Letter to the Future XVI - Wonder on the Bridge

“Octonions are to physics what the Sirens were to Ulysses.” 
- Pierre Ramond, particle physicist, University of Florida


The story relates a picture of William Rowan Harrison strolling the Royal Canal with his wife, in Dublin, on an October afternoon in 1843, when some trap door in his head fell open and he slipped inside the room where quaternion groups live.

These are the mathematical constituents Einstein would use to model his universe; they are the result of cleverly pairing complex numbers, who themselves are the joints and joists of quantum mechanics.

Harrison beheld his equation and dashed to the nearby Broome bridge, so dazzled I imagine, that he carved the equation into stone, lest it prove flighty.

I mean to write about mathematicians more often.

I imagine their high hat triplet, their Jay-Z split syllable roll, to be fitting tangents to curves in four dimensions, or something of the sort.

They deal on the edges of discovery so abstract it may be tough to know whether what you've wandered into is discovery or a confusion in perfectly known terms. In the great houses of knowing, they frequent the rooms adjacent to knowable but intact mystery, and most certainly also rooms where spin elementary truths about our universe, that we can never know.

The breeze of expansion just this side of the big bang. The sounds - maybe a crackle or thunder - of symmetry breaking, where the infant universe cooled enough to split, forever, into its four fundamental forces.

Here's the thing, Future: this gift of discovery - like its sister, creation - is native but not contained to the mathematicians.

That impossible syllabic turn from Jay-Z merits an elated smile from between your headphones. The elaboration of the language of trees, rooted to one another and seeping signals across the humus, will beg your wonder on a summer day and you'll be wise to oblige its appeal.

Delight is but one divine terminus of learning. Almost-angry inspiration, another. Madness, madness in the searching, is a third to which I'm partial.

You too wander the halls of that house of knowing, future, everyone of you. It's not clear to me what the other animals know, but our human place in all this allows us to put our hands on the wall of our room and follow it wherever it might lead.

The articulations you'll find between nodes of being - be they monster black hole anchors of the galaxy or first summits of eight thousand meter peaks - they lie in wait to astound you. It requires only that you look, but better also if you ask, to what end will we harness our powers for delight, for inspiration, for madness?

Keep your ears to all planes for wonder, Future, and when you hear it, I beg you, tell us all. Chisel it in a bridge if you must.

1 comment:

  1. I especially liked: "The articulations you'll find between nodes of being...they lie in wait to astound you."