Edward Witten has been one of the most respected physicists in the world for the last four decades. His contributions to physics and mathematics have been recognized by many awards and prizes.

Edward Witten’s Kyoto Prize commemorative lecture is an important document. The interview he has given to Hirosi Ooguri and Masahito Yamazaki in November 2014 in Kyoto is also very interesting. His selected articles at IAS website are very good reads. His article titled “Knots and Quantum Theory” is particularly interesting.

Here’s few quotes from his Kyoto commemorative lecture:

“At about age 11, I was presented with some relatively advanced math books. My father is a theoretical physicist and he introduced me to calculus. For a while, math was my passion. My parents, however, were reluctant to push me too far, too fast with math (as they saw it) and so it was a long time after that before I was exposed to any math that was really more advanced than basic calculus.”

“Understanding quark confinement became my passion as a student and for a number of years afterwards. But it was a very hard problem and I did not make much progress. In fact, in its pure form of demonstrating quark confinement using the equations of the Standard Model, the problem is unsolved to this day. To be more precise, from large-scale computer simulations, we know that the result is true, but we do not really have a human understanding of why.”

“Here I should again explain to those of you who are not physicists that when the coupling is weak, everyone who goes to graduate school in physics learns what to do. When the coupling is strong, a large variety of questions and methods come into play. As a result, I am not sure that there is any such thing as being an expert on how quantum systems behave for strong coupling, and in any event certainly I myself never have become such an expert. I have learned quite a bit while always feeling like a beginner.”

“I have often been asked why I used the name M-theory to describe the richer theory that has the traditional string theories as limiting cases. M-theory was meant as a temporary name pending a better understanding. Some colleagues thought that the theory should be understood as a membrane theory. Though I was skeptical, I decided to keep the letter “m” from “membrane” and call the theory M-theory, with time to tell whether the M stands for magic, mystery, or membrane. Later, the membranes were interpreted in terms of matrices. Purely by chance, the word “matrix” also starts with “m,” so for a while I would say that the M stands for magic, mystery, or matrix.”