'Gell-Mann Opened My Eyes'

Author: JOHN POLKINGHORNE Date: December 15, 1986 I am a subscriber to the “great man” theory of the history of science—the view that it is the insights of the men of genius that actually propel the subject. No doubt there is also a role for those of us who belong to the army of honest toilers, providing the background of expectation and exploitation, but the big ideas come from the big men. The first big man of theoretical physics that I knew was Paul Dirac, whose intellec

John Polkinghorne
Dec 14, 1986

Author: JOHN POLKINGHORNE
Date: December 15, 1986

I am a subscriber to the “great man” theory of the history of science—the view that it is the insights of the men of genius that actually propel the subject.

No doubt there is also a role for those of us who belong to the army of honest toilers, providing the background of expectation and exploitation, but the big ideas come from the big men.

The first big man of theoretical physics that I knew was Paul Dirac, whose intellectually elegant lectures initiated me into the mysteries of quantum mechanics. However, Dirac was too austerely remote a figure to have any direct influence on my own attempts at research.

I had Kemmer and Salam as my successive Ph.D. supervisors, but my most influential working relationship with a great man came when I went to Caltech as a postdoc and met Murray Gell-Mann.

Only...