|Earl the Squirrel's Rule #177|
This same dichotomy applies to the scientists I've known. Most are concerned with their own theories and prospects. Only the remarkable ones understand how fleeting those things are...and how wonderful that impermanence is. Mediocre scientists delight in being proven right, legendary ones delight in being proven wrong. Similarly, people defined by their beliefs will take comfort in going to bed with the same understanding of order they had when they woke up. A brilliant scientist regards that as a day wasted. Both revel in their own ignorance. The difference is that proselytizers hope to increase the range of that ignorance while researchers work to reduce it.
The rule that Nobody Reads Poetry seems to have one exception...and it isn't poets. Almost every physics treatise I've read quoted or alluded to a poem and, to my astonishment, some of those were [gasp!] contemporary! One of my favorite human beings supports this with anecdotal evidence². Not once but twice³ Oxford undergraduate students [of Stephen Hawkings] contacted my friend regarding verses he had posted online, promising to "do the math".
This is hardly the first time verse became hyperthesis. A conversation between François Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1697-1778) and his mistress, Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise du Châtelet (a physics student he called "Lady Newton") may have inspired theorizing that led eventually to the discovery of atomic energy. That story ended with nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer quoting verses from the Bhagavad Gita: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
Ruins, posted by Earl Gray on Vimeo.
Theoretical physics is knowledge in the future tense. Ultimately, humankind will develop a Unified Theory, allowing us to understand the entire cosmos. On that bittersweet day physicists will have obsoleted themselves; as mathematician, World Chess Champion and friend of Albert Einstein Emanuel Lasker said, "the perfection of an endeavor destroys it." Until then, everything is evolving.
Poetry is knowledge in the past tense. Its science, prosody, involves preserving the words exactly as originally presented. Forms and fads may come and go but, by definition, a poem is the one thing in the universe that cannot be changed.
¹ - A euphemism for self-absorbed?
² - We concede that, in the research community, "anecdotal evidence" is an oxymoron.
|Han Solo, just chillin'.|
³ - The first verse mentioned that "time is motion." Want to travel forward in time? Freeze every molecule in your body, like Han Solo in "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back". When revived you won't be a second older. Want to travel forward? Move faster than the speed of light. When did time begin? At the Big Bang, when inert "nothingness" exploded into action.
The second line was "leaves scatter slower than the wind." This was in a context of objects in the universe expanding at an uneven rate. Could the slower bodies have existed before our universe and are now being pushed along by newer material, the Big Bang's "shrapnel"?