be proved but they’re wrong. And if you maintain that prohibition you can’t make progress. But if you notice that the thing everybody believes is true is false, then you can just throw it away and go right ahead. So this is one those cases I’ve encountered, a number of those cases I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter, a number of those cases, this was one of them.

Anyway I gave the talk on it. Fermi wasn’t there. He was off doing something else. He was out of town. Richard was there, however, and Richard got up immediately after I finished and said he couldn’t see what this possibly could mean or what use it would be. He said “Well, this is not a very good observation on his part because he was trying to make these strange particles in the reaction, neutron plus neutron gives lambda plus lambda.” And using my method this was forbidden and it wouldn’t have worked. I mean the stronger reaction would have not permitted neutron plus neutron gives lambda plus lambda. So it would have been very good if he and I had sat down and discussed this and he’d realize that my theory actually had profound implications, not only in general but for his work.

In Russia, the same thing was being done by Pontecorvo. You remember Pontecorvo who defected from the west to Russia. He was doing the same kind of experiment over there but particle physics was still classified in the Soviet Union so we couldn’t follow his work but we could follow Garwin’s. Anyway, Dick later apologized very handsomely for this occasion. Most people wouldn’t do that. He remembered it. First of all, most people would have forgotten it but he remembered that he had trashed this speech and that he should have listened more carefully and accepted it and we could have worked out this prediction that his experiment would fail to produce lambdas.

Ford:

So this directly related to something he was doing?

Gell-Mann:

That’s right. He was doing the experiment and he had not yet found any lambdas and my prediction was he would never find any. The weak interaction could produce lambdas but that’s so weak that it wouldn’t have given any significant number of events, not enough to be measured. Anyway, years later he recalled this which most people wouldn’t do and he also said he was terribly sorry about it which almost nobody would have done. It was pretty nice.

Ford:

Various people have told me about his level of honesty which they just found exceptional.

Gell-Mann:

Anyway, unfortunately, this discouraged me a lot. Well, I’ve written about the whole thing, not about that, but I’ve written about how I was discouraged for a long while, didn’t publish it and finally I did.

Ford:

You mean discouraged about the strangeness theory?

Gell-Mann:

Yeah, by then some Japanese had also thought of strangeness by the time I got around to write it. I waited a year and a half to publish it. Garwin’s remark was part of that. There was no reason really for me to listen; I knew it was good. I could have made this prediction. I could have done all these things. I just was… you know, I was young and I was neurotic and easily discouraged, not sure of myself.

Ford:

You both couldn’t have been more than, like he would have been, I think, 23 or something.

Gell-Mann:

He was older. He got his degree a year and a half earlier, 1949, I think. And he was older anyway. So he would have been, what, three years older or something like that. How old is he now?

Ford:

He’s now 70…

Gell-Mann:

I would guess he’s 80.

Ford:

78, pushing it. [79]

Gell-Mann:

Oh, 78, is that right? Only a year older. Okay. He’s only a year older than I am.

Ford:

I’ve talked to people, other people who were at Chicago at the time, like Val Telegdi, etc. He, of course, was one of Garwin’s closest friends but he described Garwin as being just…

Gell-Mann:

Wait a minute, something’s gone wrong with the communication. Just a moment. My cell phone is interfering with the land line. Go ahead.

Ford:

Telegdi said that Garwin was almost impossibly abrasive and said he would be standing in the laboratory and he’d like to look over other people’s shoulders at what they were doing.

Gell-Mann:

And make comments about how they could do it better.

Ford:

He would be saying only an idiot would be using that type of set-up or something or other.

Gell-Mann:

There’s not much room for people who specialize in improving what other people are doing. Szilard was like that and people should have listened to Szilard because if he was visiting your lab and he said you should stop doing whatever you were doing and should do X, you would have been well advised to do X, but people aren’t like that. A problem with Richard I noticed in policy questions having to do with military matters and so on, a problem with him was always that if the system somehow included people then his comments on the system were not always so wise. If it was a purely technological question then he always had a brilliant solution but to the extent that there were human beings in the loop his recommendations were sometimes not very sensible at all. Do you see what I mean?

Ford:

Could you give me an example of that?

Gell-Mann:

Well, I mean, didn’t he recommend hair trigger response for nuclear…

Ford:

Launch on warning and stuff.

Gell-Mann:

Whatever it is. Launch on warning, yeah, I mean that’s totally insane. If you include the errors that people make and the craziness of certain people and so on and so on it’s a nutty thing to recommend. But the purely formal point of view though, having to do with technical matters and deterrence it was quite the rational thing to suggest but not in the world of real people. Don’t you agree?

Ford:

I wrote a book about the nuclear command and control system and…

Gell-Mann:

Then you must certainly agree.

Ford:

Yes, the launch on warning posture was really, really dangerous.

Gell-Mann:

Exactly but Richard somehow couldn’t see that because there was a human being in the loop and it was the human being causing the problem and he just didn’t have any feeling for that.

Ford:

As I looked into it further the real plan that the Strategic Air Command relied on was preemptive attack to begin with.

Gell-Mann:

Yes. Of course, we’re not supposed to know that.

Ford:

Yes. I remember I was interviewing a very senior intelligence person but interviewing them about the Soviet war plan and everything was so politicized in discussing intelligence matters I wanted to ask him whether it was really correct that the Soviets had a first-strike policy and all of this and he said “Oh, yes, it’s abundantly clear.” And he went on to discuss some of the non-classified evidence and then he just said in passing, he said “Of course, our plan is a mirror image of theirs.” I said “You mean we have a preemptive option?” He said “I will just repeat that our plan is a mirror image of theirs.” When I wrote the book and there was some conference, I guess it was at TRW and some former commander-in-chief of SAC was there and wrote some memo which wasn’t classified, I mean it was at a TRW conference but he went on talking about I forget which particularly new missile, the Trident D5, and talking about how useful it would be for implementing for preemptive attack.

Gell-Mann:

Well, actually the Trident is a relatively… the whole submarine launch force is relatively innocent as far as that goes.

Ford:

Oh, yes, I was always in favor…

Gell-Mann:

It can be used for genuine deterrence.

Ford:

Yes, I always got myself in trouble for advocating get rid of land-based missiles and just relying on the submarines which was not the official doctrine. At any rate, getting back to your interactions with Garwin, you had that crossover period in Chicago.

Gell-Mann:

That’s right and as I said, we didn’t interact very much but now and then a little bit. I got to know him anyway.

Ford:

What were your impressions of his skill level? I mean everybody talks…

Gell-Mann:

Pardon?

Ford:

I said what were your impressions of his skill level? I mean everybody talks…

Gell-Mann:

His what level?

Ford:

Skill or his degree of genius.

Gell-Mann:

Oh, he was obviously very bright. I don’t think there was anybody who doubted that he was very bright. I couldn’t comment on his experimental work. I don’t know anything about experiments or about the equipment except well, so far as a theorist has to know a certain amount. A theorist has to know when an experiment might possibly be wrong, that sort of thing. Otherwise I’m not a big expert on experimental apparatus and he was a great expert. Anyway, he left I guess to go to IBM.

Ford:

That’s right.

Gell-Mann:

In the meantime he was involved with national security matters very early on. We had a physics party every year and that year, I guess, the year he left, his last year there, they made up songs about a lot of us faculty members in physics, all with the same tune and the same punch line and so on, about how, “No, never mind I’ll stick to my Nobel prize.” That was the theme of each one of these tunes. In Richard’s case it went like this. (Sings) “There’s a special medal, said General Joseph Mayer, for those who die under Korean skies. Oh, no, thank you, said Colonel Richard Garwin, I’ll be content with a Nobel Prize.”

Ford:

This is the first singing interview I’ve had.

Gell-Mann:

Now why did all this happen? Joseph Mayer was indeed what’s called an assimilated or simulated general, brigadier, I guess. And Richard was a simulated colonel or assimilated, whatever they used, the military used the wrong word, whatever it is. But anyway he was in principle a colonel and indeed he was invited to go to Korea with Joe Mayer and it was all about some kind of national security stuff having to do with the war which was still on, the Korean War was still on. In fact, that’s right, the Korean War didn’t reach a truce until the following year, 1953. I was almost drafted but I was kept out of the draft by being a physicist, working on physics. The secretary of the Nuclear Institute should have sent a letter to my draft board. Every year they had to get a letter saying that I was working on physics and I should be deferred and so on. She just didn’t send it.

So all of a sudden out of nowhere I got a draft notice and I asked in New York what this was all about and they said “Well, we don’t know what you’re doing. We don’t have a deferment for you.” So I complained and finally it was straightened out but that was the real reminder that the Korean War was still on.

Ford:

He did end up going to Korea, I know.

Gell-Mann:

Yeah, that was the idea. He went to Korea with Joe.

Ford:

It had something to do with studying tactical aircraft.

Gell-Mann:

Yes, I believe so. I got involved with something like that myself actually, that summer. No, it was earlier summer in fact. It was earlier. It was 1951, the summer of 1951 I spent in the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.

[Change of tapes]

Gell-Mann:

But I wasn’t actually involved with weapons or anything or radar or anything. I was involved in some of the theoretical ideas about information. I worked with Keith Brueckner on the following question. If you have a lot of computer elements, little primordial computer elements out of which you’re trying to make a big computer and each one is almost always wrong. I mean it’s 51% right and 49% wrong or something like that. Can you make a reliable computer out of such thoroughly unreliable elements? Brueckner and I said yes, you can and what we did was to take three of these things and take a majority vote and then do it again and again and again and again until a huge number of elements had been involved in voting, voting over and over if necessary. Then finally we would purify the signal and actually get a fairly reliable computer.

We didn’t write it up but that’s what we did over the summer. John von Neumann was hired as a consultant to our group and he came for a day on his way between Princeton and Los Alamos. He loves to drive alone across the country and think. So he did that and he stopped in Urbana to see us and he was paid a few hundred dollars or something to do that. He was very, very bright and very quick. He immediately saw what we were doing and he immediately made some useful comments on it and so on and then he went on, drove across the country the rest of the way. Then years later, about five years later, he gave a talk at Cal Tech which was printed in which he included this question of making a reliable computer out of mostly unreliable elements. He went on to say that you can purify the signal and get exponential purification and so on, which we had said, too. We hadn’t proven it very carefully or rigorously and neither had he for that matter. Then he mentioned Brueckner and me. He thanked us for inventing the majority voter, not for working on the problem but for inventing the majority voter.

Well, I was so flattered to be mentioned in a paper of John von Neumann that I didn’t notice he had stolen our material. It’s pretty funny.

Ford:

You should work on the system of majority voting for our country to figure out how we can converge on better leaders than we seem to come up with.

Gell-Mann:

The problem was that there were so many people whose votes were deliberately excluded, at least in 2000. I’m not positive that the election was stolen that way in 2004 but it may have been. I think there’s no doubt whatsoever that it was stolen in 2000 by Katherine Harris. She ordered her poll workers to eliminate any voter who looked as if he could be challenged as a felon or not if the person had the same name as a felon or lived in the same village as a felon or whatever, out, and there was no recourse at that time. There were no provisional ballots. The only thing you could do was phone election headquarters in Tallahassee and, of course, it was busy. There was only one phone. So there was nothing to do. If you showed up to vote, you were black and therefore presumably a Democrat you were told you were a felon and that was it. And that was a matter of thousands of votes, not the few hundred that the Supreme Court was worried about. So that election was just flat out stolen. There’s no question about it. The next one I’m not so sure. It might have been. I don’t know if you’ve reached an opinion about it.

Ford:

I live in Paris, so I regard everything going on in the states from a very large distance, and one of the reasons I live there is I get too sad and too frustrated if I’m living here and exposed to all of these things.

Gell-Mann:

So you’d like to go to Paris. If the book makes lots and lots of money you’ll move back to Paris.

Ford:

Yes, I’ll move back to Paris.

Gell-Mann:

Where do you live in Paris?

Ford:

I have an apartment in the Marais. It’s right on Rue de….

Gell-Mann:

Oh, the Marais. That’s very nice. There are some pretty good restaurants there too. The Marais.

Ford:

It’s very congenial.

Gell-Mann:

I almost bought an apartment on the Ile Saint-Louis looking across at the Marais. I should have. I thought, well, we’d never get here. It’s too expensive to reach there and so on but as an investment it would have been incredible. I never thought of things as investments for some reason.

Ford:

Dick and his wife came to visit a couple years ago when I…

Gell-Mann:

Lois, you say? Dick and Lois?

Ford:

That’s right and I have a guest room in my apartment so they stayed with me and they were really amazing because the two of them have been to Paris hundreds of times but…

Gell-Mann:

Well, she might know a word or two of French. I doubt if he knows any.

Ford:

Oh, no, he’s actually quite…he’s certainly…

Gell-Mann:

He actually speaks French well?

Ford:

He speaks French well enough. He writes it quite impeccably because he’s written…

Gell-Mann:

Really! I had no idea.

Ford:

Because he’s done a lot of work with Georges Charpak. They’ve published, I think, two books together in French.

Gell-Mann:

A recent acquaintance of mine, Georges Charpak. I met him in 1952.

Ford:

I see.

Gell-Mann:

We’ve been quite friendly ever since. I rented his house in Gex one of the years I was at CERN. I would greet him loudly in the CERN cafeteria saying “Ah, Georges, you putmeoh??[???].” He was still a communist at that time and didn’t like to be referred to as po-plee-oh??[???].

Ford:

That’s funny. But back to the good old fifties, from this fiction that calls itself your biography, it talks about the non-conservation of parity experiment that Garwin worked on with Lederman and so forth. As a non-physicist I’m still trying to come up with some reasonable way of explaining the significance of that to lay readers. Do you have a way of boiling down what that means that might be vaguely comprehensible to the lay person?

Gell-Mann:

Yes, there is a way, I think, where you substitute winding a coil for some other simpler thing which you can’t do. What you can do is wind the coil and that’s all they did. That was the whole experiment. It was very trivial. Nobody noticed it. The simplest things are the ones that people usually don’t notice. If it had been some immensely complicated technical thing that they discovered, probably somebody would have found it but since it was so trivial nobody did. In the meantime there was a laborious experiment going on at Chicago, headed by Telegdi, by Val. They reached their conclusion around the same time and the two things were received at the same time by the journal and they should have been printed at the same time with the same conclusion, of course.

The one of Garwin and Lederman was much more clear cut and simple but they both gave the same result. But the politics of Columbia University was such that they managed to get the Physical Review which is under the thumb of Columbia University to publish one and not the other. The other one was put off until the next issue. Valentine was furious. It turned out that what happened was that one of them, I don’t know which one, but one of those Garwin-Lederman people phoned up Chicago and asked somebody how their experiment was going and the person they asked, I think it was Jerry Friedman. The person they asked was responsible for only a small fraction of the results and he said well, he didn’t think they had enough statistics yet but he meant his own bit of it didn’t have enough statistics. The whole experiment did.

So they thought that they would just… the Chicago people were just pushing to get into print based on the Columbia results rather than their own which wasn’t true at all. So they used their influence to get the Chicago paper put off until the next issue of the journal. It was very sad. Valentine was furious and complained and finally in response to his complaint they published a little paragraph saying or little sentence saying that article was published in the following issue for purely technical reasons which made it sound as if it had something to do with the equipment. Of course, it didn’t have anything to do with the equipment which is just photographic plates. It had to do with the fact that they pushed to get their article in and the other one not. So, anyway, that’s what happens.

I’m sure Dick didn’t have anything to do with that. Dick was not that kind of underhanded person but Lederman is.

Ford:

I talked to Jerry Friedman and I don’t believe he had very kind words to say for Mr. Lederman and then when I talked to Lederman about the unkind things that had been said about him he went totally ballistic, so I have to…

Gell-Mann:

Anyway it was very unfortunate turn of events because he should have been very happy that all these different experiments, Ms. Wu and then these two different experiments and so on, really showed what was going on. The only thing they didn’t have, of course, was the right sign. They thought they had right-handed neutrinos and so on. It was actually left-handed. That’s what I fixed up along with Dick Feynman and a couple of others. They had the sign wrong.

Ford:

Again, not being a physicist, I mean when I was in high school what little physics I took, neutrinos were dismissed as something not very important.

Gell-Mann:

Oh, yes, like that journalist, what was he called, Lawrence of the New York Times? Was he called Lawrence?

Ford:

Wilford?

Gell-Mann:

No, no, no, the guy who was at the nuclear bomb explosion? William L. Lawrence.

Ford:

I don’t remember that story.

Gell-Mann:

Well, the story of the nuclear bomb.

Ford:

Right. And Lawrence?

Gell-Mann:

It was released through this man, William Lawrence.

Ford:

Oh, really.

Gell-Mann:

The New York Times. He was very highly respected. I can’t imagine why but he was. He knew almost nothing. But then so many reporters are like that, they care nothing about the truth, very common. Fortunately, not universal. He used to ask every time anybody announced some results about neutrinos, he would say “But what if there is no such thing as a neutrino?” He couldn’t understand the strength of the arguments for the neutrino even though it hadn’t been directly detected. There’s nothing magical about direct detection. Indirect detection is just as good. He couldn’t understand that.

Ford:

The question I was getting at was I was initially told that neutrinos were just this trivial little after effect but if I understand…I forget who was explaining to me that in fact neutrinos are the greater part of the mass of the universe, something like that.

Gell-Mann:

Oh, no, that’s not necessarily true.

Ford:

Is that correct?

Gell-Mann:

No, that may not be correct. We don’t know what the mass of the universe is made up of. A tiny little bit of it is what we see in stars, galaxies, and so on, a very [???] fraction. What the rest of it we don’t know. Some of the dark matter effect possibly comes from the mass of neutrinos, not from the existence of neutrinos but from their not having zero mass. The non-zero mass of neutrinos contributes some to the dark matter effect but not the whole thing, certainly not the whole thing. What the rest of it is we don’t know. There are, of course, theoretical ideas, perfectly respectable theoretical ideas but they’re not proved.

Ford:

Okay, after the non-conservation of parity experiments did your work cross paths with Garwin? I think you were part of JASON, if I understand.

Gell-Mann:

I was a founding member of JASON but it didn’t go very well, as did everything else in my life — a monkey wrench. Four or five of us, Murph Goldberger, Keith Brueckner, Ken Watson, and I, I don’t know if there’s anyone else but the four of us, I think it was just the four of us; it might have been five. We thought of starting a consultant group, a private business consulting group for the DOD. We would work out mathematical problems of various kinds connected with equipment or various things. I was always interested in strategy more than anything else. But anyway we thought we would work for the DOD in this group and make some money and also do something to help the DOD and also to do something to help the country in the sense of pushing the DOD in useful directions instead of horrible directions.

Then I went away to Paris where I spent the year, 1959 to 1960, at various French institutions but primarily the College de France where I was a professeur am-ve-tay?? [MVK??], possibly the first one since the institution was founded by Francis the first.. I don’t know. But anyway while I was in Paris these negotiations went on and my friends were persuaded by Wigner and Wheeler and various other hawks that they shouldn’t do this as a private business for profit itself, that they should join an existing not-for-profit organization, still be paid fees, of course, but the fees to be moderate in line with academic fees. And the thing they recommended joining was called the Institute for Defense Analyses, IDA. I don’t know, have you heard of that?

Ford:

Yes, when I was in high school I was interested in arms control and I was even on the mailing list of the IDA.

Gell-Mann:

Okay. IDA stands for other things as well but in this case…

Ford:

No, it was the Institute for Defense Analyses.

Gell-Mann:

Institute for Defense Analyses. It was started by a consortium of research universities, including Cal Tech; by the way, including, I think, the University of Chicago, probably including MIT, I don’t know, but anyway very distinguished universities, about seven or eight or ten of them, formed a consortium and started this Institute for Defense Analyses with its headquarters near Washington, somewhere in Virginia, I think, near Washington. So that’s how the thing ended up and they chose the name JASON. Whether it comes from July, August, September, October, November or from the Golden Fleece, we were never clear about it.

It wasn’t that lucrative and it should be called the theft of the Golden Fleece. The original idea would probably have been lucrative but this one was much less so. Anyway, I was away so I wasn’t given the clearance right away and so on but I did come back then in the fall of 1960 or September 1960 and I was expecting to fit right in but it turned out there was a glitch in my clearance. I don’t know if you want to hear the story. It’s a crazy story.

Ford:

Why not?

Gell-Mann:

But anyway as a result of this crazy story there was a long delay in my clearance. I finally got it several months later through the personal intervention of the Deputy Secretary of Defense. It was Roswell Gilpatric whom I saw many years later escorting Jackie Kennedy to the ballet. Jackie was dying actually at the time. Anyway, finally some time in the winter of 1960-1961 I finally got my clearance and then I could play a role in JASON. But I think there were four founding members, something like that, of which I was one.

Ford:

Henry Kendall, I don’t know when he joined JASON…

Gell-Mann:

Oh, that was long after. I ceased to be active in JASON about 20 or 25 years ago. I still am a member technically but I haven’t played any role. I haven’t gone to any of the meetings or done anything with them. I got alienated when somebody in the Department of Defense decided that JASON shouldn’t be involved in strategy or things of that kind but just doing calculations on technical problems. I didn’t care much about that so I haven’t been there for many, many years.

Ford:

Garwin, I think, joined JASON…

Gell-Mann:

He joined pretty late, I believe.

Ford:

Don’t you think it was 1964 or 1965?

Gell-Mann:

That early? Really?

Ford:

I think so.

Gell-Mann:

Because I 1964 I was still very active.

Ford:

He was working on the electronic fence thing in 1966.

Gell-Mann:

Oh, that junk. Yeah, I was a big bug in that too. I was stupid. It was really stupid. They promised us that it was going to be a replacement for the aerial bombardment of North Vietnam but instead it was an add-on which was a direct violation of their contract with us and their promise to us. We were brought in by McNamara, who unbeknownst to much of the world had concluded that this whole thing wasn’t going anywhere and he wanted to get out. So the general impression was that he was still deeply committed but he wasn’t. And so he called us in and asked us to find some kind of substitutes for what was going on so that they could begin negotiations and get out of there.

I think that’s all explained in the Pentagon Papers if I’m not mistaken.

Ford:

Well, I’m going to have to go back and get them because I started working with Henry Kendall…

Gell-Mann:

Well, I don’t believe Henry Kendall had anything to do with this at all.

Ford:

Oh, no, he was deeply involved in the electronic fence stuff.

Gell-Mann:

He was?

Ford:

Yeah.

Gell-Mann:

I don’t remember that. Well, that shows my memory lapses.

Ford:

But even after it was published in the Pentagon Papers he wouldn’t talk about it. He said it’s classified.

Gell-Mann:

Well, he was probably right. Even if something is snuck into the newspapers he probably shouldn’t talk about it because if it hasn’t been released officially.

Ford:

But what you said about it being… supposed to be an alternative to bombing but instead it was considered an add-on, but you said it was a violation of the contract?

Gell-Mann:

Well, I don’t know if it was a formal contract but it was a violation of our understanding with the government. Yeah, that’s right. We were afraid of that from the beginning. We thought they would probably do that to us and they did.

Ford:

One of the questions that I have was really… was the Pentagon, maybe dupe is too strong a word, taking advantage of these scientists?

Gell-Mann:

It wasn’t the Pentagon. We didn’t have any problems with the Pentagon. It was the White House. The Pentagon was presumably under the control of the Secretary of Defense and he was the one who had hired us.

Ford:

One of the things I can’t really understand about Garwin’s career is that there are a lot of things the policy for which he does not agree with, like the Star Wars, but nevertheless he turns around and goes back to JASON work or whatever that is helping refine the Star Wars technology that they have under development that he thinks for policy reasons is a bad idea.

Gell-Mann:

That’s right. That’s all part of the same thing. He doesn’t generally integrate very well or doesn’t want to integrate perhaps, the human factors and political factors and so on with the technical ones. He views them separately.

Ford:

If I believed that Star Wars was a dumb idea and a waste of the country’s money and wasn’t going…

Gell-Mann:

You wouldn’t work on it.

Ford:

I wouldn’t work on it.

Gell-Mann:

But he would.

Ford:

But he would. He seems to play the role of good soldier and he’s asked to do the calculation and…

Gell-Mann:

Well, I don’t think it’s so much the good soldier, it’s technical stuff and he can do both. He can think about the human implications which he doesn’t always do the wisest way and he can think about the technology which he usually has brilliant ideas. Well, I mean, he helped a lot. He made some very intelligent suggestions. I was there actually for some of these things, intelligent suggestions about carrying on the war in Southeast Asia, the second Indo-China War, for example, the use of drones. The use of drones would have been immensely helpful but it’s the human questions. Nowadays drones are the big thing and the company that I’m associated with that makes little teeny drones, they’re making us a mint of money and so on and so on and so on. But at that time drones were not very well regarded because they didn’t have heroic pilots. If you’re an Air Force person you want to be a heroic pilot. Either that or else you want to control a spaceship or something, some huge thing that’s really impressive. You don’t want to be running a drone.

He suggested drone helicopters. He also suggested actually making use of smart weapons. They were quite early and they weren’t used until the last little, tiny bit of bombing. You remember there was a bombing campaign right at the 11th hour to force the negotiations to begin? If you were in Paris you may not have read about it in those same terms.

Ford:

Which war?

Gell-Mann:

The second Indo-China War. The American war in Indo-China. Some people call it Vietnam. I don’t why it was restricted to Vietnam. It was in Laos and Cambodia and lots of places. I think the most reasonable name is the second Indo-China War. But anyway he made very intelligent suggestions about using drones and about using smart bombs quite early and so on but they didn’t do these things until much later. But that didn’t stop him from continuing to work on the technical stuff.

Ford:

From a policy point of view, I know people like Kendall were strongly opposed to the war and went public with their opposition but…

Gell-Mann:

Henry was a much more simple-minded person. Let’s not use those words in quoting me and so on but I mean he was a very straightforward person. He didn’t have complicated views about the situation in Indo-China. There was after all some point in that war, to try to prevent the communist control of that part of the world from gelling. After a while it turned out that our continued participation was doing more harm than good. Initially, it was probably not a crazy idea to try to help delay the crystallization of this situation in that part of the world. But Henry didn’t have, what’s the word I want, nuance. He didn’t have nuanced thoughts about these things. They were always very straightforward. He was ‘agin it’.

The same with other things, nuclear energy or whatever, I mean whatever subject you had he had a very straightforward, simple solution, ‘don’t do it’ or something. But Garwin didn’t have that. Garwin wasn’t like that. Garwin could see various points of view. It was the integration of the human and political and so on factors on the one hand with the technical ones on the other that he didn’t actually do perfectly.

Ford:

But the…

Gell-Mann:

I can’t hear you. Can you talk a little bit louder? It’s very difficult to hear you.

Ford:

Can you hear me now?

Gell-Mann:

Yes.

Ford:

Okay. I’m speaking to you over Skype on my computer.

Gell-Mann:

And Skype makes you mumble?

Ford:

No, I let the microphone slip.

Gell-Mann:

Oh, I see. Well, that’s the problem.

Ford:

Were there other major JASON projects besides the electronic fence that you worked on with Garwin?

Gell-Mann:

Well, I didn’t work on things with him actually. I don’t remember working on things with him but I saw his interventions and I had some minor interventions of my own on various things. You know the story of the two Richards that led to the abolition of the President’s Science Advisory Committee of which I was then a member? The president at the time was Richard Nixon. The other Richard was Garwin. What happened was that the United States was being pushed by the president into large-scale support for something called SST, supersonic transport. The idea was to use this kind of technology for lots of commercial aircraft at supersonic speeds. It was supposed to be able to get you to your business appointment a little quicker, something like that. But there were all sorts of reasons not to do it. It was economically not very sensible. It could cause pollution of the atmosphere if there were huge fleets of these things which is what they wanted. And so on and so forth.

There’s a long list of reasons why this is not a great idea. And it was not a pioneering thing. It was a resounding force or something like that after the British unsuccessful one and various others, British and French collaboration on the Concorde and so on. There was nothing pioneering. Well, the rule had been until then that if you were a member of the President’s Science Advisory Committee advising the president of the US and you had some ideas that disagreed with the president’s suggestions then you could resign from the committee and after six months or so you could become an external critic but the idea was that since you were an advisor directly to the president as part of this committee maybe you would renounce the right which every citizen has to come out and make speeches against the government’s proposals.

None of us thought this was a particularly bad idea. We were willing to give up this right in exchange for the privilege of advising the president, telling the president directly our views on things which not every citizen gets a realistic opportunity to do. But Nixon changed the rules. If you agreed with the president then you could go public any time you wanted but if you disagreed with him then you had to shut up. Well, some of us felt that this was a change for the worse in the rules. Dick thought so certainly, Dick Garwin thought so, and he just continued publicly to oppose the SST. One day I came into the meeting in Washington and they guy next to me, I forget who it was, Herb Simon maybe, or somebody, I don’t know, one of the people who I liked to giggle with through meetings, anyway, one of the members said “Murray, you won’t believe this but the latest thing is the SSC causes cancer.” And it does actually.

Well, that was the last straw. That really destroyed this uneconomic proposal.

Ford:

I remember there was a group of economists and they were asked to write statements about the SST. There were like 25 of them but they were from all parts of the political spectrum. There was Milton Friedman, Kenneth Galbraith…

Gell-Mann:

None of them liked it.

Ford:

None of them liked it but I actually liked Galbraith’s comment the best. He does a lot traveling and his advice would be that if the government wants to speed things up they should put an awful lot of money into baggage handling.

Gell-Mann:

Yes, I made the same suggestion. I also said they could change around the time zones if they were worried about people getting to a dinner meeting.

Ford:

I know that many people are furious at Garwin for speaking out on the SST.

Gell-Mann:

You mean getting the committee abolished?

Ford:

And then getting the committee abolished.

Gell-Mann:

The committee wasn’t doing so much good with Nixon because he really didn’t pay a lot of attention. It wasn’t like Bill Clinton or Al Gore who pored over every single word we wrote and wrote comments and questions and then listened to the answers to the questions and so on. Nixon wasn’t like that. It wasn’t that much of a loss. My then wife, my beloved first wife, Margaret, said in January some time, she said “Your committee isn’t going to last long.” I said “Gosh, Margaret, maybe that’s true. There are some rumors like that but you’ve never heard those rumors. How could you know that?” She said “Well, our Christmas card from the White House was postmarked January 17.” Now, that’s going to be in my book. You can’t use that.

Ford:

All right. You referred to this book I think 14 years ago so it’s a race between us. I’ve only been working on the Garwin thing for three years, so in principle you should win the race.

Gell-Mann:

I should, I really should.

Ford:

I don’t know.

Gell-Mann:

I thought that remark of Margaret’s was really spectacular.

Ford:

I’ll see if Lois Garwin said anything.

Gell-Mann:

She said anything like that…

Ford:

Anything like that, then its fair game, I’ll use Lois’ statement. I will cede you Margaret’s statement. In between Nixon and Clinton…

Gell-Mann:

Between Nixon and Clinton I wasn’t on any of these things. I was asked to be on the Reagan thing but that was not advisory to the president. That was advisory to a dimwit whom I knew fairly well from here, from New Mexico, called Jay Keyworth who was going to be the science advisor, was advisory to the science advisory. It was called the White House Science Council and even knowing I was a bitter enemy of these people, they asked me to be on it. I said no, I didn’t want to.

Ford:

I remember at the time talking to somebody here in Boston who had been asked to be on it, he was a biologist or something, and he said that he had been asked to be on it and he had been asked to give $50,000 to the Republican Party.

Gell-Mann:

Oh, I didn’t have to do that. I’m in a much higher category. I didn’t have to give anything. I just had to join the stupid thing.

Ford:

And he said what should he do? I said “Well, are you a Republican? Do you support the Republican party?” He said “Hell, no.”

Gell-Mann:

That’s the answer, hell, no. So I told them. Also it meant sitting on a committee with Teller. I don’t know if you knew Teller.

Ford:

No.

Gell-Mann:

But he was the slowest talking person in the universe.

Ford:

Really? I thought I had that flaw.

Gell-Mann:

I just couldn’t stand being near him because he wasted so God damn much of my time.

Ford:

Really? I’d never heard that about him.

Gell-Mann:

Just awful and the things he had to say weren’t that great anyway. I immediately said no to the White House Science Council.

Ford:

I had the impression, I haven’t studied it yet, that the whole presidential science apparatus…I mean in the 60s there was sort of something quite high level in place whether…

Gell-Mann:

That’s right. Well, it might have been matched by the 90s if the Republicans hadn’t grabbed the Congress right after Bill and Al took office. Because if they were willing to grun??[???] there were a lot of things that we recommended and the mutual understanding was at an excellent level. I told you how they reacted to our committee proposals. I mean we would form a subcommittee or committee, whatever you call it — panel I guessed they called it — we’d form a panel and we’d send them a very nice, carefully crafted essay suggesting a whole bunch of things. They would read every line and comment on every line and ask questions and then they would agree that it was a good thing and they would try to do it. They couldn’t do it because of the God damn Congress. So if it hadn’t been for that horribly unlucky election of 1994, if it hadn’t been for that the Clinton-Gore science advisory epoch might have been great.

Ford:

Was Garwin part of them?

Gell-Mann:

No, I don’t think so.

Ford:

He’s never mentioned Clinton.

Gell-Mann:

No, I don’t think so. He was on PSAC when I joined. It was a sort of self-perpetuating organization at that time. I mean, if you weren’t some kind of crazy critic or some extreme critic of the government or something you were just selected by the PSAC members and the party that the government would approve and appoint you. Later it became much more politicized. George H. W. Bush, my classmate, reintroduced PSAC or the PCAST I guess it was called by then. It was something like the old one but it was much more political and that was continued by Clinton and Gore. Under Clinton and Gore we were supposed to generally support the government. That was understand that we would generally support things, not every single thing, but generally speaking we were friendly to the government.

It’s a different way of doing business. I don’t think it’s necessarily fated to be bad. It’s just a different idea. You try to help them govern.

Ford:

As far as JASON is concerned, Garwin continues year in and year out to go to all of their meetings.

Gell-Mann:

Well, I see that from the correspondence. I get all their mail, my only connection with JASON for the last 20 years or so. I’ve watched how Dick has been an extremely active member, incredibly active member judging by this correspondence but that’s all I know about it.

Ford:

Is JASON continuing to work on what you would consider to be really important problems?

Gell-Mann:

Well, it depends. As I say, I’m not much of a technical person. I try to keep up with the technical things that are important for my work. For example, knowing a little about experiments in particle physics when I was a particle physicist so that as a theorist I could judge whether I had to worry about some experiment but I’m not very strong on that. My interest is always in strategy and when they told us they weren’t interested in our ideas on strategy, they just wanted us to do technical calculations and that was it, I withdrew into the shadows. I wasn’t interested anymore.

Ford:

I interviewed several JASON people and I think one of them was this Richard Muller from Berkeley. I don’t know if you know him.

Gell-Mann:

Yeah, I know him, not the greatest person.

Ford:

Pardon me?

Gell-Mann:

Not the greatest person. Very smart though.

Ford:

He was telling me about how many other agencies besides the Pentagon are coming to JASON with work to do.

Gell-Mann:

That was true for a long time. I was interested in that too. If we had been working for the Department of the Interior on nature conservation or something like that I would have plunged in enthusiastically.

Ford:

I was just really wondering, it seemed to me that in the 60s they were really attacking big, big problems.

Gell-Mann:

That’s quite true. We didn’t feel there was any obstacle to our getting involved in whatever we wanted to get involved in and we could choose important things. That’s quite right.

Ford:

It just seems to me there is some component of make-work in what they’ve been doing in the last 15 years.

Gell-Mann:

I couldn’t say because, as I say, I withdrew. I haven’t participated but I don’t have the impression that they’ve ever returned to doing really important stuff. That could be wrong though since I don’t have any direct evidence.

Ford:

One of the things that I wonder about in trying to evaluate Garwin’s career is that just by chance in my own career I’ve known lots of senior scientists. I was an economics student at Harvard and I was a research assistant to Leontief and… Wassily, and he was a charming man.

Gell-Mann:

I met him a few times.

Ford:

At one point I was going to do a profile of him for the New Yorker and I interviewed him a lot and I went to various conferences that he went to and so forth.

Gell-Mann:

He tried to make economics really relevant.

Ford:

But so many of these high-level conferences just seemed to me to have very lightweight agendas.

Gell-Mann:

Yes, that’s right.

Ford:

I was really sort of saying why… and they would have many Nobel Prize winners and all of that.

Gell-Mann:

Well, they don’t have Nobel prizes in economics, thank goodness.

Ford:

Yes, well, they have this pseudo…

Gell-Mann:

Yeah, they have the fake one.

Ford:

Pseudo prize.

Gell-Mann:

In 1969 I remember those people had to stand on the other side of the room from those who were being gifted.

Ford:

They let them into the same room now and they give them…

Gell-Mann:

Now they stand with everybody else as if it were a real Nobel Prize. It’s kind of a shame.

Ford:

But when Henry Kendall, when he and Jerry and Dick Taylor were there and I was in Stockholm also for the ceremony, I forget which economist won it that year but when they had a joint press conference of all of the laureates, real ones and fake ones, the real ones were going bananas listening, most of the questions were directed to the economists because that was really the only subject area that the reporters could understand readily and the economists were saying relatively loony things.

Gell-Mann:

I am interviewed every once in a while by people who have read the first few pages of my book, The Quark and The Jaguar. These are sometimes journalists. They ask me about my brother because they read in the first few pages of the book that my brother who is nine years old taught me almost everything I knew when I was a little tiny boy. He was this great, really wonderful big brother. And they say what happened to him. I mean, “we understand he was brilliant and kind and this marvelous person, what ever became of him?” And I say “Well, I don’t really like to talk about it. My family in general doesn’t like to talk about what happened to my brother.” They say “That’s too bad. Look, I’m just curious myself. Couldn’t it be off the record? Just tell me off the record. I won’t print it. Just tell me, what became of that marvelous brother of yours?” And I say “No, I don’t know. In our family we really don’t like to talk about it.” And the guy says “Well, I tell you, it’s not just off the record. I won’t tell another living soul. I’m just curious about it. I’m so curious about the brilliant and wonderful person. What happened to him?” And I say “Well, you promise you really won’t ever tell anyone, it’s okay. He became a journalist.”

Ford:

The real black sheep of the family. Funny. In terms of, I guess, trying to use people like Garwin and yourself and all of this brain power that the country has is there some better way of doing it?

Gell-Mann:

Well, I think these committees are not so bad if the Republicans aren’t in charge, that’s all. The Republicans are bad news. If we hadn’t lost that election in 1994, as I was saying before, I think the interaction would have been very, very productive. Bill and Al were just terrific. They were just really, really good at receiving these packets of advice.

Ford:

I’ll have to look into it. I’ll have to interview Clinton. It will be easy enough to do.

Gell-Mann:

Pardon?

Ford:

I said I will have to interview Clinton.

Gell-Mann:

Clinton or Gore. You know, Gore was very important in that administration. He really was brought into everything, especially things connected with science and he wrote in just as many interlineated comments as the president. He was present at our meetings more often than Clinton because Clinton was very busy. Clinton wanted to be at every meeting. He was just as interested as Gore but he sometimes couldn’t come. Anyway it worked, I thought, very nicely.

With Nixon it was somewhat less impressive. Nixon was a mainstream person though. I mean he was a Republican and he was a nasty person in a great many ways, very bad news in many ways, but he was a mainstream person. But once we got started on Reagan and George W. Bush and so on, it was really bad.

Ford:

One JASON person I wanted to ask you about was a guy named Ed Frieman.

Gell-Mann:

Ed Frieman, yes. Maybe he was even the head of it for a while.

Ford:

He was in the…

Gell-Mann:

He was at Princeton and he worked on plasma physics.

Ford:

He was in the Department of Energy at some point.

Gell-Mann:

For a little while, yes, he became a Washington administrator. A number of quite good people have spent a year or two in Washington doing that sort of thing. It beefs up the government a little bit.

Ford:

I was reading somewhere that it was Frieman who wrote Reagan’s Star Wars speech.

Gell-Mann:

Ed Frieman wrote it? [Frieman and Buchsbaum were called in by Jay Keyworth to try to edit it.]

Ford:

Well, that’s what this thing said and I couldn’t believe it. I suppose I just should call him up and ask him.

Gell-Mann:

I don’t know. I never heard of that. That doesn’t sound right to me but maybe. What I know is that Teller went around Jay Keyworth directly to the president and told him that it would be a great idea to have this system and Reagan didn’t even understand that the two groups of advisors who were enthusiastic about Star Wars were not inviting him to do the same thing. For one of them it was nuclear and for the other one it was non-nuclear which makes quite a bit of difference. He didn’t even know that there were these two different things that people were recommending. But anyway, Keyworth, when he realized that Teller had gone around him, was furious but only very briefly because he was above all a career person, somebody who wanted to build a career. What’s the word for that.

Ford:

A careerist?

Gell-Mann:

Careerist, something like that. Anyway he had decided that he was going to be the greatest proponent of Star Wars where at first he was just terribly angry about it. So he pushed it very hard and wrote all sorts of things about it. And do you remember he’s the one that the White House Science Council was advising.

Ford:

Yes.

Gell-Mann:

Anyway it’s still there. Under George W. thing we still have it. There are, of course, different reasons for regarding it as foolish now, not exactly the same reasons as before because that was a world of bipolar nuclear strategy and now there are many different countries with various degrees of nuclear weapons and so on and so on. The arguments had become much more complicated. I think it’s still not a great idea. The main idea is it’s not going to shoot anything down that really matters. What it’s going to do is to make powers with nuclear deterrents worry that the deterrent might not be quite so good as they thought. It will do that. That means they will beef up their offensive capabilities when they hear about it when the limit?? seems to be working a little bit.

And so that will have the effect; China, for example, will make its force larger. Do we really want that? And the Indians will then learn about that and then the Indians will make their force larger? Do we want that? And then the Paks will learn about the Indians and they will want to make their force larger. And I don’t think any of these things are in accord with American policy. Perhaps I’m wrong but I don’t think so. So even today it doesn’t sound to me like a really great idea. But you have to start with the proposition which I do start with that it’s not really going to help a lot by shooting things down. It’s never going to be that foolproof to really make a difference defensively but it will perhaps cause people to increase their offensive forces.

Ford:

That’s still basically the same logic, as I understand it, from the opposition to the ABM in the 60s.

Gell-Mann:

No, not quite, because at that time it was a bipolar world, as I said, pretty much, approximately a bipolar world and at that time you could formulate the argument more carefully by saying that it was promoting two kinds of instability. One is crisis instability. Again, you’re worried about your deterrent and that you had better use it and the other is the stability of the arms competition. Well, the second part is still there. The first one I’m not so sure about.

Ford:

No, I understand.

Gell-Mann:

So it’s a slightly different situation but anyway I’m not, as you can imagine, a wild proponent of this stuff. It’s also very expensive and we have so much need for money. Even in the national security field we have need for more, especially in other fields. I mean we need to pay for carbon sequestration all over the world as we go into this era of coal. Coal is going to be burned on an incredible scale now and its effect on global climate change can be reduced to very little if we pay but that’s expensive. Instead of fooling around with this idiot, Star Wars, we could be doing that, just an example.

Ford:

I was just thinking about that.

Gell-Mann:

Oh, you’re allowed to do that.

Ford:

Thanks, that good. I’ve kept you a good while. I don’t want to keep you forever.

Gell-Mann:

Okay, but could you check with me on these things because it would be nice if I were quoted exactly. Just because the exact words sometimes make a difference and there might be, as I said, one or two things that I would rather not put in print right now. But mainly, I hope I’ve been a help to you?

Ford:

Yeah, this is very interesting. Is there anything about Garwin that I didn’t ask that I should have?

Gell-Mann:

About Garwin? No, I think you’ve covered all the interactions that he and I have other than just personal ones. I mean, you know, we’ve been to one another’s parties and met on various occasions at IBM and all this sort of thing. I’ve met him on a number of occasions but I can’t think of any really important non-social interactions.

Ford:

He said something to me about having gone on some drive with you, I guess, from Los Alamos to Chicago or Los Alamos to some place. [Aspen to Los Alamos.]

Gell-Mann:

I don’t think so. Really? I don’t remember it. It could be true but I just don’t remember it. But I have run into him at various places at a number of times and always had very friendly interactions with him and with Lois.

Ford:

Well, this is great. This is a lot of fun to me to talk with you and I will most definitely get back to you to check any quotations or whatever with follow-up questions. I have your email, of course.

Gell-Mann:

Okay, good, that’ll be fine. Very nice talking to you.

Ford:

If I do have a chance to come to Santa Fe, I’ve never been to Los Alamos, etc.

Gell-Mann:

Oh, yeah, that would be very nice.

Ford:

I really would for historical reasons…

Gell-Mann:

No, I mean you could write something about the Santa Fe Institute. Who knows? You seem to be a cut above these people I was making fun of.

Ford:

Maybe an epsilon?

Gell-Mann:

More than epsilon.

Ford:

Two epsilon. I don’t know what I can aspire to.

Gell-Mann:

Well, I think much more than that.

Ford:

Well, thank you.

Gell-Mann:

Our place is quite an interesting place. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it.

Ford:

I was looking it up on the website, of course, and was actually quite interested in what…

Gell-Mann:

It’s becoming quite popular these days. At first people made fun of it and weren’t interested in it and so on but nowadays the thing to do is to be favorable to our institute. It’s in fashion right now.

Ford:

I see. I have The Quark and the Jaguar.

Gell-Mann:

Have you read the first paragraph.

Ford:

No, unfortunately, I finished Strange Beauty but…

Gell-Mann:

Oh, you read that instead. Well, that’s a pleasant read. I mean it’s like a novel. It just doesn’t have anything to do with me.

Ford:

I see. Well, you’ll just have to work on that autobiography.

Gell-Mann:

I’m not going to write an autobiography. I was going to write a book of notes, little memoirs, little incidents in my life and so on. And I may still do it but it received a very bad setback this year when my briefcase was stolen in Spain with all my notes. Some of the notes were on a backed-up computer but most of them were not, unfortunately.

Ford:

I saw this internet site, I forget what it is, but it has a 129 part interview with you.

Gell-Mann:

On the web? Good grief, whose is that? Is that this German working for a Japanese newspaper?

Ford:

It could be. It sounded like a somewhat foreign accent asking the questions but…

Gell-Mann:

Yeah, there’s a German guy working for the Japanese who interviewed me,[Horeis??]. I think his name was [Horeis??], [Heinz Horeis??], maybe, something like that.

Ford:

Well, just one second. I’ll email you the page but it was literally 129 parts. It goes on for hours.

Gell-Mann:

Well, those Krauts, they’re pretty dedicated to their work.

Ford:

And it has a nice little video that loads quickly for each of the parts.

Gell-Mann:

I don’t know what this is, what you’re talking about, but maybe it’s [Heinz Horeis??]. It’s possible.

Ford:

That was very good. The only reason I mentioned that was that in terms of writing the book that you want to write, you could use that and there’s also a button you can click on and it gives you a transcript of what you said.

Gell-Mann:

But it’s already been printed in this Japanese series.

Ford:

Oh, it has.

Gell-Mann:

However, in Japanese. So maybe it’s all right.

Ford:

Well, this gives you a transcript in English of what you said.

Gell-Mann:

Yes, I know it does but I think the printing was done in Japanese. I’m not sure. Maybe I can get permission to copy it or something.

Ford:

Well, you said, it must be. The other thing I use, I don’t know if it’s popular out in Santa Fe Institute, is this voice recognition software from Dragon. It’s called Natural Speaking.

Gell-Mann:

So you just talk and it prints?

Ford:

You just talk and it types and its accuracy is like 99.7%.

Gell-Mann:

You got to be kidding.

Ford:

Oh, no, it’s totally fantastic.

Gell-Mann:

They made the accuracy that great? How could they do that?

Ford:

It’s just within the last two…

Gell-Mann:

With the reporters, I don’t mean newspaper reporters, I mean stenographer type, its something like 30%.

Ford:

Oh, no, I mean this thing…

Gell-Mann:

When I give a speech and I get it back in that form, a transcript that somebody’s made up from listening to the tapes, it’s almost unrecognizable, and I’ve spent an immense of nasty, unpleasant labor to edit it. But this would be a revolutionary change.

Ford:

Oh, this is a revolutionary change and I worked in investment banking for a while and we wanted to buy this company but it didn’t want to be sold because we thought they had a fantastic product.

Gell-Mann:

What’s it called?

Ford:

It’s called Dragon Naturally Speaking. I’ll send you an email with the…

Gell-Mann:

Great, okay. Well, maybe I’ll use it. Maybe it’ll be my savior.

Ford:

I find that it just sort of saves the strain of typing all the time but then the other thing I discovered was I got a long cord for the microphone and I decided just to speak without looking at the screen and just let my thought continue and continue and continue and consult the reference material and the hardest part for me in writing is getting something out. If it’s junk, you can always just cross it out and throw it away.

Gell-Mann:

Rewriting is not a problem, it’s getting something down.

Ford:

And this I find is really nearly miraculous.

Gell-Mann:

That’s what my friend, Cormac, said, Cormac McCarthy says always. Oh, writing is just rewriting.

Ford:

Once you’ve got it out.

Gell-Mann:

You know, he’s been at our institute for about five years.

Ford:

I’m not familiar with his work.

Gell-Mann:

You’ve heard of him though?

Ford:

I know the name but I don’t…

Gell-Mann:

Is that all, really? You should go deeper into it than that.

Ford:

Well, since you mentioned him I was going to look him up because my problem in doing things is I…

Gell-Mann:

I don’t insist that you read all his books but you should know about him because he’s a really remarkable character.

Ford:

That’s my problem when somebody mentions somebody like him I’ll sit down and read all his books.

Gell-Mann:

No, don’t do that.

Ford:

And then poor Garwin’s biography will slip behind. Doing too much research is my biggest problem.

Gell-Mann:

But if there is something I left out or something that I said that was shockingly different from what you expected…

Ford:

No, actually the thing was when Jack Ruina, he was the one who suggested I speak with you. He suggested that I speak with you to get a different perspective on Garwin and in the way he said it I thought you were going to be very critical of him.

Gell-Mann:

Oh, no, I said some critical things but not a lot.

Ford:

But the thing is that since virtually everybody I talk to has nothing but high praise I just thought you maybe were some rival of his or some critic of his or someone who had jousted with him so I was actually just for the sake of the drama of the book.

Gell-Mann:

Not with him, no, no. I have just restrained enthusiasm for what’s it called, launch on warning.

Ford:

Well, that’s something I must say I am restrained about myself. I should send you a copy of a book I wrote about the command and control system.

Gell-Mann:

Yeah, I’d like to see that.

Ford:

It won’t teach you anything but it’s always a pleasure to give these things away.

Gell-Mann:

I’d love to see that. Okay, let’s talk some more some time soon. By all means, come out here and you can see that little offshoot of ours also, Los Alamos.

Ford:

I would like to see it. Great. Thank you very much.

Gell-Mann:

Bye.

Ford:

Bye.