The “dry” formulas from science books are depended on for a large portion of our existence, and while we may stand in awe at their deeper meaning and even enjoy some lab experiments, they don’t always reveal their full and complete history; however, the stories behind many scientific discoveries are usually insightful, amazing and sometimes even hilarious. Being that we are human, we can be doggedly eccentric in some of our earthly quests, and perhaps the genius of some scientists begets even more incredulous undertakings.
HALLEY, NEWTON, AND HOOKE
Halley was a sea captain,
A cartographer, a professor
Of geometry, a deputy of the Royal Mint,
And the inventor of the deep-sea diving bell,
And wrote some on magnetism, tides,
Planet motions, and fondly on opium.
He invented the weather map
And actuarial table ages,
Even proposed methods
To work out the Earth’s old age,
Its distance from the sun,
Even how to keep fresh fish,
But one thing he didn’t do
Was to discover Halley’ comet,
For he merely noted that
It was yet another return of it.
He made a wager with Robert Hooke,
The cell describer,
And with the great and stately Christopher Wren:
They bet upon why
The planets’ orbits were ellipses.
(A lot more words)
Hooke, a known credit-taker,
Claimed he’d solved the problem,
But had to conceal it
So that others could yet know the satisfaction.
Well, Halley became consumed
With finding the answer,
So he called upon
The Lucasian Mathematics Professor.
Isaac Newton was indeed
Brilliant beyond measure,
But was solitary, joyless, paranoid—no pleasure.
Once he had inserted a needle in his eye
And poked around,
Far inserting the bodkin
Between the eye and the bone.
He’d stared at the sun for so very long
That he had to spend many days
In a darkened room.
Frustrated by mathematics,
Isaac invented the calculus,
And then for twenty-seven years
Kept it hidden from us.
Likewise, he did the same
With the understanding of light
Keeping it for thirty years in the dark.
Science was but a partial part of his life’s routes,
For much of his time
Was given to alchemy and religious pursuits.
He was wholeheartedly devoted
To the religion of Arianism,
Whose main tenet was
That there could be no Holy Trinity.
Ironically, he worked as
A Professor at Trinity College,
Although the only one there
Who was not Anglican.
He also spent an inordinate
Amount of time studying
The floor plan of the lost temple
Of Solomon the King,
Even learning Hebrew,
The better to scan the texts.
Another single minded quest was
To turn base metals into precious ones,
His papers revealing this preoccupation
Over optics and planetary motions
And such mentations.
Well, Halley asked Newton
What the curve would be
If the planets’ attraction toward the sun was
The reciprocal to the square
Of their distance from it.
Newton promptly answered,
Of course, an “ellipse”.
Not finding his calculations of it
Newton not only rewrote it,
But retired for two years
To produce his master work,
The Plilosophiae Naturalis
To Halley’s horror,
Newton refused to release the crucial 3rd volume,
Without which the first two
Would make little sense.
There had been a dispute
Between Newton and Hooke
Over the priority of the inverse square law
In the book.
That solved by Halley’s diplomacy,
The Royal Society
Had pulled out from the publication,
For, the year before,
There had been a very costly flop
Called The History of Fishes;
So, Halley himself popped
The funds for the publication
Out of his own pocket.
Newton contributed nothing,
As usual, and, to make matters worse,
Halley had just taken a position
As the society’s clerk,
They failing to pay the promised 50 pounds
To his purse,
Paying him only with very many copies of
The History of Fishes!
THE JUNE 30, 1860 SHOWDOWN
Were we descended from some
A thousand people sat down to hear the lectures.
The Bishop of Oxford,
Samuel Wilberforce, rose to speak,
And, while speaking, and into his flow,
Looked at Huxley,
And asked if he’d become attached to apes by way
Of his grandmother’s or his grandfather’s
Huxley turned to his neighbor
And whispered plans,
“The Lord has delivered him into my hands”,
Then rose with a relish
And said something, agape,
Of the nature “I’d rather claim kinship to an ape
Than to someone using his eminence to propound
Such unscientific twaddle
In a serious scientific forum!”
This was an insult to the Bishop’s office
And his door,
So, the proceedings instantly
Turned into an uproar.
Someone ran around holding up a Bible,
“The Book, the Book!”
(Truly, we’ll never be the same.)
Now, who was this guy holding up the Book?
It was none other than the pilot of the Beagle.
THE CONCEPTION OF NATURAL LAWS
You cannot fool Mother Nature; it is improper,
For thou shalt not fiddle with Mother Nature;
But, since Father Time outlives all who venture,
He can fool around with Mother Nature.
At some time during a long eternity,
His paternity begot her maternity;
They then gave birth to life’s certainty.
MINDING OR MATTERING?
If all is minding, then nothing matters,
All being illusion, a wisp of a dream…
But, if it matters, then it ever minds of that
Of which you are much concerned to be…
ALCHEMY HAPPENS VIA RADIOACTIVITY
AND HOW OLD CAN THE EARTH BE?
Through E=MCC we see that vast energy reserves
Are bound up in small amounts
Of matter, preserved.
Henri Becquerel carelessly left
A packet of uranium salts
On a wrapped photographic plate
In his drawer vault.
Some time later, he was surprised to discover that
The salts had burned a ‘light’ impression into it.
The salts were emitting rays
Of some sort, curiously,
So, he turned the matter over
To Marie Curie, literally.
Madam Curie and her new husband Pierre,
Noted that the rocks poured out
Great amounts of energy,
But they never diminished in size
Or changed in any way.
They were converting mass
Into energy very efficiently.
They also found polonium and radium,
And a Nobel prize,
Along with Becquerel, in 1903,
Einstein yet on the rise.
Radioactive elements decayed
Into other elements,
Noted Ernest Rutherford
And colleague Fredrick Soddy;
One day you had an atom of uranium that “bled”,
And the very next day you had an atom of lead.
It always took the same amount of days.
For half of the sample to decay,
And so this steady reliable rate of decay
Could be used in kind of a clocking way.
Tick-tock, how old was it?
More than 700 millions years worth!
This age was way more
Than anyone had given the Earth.
(5 billion would be closer to the answer.)
He lectured one day,
Taking out a piece of radioactive pitchblende,
Showing it to aging Kelvin,
But Kelvin rejected it to the end.
Dimitri Mendedeyev rejected it too,
As with everything new,
Ever storming out of labs
And lecture halls all over, too;
However, the 101st element
Was called mendelevium,
In his name meant,
And quite appropriately,
For it was a very unstable element.
Pierre Curie began to experience
Radiation sickness, getting weak,
But in 1906 he was fatally run over
By a carriage on a Paris street.
Marie worked on with much distinction,
But had an affair so indiscreet
That even the French were scandalized there,
And so she was never elected
To the Academy of Sciences,
Despite not just one,
But two Nobel prizes
Scientists yet thought that
Radioactivity was beneficial,
Putting thorium into toothpaste
And laxatives as useful;
Eventually these products were banned, by 1938,
But for Madam, who’d died of leukemia,
It was much too late.
The radiation is so pernicious and long lasting
That even now her papers from the 1890’s,
And even her cookbooks, are dangerous and toxic,
So, all her lab books must be kept
In lead lined boxes.
(One must wear protective clothing
To look at them.)
Marie Curie was a very attractive lady,
Very much aglow,
For my great ancestor in his old writings
As much as told me so.
She radiated warmth unto him
As a rainbow of sparks—
“Great balls of fire!” he remarked,
“They now glow in the dark!”
WAY WAY BACK
In 1909 in British Columbia,
Near the town of Field,
Walcott and wife were riding horses
Along a mountain trail,
Beneath the Burgess Ridge
When his wife’s horse slipped a stone,
Tipping and turning over a slab of shale.
He got down and looked;
There were fossil crustaceans unknown.
The next summer he climbed
Up the mountain’s side,
Having traced the presumed route
Of the rock’s slide,
And there he found a shale outcrop
As long as a block,
Imprinted with Earth’s ancient and tiny livestock.
‘Twas from the dawn
Of life’s great and complex profusion
From so very long ago—
It was the famous Cambrian explosion.
The Earth would wobble
Like a dying top very soon,
Without the steadying influence
Of our lovely moon;
But, it’s slipping from our grasp
An inch and a half a year.
The end’s not so near,
But we’ll need a way out of here.
TRUTH OR HAPPENSTANCE?
John Allen Paulos said that
“In reality, the most astonishingly
Incredible coincidence imaginable
Would be the complete absence of coincidence.”
Einstein was bothered by the fact
That gravity and inertia balance out exactly,
Allowing a cannon ball to fall
At the same rate as a marble.
Was it a happenstance or a truth?
He concluded that gravity and inertia
Are aspects of a bigger picture—
The curvature of space-time.
WHAT NO MAN HAD THOUGHT BEFORE
Alan Guth had never done anything much before,
But soon attended Dicke’s Big Bang lecture tour,
And so he’d decided to study
The birth of the universe;
Thus, just like that,
He developed inflation theory first.
The “Big Bang” formed 98 percent
Of matter spent,
But, whence the rest of all the higher elements?
What flaming forge fired carbon, iron, and more?
Fred Hoyle was a nut, much unloved, a big bore;
Working with others who often avoided him,
Hoyle came up up with imploding stars, a whim
That that allowed supernovae to generate
The heavier elements at the rate of his steady state.
This process was known as nucleosynthesis,
Causing a 100 million degree heat and mist
That sprayed new elements into clouds of stardust
That could eventually coalesce into solar systems, us.
99.9% of this mass made our sun,
The rest leftover dirt,
Ever colliding, two grains
Being the conception of Earth,
For, in every encounter
There was always a winning lump
Of these endless and random,
Bumping, growing clumps.
(Fowler, not Hoyle,
Obtained the precious Nobel prize;
Hoyle had been overlooked,
But to no one’s surprise.)
THE ACCIDENTAL HAPPENING
What random, unsystematic event became,
So unmethodically, quite arbitrary, so lame,
Unplanned, undirected, so casual, uncausual made
As some indiscriminate, nonspecific one bade
Of haphazard stray that erratic chance gave?
Let’s not worry about a TOE that’s sought,
But ever enjoy what it has wrought.
To me, happiness is a state of mind,
And so then we do much enjoy all that we find.
THE TRANSIT OF VENUS
ACROSS THE FACE OF THE SUN
THE UNLUCKIEST MAN
ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH
Edmund Halley had suggested
That if you measured the passage of Venus
Over the sun from selected places on Earth,
You could work out the distance to the sun,
By using triangulation,
And then go on to use that calibration
To find the distances
To all the other bodies of the solar system.
These transits come in pairs eight years apart
And then there are none at all for a century dark;
There were none in Halley’s lifetime, but in 1761,
Twenty years after Halley’s death,
The world was one.
Scientists set off for points
All over the Earthly globe,
Hundreds of them,
But most remained in problem mode;
Many were waylaid by war, shipwreck or sickness;
Then, too, there was much damage
To the instruments.
Jean Chappe spent many months
Traveling to Siberia
By horse, sleigh, boat and coach,
Nursing his criteria
Over every bump.
At last he was near,
But swollen rivers blocked the way—
Locals blamed it on him looking at the heavens.
Guillaume Le Gentil set off from France
A year ahead of time,
But got delayed and was yet stuck at sea in brine,
Impossibly trying to take measurements
From a pitching ship.
He continued on to India,
Now having eight years to prepare
For the transit of 1769.
He erected a viewing station there,
Having everything ready
On the fine day of June 4th;
But, just as Venus began its pass,
A cloud slid forth
Right in front of the sun
And stayed there and spent
Its time exactly for the the duration of the transit:
Three hours, fourteen minutes,
And seven seconds.
Enroute to a port to head for home,
He contracted dysentery
And was laid up for a year,
But then finally left the territory
On a ship that was later hit by a hurricane off
Of the African coast and nearly wrecked and lost,
But, he did make it home 12 years after setting off,
Only to find that relatives
Had long since sealed his fate
By declaring him dead And then plundering his estate.
The few measurements from 1761
Were of no benefit;
But, luckily, in 1769, Cook had watched the transit
From a sunny hilltop in Tahiti,
Giving enough weight
Of information now
For Joseph Lalande to calculate
The mean distance to the sun
At about 150 million kilometers.
FINDING THE EDGE OF THE UNIVERSE!
At Princeton University,
Robert Dicke and his team
Had really been building up much scientific steam
From pursuing George Gamow’s good suggestion
Of a deep space Cosmic Background Radiation.
Gamow wrote another paper
Suggesting some ways
To use the Bell antenna,
But no one read it in those days.
Unknowing of this paper
And unbeknownst to Dicke,
Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson,
But 30 miles not far,
Were diligently trying to get rid of this very CBR!
At Bell Lab,
Their large communications antenna deployed
Was plagued by some persistent background noise,
A steady steamy hiss, unfocused and unrelenting,
They ever attempting
To squash it away very painstakingly.
For a year they’d tried
To eliminate this nuisance noise,
Through testing, rebuilding,
And wiggling-dusting ploys,
Even placing duct tape
Over each and every seam and rivet.
They even wiped away
A ton of bird shit from the dish,
Scrub brushing it and sweeping it clean;
But, no fish.
Little did they know
They’d found the edge of the visible universe:
The very first photons were at hand—
The most ancient light,
Although time and distance
Had changed it into microwaves.
It was this interfering radiation
They wished to swish away.
If the Empire State Building
Was the universe we know,
They had reached within an inch
Of the sidewalk below.
They called Princeton about the noise;
“We’ve been scooped!”
Dicke sadly told all of his boys.
Penzias and Wilson received the 1978 Nobel Prize,
Even though they’d not been looking, CBR-wise,
And didn’t even know what it was when they found it,
Nor had they ever described it
In any scientific paper,
Not even knowing the significance of it,
But from the newspaper.
(Sadly, all that Dicke’s team got
Was a bit of sympathy.)
Note: they didn’t really call it “bird shit”,
But a “white dielectric material”.
See The Birth of the Universe At Home:
You, too, can detect the ancient CBR;
Just tune your TV to a blank channel;
About 1% of the dancing static is the CBR.
When there’s nothing on, it’s really everything!
THE ASTEROID THAT
MAY DESTROY HUMANITY
The air beneath it
Couldn’t get out of the way of the rock,
Rising in temperature ten times more
Than the sun is hot.
Everything and everyone
Crinkled and crackled in the heat;
A thousand cubic kilometers
Of earth blew from beneath.
This shock wave,
Radiating at about the speed of light,
Would sweep just about everything else
Out of sight.
From further away,
One would see a blinding light,
Then the unimaginable grandeur
Of an apocalyptic sight:
A rolling wall of silent darkness
As black as midnight.
It would reach to the heavens,
Filling the entire field of view,
Traveling far beyond the speed of sound
Toward me and you.
A bewildering veil of turmoil
Would [ful]fill our vision
During those few last minutes
Before we met oblivion.
Our mental fabric quilted truths
Have long been sewn,
And whatever wove and woofed the known.
At first we admire but a few strands unknown,
Then blend the weave and weft
To all its beauty shown.
Not being a wiz,
He guessed the answer on the quiz,
About what existence is, equal or not:
The answer was not his.
THAT BLANKETY BLANK ZERO
Euclid and Pythagorus never even thought of it,
Perhaps not needing it for geometry;
So it was and wasn’t ‘Greek’ to them.
Aristotle was deathly afraid of it.
Even the word ‘naughty’ came from it.
‘0’ had a chilly reception everywhere,
It’s rounded symbol enclosing nothing,
As if it could be captured,
But ‘nothing’ never changed,
Being the same even if you took it away.
Humans stumbled on zero
And nothing by accident,
Then recoiled in horror, fearing it, reviling it,
And sometimes even banning it outright,
As some kind of evil influence.
After many centuries, it seemed to be tamed,
Put in its place, as a simple little placeholder.
Then the beast reared its ugly head for real,
Misbehaving like a monster right and left:
It brought instant death by multiplication,
And wrought total absurdity through division,
Still halting our expensive computers.
It exploded into the ambiguous fog of infinity;
It ran away from us in calculus,
Sliding us down the slippery slope
Of closing in on it but never reaching it.
It spawned ghosts such as negative numbers,
Imaginaries, and those ephemeral infinitesimals.
Both the genie and the genius
Had been let out of the bottle,
And the goose egg still
Confounds and confuses,
No one knowing zilch about it,
It creating paradoxes left and right.
THE LAST DODO WORKED IN A MUSEUM
The famously flightless bird, the good old dodo,
Had a dimwitted but ever trusting natural motto.
During millions of years of isolation from us,
It had evolved on the island of Mauritius.
It was not at all ready for human behavior low,
Even waddling over to note the fall of its fellow.
In 1755, seventy years after the last dodo’ s word,
A museum director at the Ashmolean in Oxford,
Nothing that its dodo specimen
Had become “tired”,
Being unpleasantly musty,
So he threw it into a fire.
We are now not even sure
What a living dodo was like,
But for some oil paintings.
We will not again see their likes.
INANIMATED TO ANIMATED
Perhaps the knowledge of movement
Makes for animated life,
But, when did this happen?
How does one draw a clear line
Between organization and not?
When, even, does the night turn to day?
The most interesting and potent things,
From the evolution of the universe to life,
Exist at the blurred boundary
Between order and chaos…
Life perhaps emerging in tide pools—
The shifting edge between land and sea.
It is all of the fuzzy realm
In which and where things
Have to be orderly enough to take form,
But not so much frozen that they cannot change.
MEASURING THE SIZE OF THE EARTH
An English mathematician,
Robert Norwood, of many,
Wished to know the circumference
Of the Earth, as any,
With his back against
The Tower of London, he forked
Two devoted years marching
208 miles north to York,
And measuring a piece of chain
As he went forth through
All the heat, cold and rain,
And made many meticulous adjustments tolled
For the rise and fall of the land And the meandering road.
Then, in York, a year since he began in London,
He measured the precise angle of the sun.
Thus, using trigonometry
To size a degree of the mark,
He came up with
110.72 kilometers per degree of arc.
Not thinking that these measurements
Could be true,
Since the slightest errors
Could throw them into the blue,
Jean Picard spent two years
Trundling and triangulating;
Using quadrants and pendulum clocks,
He got 110.46.
But, was the Earth fatter
At the north and south poles?
Now new measurements
Were needed to replace the old.
A hydrologist, Pierre Bouguer and and soldier,
Charles Marie de La Condamine,
With many bolder,
Traveled to Peru to triangulate
Through the Andes,
To measure the meridian
From Cuenca to Yoarouqui.
They needed but to go
200 hundred miles for one degree,
But everything began to go wrong,
In Quito, they provoked the locals,
Getting stoned away;
Their doctor was murdered
And the botanist went crazy.
Fevers and falls claimed even more;
The senior member,
Pierre Godin, ran off
With a pretty thirteen year old girl.
Then they had to halt their work
For eight long months,
Having to sort out a problem
In Lima with their permits.
La Condamine and Bouguer stopped speaking,
And all the officials
Had many suspicions, unbelieving
That the French would travel
Halfway the world around
To measure the world right here
In their very own towns.
Why didn’t they make the measurements in France?
Well, Edmund Halley,
An exceptional figure, by chance
Got from Newton that our planet
Was slightly oblate;
But, Jacques Cassin
Hhad come up with the reverse fate.
But the Academy sent the team in mind
To South America,
To mountains with good sight lines;
But, the mountains of Peru
Were often lost in the clouds,
So they’d wait weeks to observe a bit,
The terrain was near impossible,
Defeating the mules;
The men plodded on, fording wild rivers,
And crossing uncharted stony deserts
Far from supplies, tackling the task
For 9 long sun-blistered years of lies.
They then found out
That another French team, cold,
Had taken measurements
In Scandinavia that showed
That indeed a degree was longer near to the poles,
The Earth Forty-three kilometers
(Than from top to bottom around the poles.)
Still not talking,
Bouguer & La Condamine just moaned,
Returning to the coast,
Even taking separate ships home.
MASTODONS AND EXTINCTIONS
In the late 1700’s,
Cuvier could take heaps of bones
And whip them into shapely forms
Not in the stones.
After describing and naming
The fossil elephant the mastodon,
He put forward for the first time
A theory on extinction.
He said that from time to time
There were global catastrophes
In which some groups
Of creatures “became history”.
This raised uncomfortable implications
At the time,
For why would God create and destroy
Without reason or rhyme?
This suggested an unaccountable
Casualness by someone unseeing
And greatly troubled the belief in
The Great Chain of Being,
Which held that the world
Was carefully ordered for us—
And that every living thing
thus had a place and purpose.
Meanwhile, William Smith
Noted a correlation in fossils
In rocks to find the relative rock ages
That were possible.
At every change in rock strata,
Certain fossils vanished,
While in others they carried on
Into subsequent levels.
Now it was seen that God
Had wiped out creatures extinct
Not only occasionally but repeatedly—
Which made us think
Him not only careless
But having an outright hostile distinction.
There had been more than
The Biblical Noachian deluge extinction.
HOW CAN WE FIND PARTICLES?
What it really takes
To find particles today is money!
BACTERIA: THE BACK DOOR
TO OUR STOMACH’S CAFETERIA
AND THE INVINCIBLE RULERS
OF THE EARTH
For two billion years
In the Archaean world, bacteria
Were the only forms of life.
Algae, or Cyanobacteria,
Learned to absorb water molecules,
Dining on hydrogen,
But releasing oxygen as waste;
The world began
To slowly fill with “poisonous” oxygen,
But not right away,
As it first combined with iron then,
Producing iron oxide that sank,
That on the bottom lay,
In primitive seas, the world literally rusting away.
After 2 billion years,
The atmosphere had some oxygen;
A new kind of cell arose.
Some oxygen-using organisms
With organelles produced an energy
Much more efficient.
This was the endosymbiotic event
Of a mitochondrion
Which made complex life possible, by a liberation
Of energy from food,
Feeding on nutrients we take in.
We need them but they don’t need us,
For without them
We couldn’t even live for two minutes.
They don’t even speak the same genetic language
As the cells in which they live.
These eukaryotes are old and unknown visitors
Within our homes who’ve stayed on
for a billion years.
In another billion years
They learned to form together
Into complex multicellular beings,
Yet, still this world
Of the small was to ever live on
And rule the world.
Louis Pasteur used a magnifying glass for
Searching for microbes in his food,
Until invited no more.
There are 100 quadrillion bacteria
Within us and upon us,
Ever grazing on our flesh
And digesting our food bus.
The Earth is not our planet,
But theirs; they let us live.
They even purify our water And keep the soil productive.
A single bacterial cell
Can generate 280,000 more a day.
They can also share information,
Taking a piece away
Of genetic code from any other any time.
In a single gene pool—
An invincible super-organism.
They live in caustic lakes,
In Antarctica, in boiling mud,
And even thrive seven miles down
In the Pacific Ocean;
In sulfuric acid, too,
And in a 166-year-old bottle of beer,
And can even gorge themselves
On plutonium nuclear.
Bacteria were yet alive
In a sealed camera lens stowed
On the moon for two years,
But they seemed a bit slowed.
Some were even found Two thousand feet below the Earth
Dining on what’s in rocks,
Like iron, sulfur, and dirt.
Some frozen ones
Were even revived from the 3 million
Year-old permafrost of Siberia,
And even one older than
The continents, was resuscitated,
A 250 million-year-old
Bacterium that had been trapped
In a salt deposit hold,
Two thousand feet underground
In New Mexico, maybe.
Learning provides more deciding power,
Enlarging the spectrum for choice to flower.
I surf the internet for that which matters,
The world’s bouyance there the former latter.
THE CALDRON THAT ALMOST
BREWED HUMANITY AWAY
At Toba, in northern Sumatra, a supervolcano
Erupted only seventy-four thousands years ago.
Six years of volcanic winter
Followed this eruption,
To the very edge of extinction.
There were but a few thousand
Of them left around,
Since very little light
could reach the dusty ground.
It took twenty thousand years
For them to recompose;
From this handful of hardy souls
We humans arose.
In 1960, Bob Christiansen
Looked around everywhere
At Yellowstone National Park for its volcanic caldera,
But found it nowhere.
By some coincidence, NASA
Had photos from a
Recently tested high altitude camera.
Astounded, Bob learned
Why he’d failed to spot the caldera;
It was virtually the entire park,
2.2 million acres of area!
Yellowstone must have blown up
With a violent misery
Far beyond anything know
Throughout our history.
The crater was forty miles across.
The cataclysm was
Even beyond the scale
Of what the imagination does;
It had thousands of times
More monstrous molten fire
Than Mount St. Helens.
Krakatau was but a firecracker.
Yellowstone’s eruptions average
One really massive blow every 600,000 years,
The last one being 630,000 years ago;
It is long overdue;
Better take out some no-fault insurance.
THE GOLDEN STREAM
In 1865, Hennig Brand thought that gold
Could be distilled from human urine, old,
Perhaps noting a similarity in color,
So, he kept fifty buckets in his cellar.
By some method, he converted urine
Into a noxious paste of some kind,
Then into some translucent waxy substance,
But so far there was no gold, and none hence.
However, after a time
The substance began to glow,
And when exposed to the air burst as an inferno.
The substance soon became
Known as phosphorus,
But was too costly
to make its business prosperous…
For an ounce of the flaming stuff sold
For way more than the price of gold!
THE GHOST NOT IN THE MACHINE
All aspects of one’s amazing mental life,
Every thought pattern, every emotion rife,
Every memory and association made to be
Can be tied to brain physiological activity.
Cognitive science has shown that feats
That were formerly thought to be the feet
Spurred by the mental stuff of a soul lone
Can be duplicated by machines alone,
And that motives and goals can be
Understood in the terms entirely
Of feedback and cybernetic mechanisms,
And that thinking can be understood
As a kind of computational mechanism,
A kind of fuzzy analog
To parallel computation.
Which formerly seemed miraculous—
Something that mere matter could not possibly
Accomplish or explain—can now be
Understood as a kind of computation process.
THE CURIOUS ENCOUNTER
De Broglie declared that all motion
Of particles must be associated
With the propagation of a wave.
Einstein then wrote that De Broglie
“Had lifted the corner of the great veil.”
Einstein later had an opportunity
To lift another veil—that of Marie Curie,
When they vacationed together,
Quite reactively, in the Swiss alps.
Did they or didn’t they exchange energy?
Einstein was a ladies’ man, though married,
Busy having an affair with his cousin, Elsa,
And Marie was a married man’s lady (Paul’s).
Einstein wrote his wife that Marie was a grouch,
But, was this just a misdirection meant to allay?
They inhaled the alpine air, talking science,
Strolling far and trying to name the peaks.
“WHAT IT IS LIKE
TO BE ANOTHER CREATURE”
What would it be like
To be another kind of creature?
Do I-thoughts of self-consciousness emerge
From their integration of experiences?
Who knows about the ‘I’, but, in a sense,
We already know about being other creatures,
For we already have been during our development:
The growth of a human parallels and recapitulates,
At a vastly accelerated rate, the evolution of life.
We start out as a single-celled organism,
Much like an amoeba or a bacterium.
Then we progress through the phase of a blastula,
A simple, undifferentiated multicellular stage,
To become an embryo barely distinguishable
From those of many other animals, even
Including those of reptiles and amphibians.
For these first few weeks after conception,
We are truly a lower form of life ourselves,
Bathing, as long ago, in the warm amniotic sea.
So, how did it feel to you? Can you recall?
No, for you were not around at the time;
There was no developed conscious sense of self.
But, now we do feel like someone,
Having inner depth,
Our activity and actuality
Being one and the same.
The Strength of Gravity, the Feeble Apparent
Gravity is a universal force—for any body:
The force felt by a body is mass proportional;
Yet, the acceleration that’s felt is the inverse!
This coincidence removes all mass dependence.
This amazing “coincidental” race
By bodies going straight through curved space.)
Gravity might be derived from the fundamentals,
The byproduct of a small residual
Of opposite electric or color charges, and more.
Why then is gravity universal,
For its sources are not?
Perhaps the appearance of feebleness is deceptive
Since protons and neutrons are but lightweights.
But why are they so light?
Their mass is a compromise
Between a disturbance energy and its cancellation.
The quarks’ color charge
Disturbs gluons around them,
Small at first,
But larger growing farther from the quark.
These disturbances cost energy,
But, how to cancel them?
With an anti-quark
Or two complementarily colored quarks.
But, the qualifying quarks
Can’t sit atop the originals,
For quarks have no definite position,
Just a wave function,
And they can’t be localized
To a small spread of position,
For this requires a larger energy;
So, forget nullification.
The compromise is that
Some residual energy amounts
From the not-completely-canceled
Gluon field disturbances
And from the not-completely-canceled
Thus, the proton mass from m=E/cc,
With this tricky element
Of how the gluon disturbance field
Grows with distance.
The residual strong energy
From color charge also binds
The protons and neutrons
In the atomic nucleus;
The electromagnetic electron/nuclei
Bind atoms into molecules,
And molecules into materials.
Is a subtle feedback effect
From virtual particles
Antiscreening the color charge.
This antiscreening builds up gradually,
Especially at first,
Then proceeds more quickly,
Building upon each building.
Whereas, screening happens
For electrically charged particles,
Being such as a positive charge
Attracts a negative virtual cloud.
Thus, at first,
Since it’s so slow to build,
The pressure to localize the nullifying quarks
Is quite mild as well;
Thus, there’s no need
To very strictly localize and
So the energies are small;
So then is the proton mass.
This is the lightness of being.
(Ideas herein were gathered from readings,
esp. Frank Wilczek)
THE FOREVER FIELDS OF REALITY
Michael Faraday introduced
One of the most radical ideas in science.
They thought that he had,
For once, gone too far.
Particles became rather irrelevant,
Being mere spigots through which forces flowed.
The real stuff of reality was the forces flowing,
The particles being only the source.
The burden of reality had shifted,
For the space between particles became primary.
Particles were only the intersection
Of the forces that wove the universe.
Forces create stresses in space,
Of how to get from here to there.
An electron wiggles in the sun,
Tweaking the E/M field;
The ripples travel for 8 minutes
Then tickle an electron in your eye.
You see the light;
Light is a tweak.
Physics has never been the same since.
The field concept became real,
The idea being the same as the thing,
Fudging forever the difference
Between something and nothing;
Yet, fields are made of something real,
For they have energy.
Einstein called the field that be
“A change in the concept of reality…
The most profound and fruitful one
That has come to physics since Newton.”
Matter, then, is simply a place where
Some of the field happens to be concentrated.
Matter travels like a wave in a rope,
But, the rope itself does not travel.
The field is not so much
Something in space,
But more like of space.
This is why all particles of a type are identical;
For they are each manifestations
Of their fields everywhere the same.
The field takes on a life of its own,
Even when the object that created it is gone.
The traveling kinks continue;
They propagate endlessly.
Where the vacuum is free of matter
It is not free of field, but filled with it.
Energy and mass are the same stuff,
But it takes a whole lot of energy to make mass.
Field is thus the bridge
Between matter and empty space.
Fields can’t go away,
As they’re part of the structure of the vacuum;
When in their quietest possible state
They are the vacuum.
This is about as close to nothing
As anything ever gets.
Forces act on things,
While matter is acted upon;
You can walk through a field,
But you cannot walk through a wall.
Kinks in fields can pile atop one another;
Kinks in matter hold each other at arm’s length.
Yet, somehow, beneath it all,
They are kindred spirits.
Faraday made fields real;
Quantum mechanics made them magic—
And lumpy—the currency of QM.
Everything melts, via uncertainty,
As when we try to measure a quantum property.
But this, too, means that no quantum property
Can ever be zero, for zero is a precise amount,
That is, it is that motion can never cease.
Try to pin down an electron,
Such as putting it in a box,
And it increasingly moves about, ever faster.
It is heads or tails while it is still spinning?
Well, it is just a fuzzy ‘both’ yet neither.
In a way, QM eliminated
The very idea of zero
From the physical world,
As ‘nothing’ never sleeps,
But is ever up to something.
(The Loan Shark)
An unusual track was found in a cloud chamber
That Carl Anderson was using
To watch the trajectories of cosmic rays
Streaming in from space.
The track was like that of an electron—
Except that it curved backwards
Under the influence of a magnetic field.
It was the positron, now used in the PET.
A particle and its antiparticle annihilate,
Giving back, in the process, the energy it took
To create them in the first place.
Do they live on borrowed time and energy,
A creation near ‘ex nihilo’ all over the universe?
Can they sneak out of the vacuum
So long as they snuck back in again
Before you noticed?
“What is the point?”
Thought Richard Fenyman:
“Created and annihilated,
Annihilated and created—
What a waste of time.”
They come and go like dreams,
The lighter ones, like electrons,
Popping out more often.
They are the ghosts of the yet unborn.
The road from ‘nothing’ to something
Goes in both directions;
With enough energy
They can become real.
The so-called ‘vacuum’ is creative.
The field fluctuates this way and that,
But, on average, the net energy is ‘zero’.
The once melted vacuum fell and froze,
Such as when water becomes ice.
THE AGE OF RUST
Aliens visit the Earth, thinking lush,
Only to find it covered with rust.
Their visit does not occur in future times
When the Earth is full of dusty rime,
But was way back in the youthful years
Before there was any atmosphere.
Bacteria have just begun making oxygen,
Discarding it as a mere waste product—
An unwanted poison to be jettisoned.
Everything on Earth that is capable
Of being oxidized becomes oxidized;
We’ve seen evidence of this rust
In bands of red oxide deep in the crust.
Only when this rusting comes to an end
Do the oxygen levels in the atmosphere rise;
They are only 1 percent after 2.4 billions years;
Now being 20 percent after double those years.
The aliens soon leave our planet,
That rusting junk pile that
Could never amount to squat.
They did take a photo
Of the Eiffel Tower, however.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENS
AFTER WE DIE?
We die ‘little deaths’ all the time.
Our atoms change,
Some of our memories go away
And some new ones reappear,
Although I realize that it
Is the core of memories
That defines us as us.
It’s just that we are hardly
The same person now
As when we were much younger.
We had ‘death’ before birth, too,
And now there is life after birth.
Is there life only during life?
If one had amnesia and began
Learning the world anew,
Then one might say that
One as the previous person
Was ‘dead’ and that it is
Our new life that counts,
One not even missing the old one.
And, while the ‘big death’ is much more
Than any of these ‘little deaths’,
It is that our atoms then go on
To reside in a new person eventually.
It’s not like there is any continuity of memory,
But more like that any narrative will do.
As for really knowing all, that is, the TOE,
Meaning that we know that we can’t know it all.
This is a relief and so then we can go about our life,
With the ultimate freedom to be.
To infinity existence cannot be,
As all is not of great density,
But of some amount
Of something that forms our account.
ON THE EDGE
Existence extends its electromagnetic preach
As far as its atomic influences can reach;
Beyond all of that there is Nothing there
But the naught of very thin ‘air’.
Nothing has no real existence
In some places, and far ‘beyond’ here.
NOW AND ZEN
Everything that is part of us—
Our cells, tissues, organs and organ systems—
Has come about over billions of years
Because it proved successful
In the great survival stakes
During our perilous evolutionary
Descent (ascent) with modification.
The brain, being no exception,
Evolved, in part,
To allow a creature to learn
From what happens in its life,
To retain key elements that
Could influence future actions.
We are geared for self-preservation.
We will do anything to avoid facing the possibility
That who we are now cannot continue.
We ourselves are mainly the cause
That we are interested in.
The self is preoccupied with staying alive,
Which is why our species is still around today.
It is a prime biological function
To be afraid of death,
And, so, the self, as thus contrived,
Is able to fully play its crucial survival role.
We want to equip our brain with a soul
That offers us an escape when the brain dies
Since the self cannot come to terms
With its own extinction.
From a subjective standpoint,
We are all born equal and undifferentiated
(Before that, ‘we’ were dead),
But, as mature selves we make a distinction
Between the individual and the surroundings.
Still, the brain keeps changing throughout life,
In a pattern of the shifting flux of its neurons;
We gain and lose memories and feelings,
Essentially creating a new person
Over and over again.
The self is thus not so rock solid as it seems.
Changes differ from death
Only in degree. In essence, they are identical,
Although at the opposite ends of the spectrum.
So, we are not static things.
Other neural networks will come to be in other,
Future people, albeit with an “amnesia”
Of what went on before in
The brains of the previous others.
Why should we be happy about this?
We never can be, because the ‘I’ cannot operate
Outside of its own boundaries.
The only viable alternative is to think of a way
In which it is possible to ever continue on.
What will it be like to be a part
Of someone else after we die,
With our own particular
Narrative of life cast aside?
This is the ‘zen’ of now and then and when.
Evil roots from the making up of ‘good’.
Farewell, false preachers of all varieties
Of methods and dogmas that say “do this or else”.
Your “good’s” are flawed by being made up.
THE UNIVERSAL ACID
As a boy in Dan Dennet’s chemistry class,
I wondered, as did many,
About the following scenario often dreamt of:
I mixed two compounds, which, unfortunately,
Produced the ultimate acid.
Nothing could contain it.
It quickly ate though the container,
The floor of the laboratory,
And then even all the way through the earth,
Eventually sloshing some poor sap in China.
This, too is what happens to us,
As our chemical-bio-electric nature
Is revealed to us,
Like some kind of giant shock,
After which we will never be the same again,
As perhaps some are now reeling from,
Well, maybe just a little bit.
The biochemical mush that is us,
When fully realized,
Leaves us stunned and astounded.
We grasp for what we once thought we were before,
But, it eludes us in the new light of learning.
The universal acid of such knowledge
Eats through all superstitions,
Folk tales, and myths.
Nothing can contain it.
We may come to even regret
Our learnings of this condition,
For it dissolves our container,
Leaving us floundering in the lurch.
It happened to me, too, beginning in fifth grade.
But, wait, it’s not so bad, is it,
For what we are is what we are,
And we still have feelings, personality,
And more adventures of learning that await.
The light of education ever shines brightly,
Wherever it may lead.
Many dark alleys remain to be explored,
Given our new insight into the human condition.
THE TIME CAPSULE
Since one million years had just passed by,
They, of the future, prepared to open, nigh,
The absolutely sealed container’s prize,
Of a capsule made so carefully that it did survive
Without damage, being totally impregnable
To any outside influence imaginable.
They expected to see, perhaps, some old relic,
But certainly nothing alive that could tell of it,
For it would be hard to imagine, even then,
That some organism could keep on going its ken
Over its course of a million years later,
Sealed inside this tight container,
Unable even to exchange energy’s spark,
This metabolism being the hallmark
Of life and all that quacked or quarked…
And, so, they did not at all expect something
In there that would be flapping its wings,
Gasping for air, or anything at all of life’s song,
Wondering what had taken so long.
Well, they were right and they were wrong,
For in the time capsule that was planted so long,
Several things had with it come along…
One was a plaque, of numbers low and high,
And containing some primes and pi,
Another, some essays of the future—
Some, like Austin’s, quite mature,
Along with maps and other items of the world
From those times when the oceans swirled;
But, the last, one perhaps not intended,
Was a microbe—an extremophile—
Laying there quite contented all the while!
Well, they soon laughed, loud and long,
For they were in between right and wrong
About what could survive from so long ago,
For, it was really walking mighty slow!
Amazingly, as with it the time capsule took,
The microbe walked right out of this book!
He was a century ahead of his time,
On electrical conductivity, for example,
But kept everything so secret
That much of it didn’t come out
Until the century had passed.
Without telling any one,
Cavendish discovered or anticipated
The law of conservation of energy,
Ohm’s law, Dalton’s Law of Partial Pressures,
Ricther’s Law of Reciprocal Proportions,
Charles’s Law of Gases,
And the principles of electrical conductivity.
And that’s just some of it;
There was also tidal friction,
Atmospheric cooling, freezing mixtures,
Clues to the noble gases,
And of course the gravitational constant,
And the weight of the Earth—
From a nautilus looking machine of weight,
Shafts, and torsion wires.
He was so shy that it was known
That on no account was he
To be approached or even looked at.
Those who sought his views
Were advised to wander into his vicinity,
As if by accident,
And, to “talk as it were into vacancy”.
If their remarks were not worthy,
An actual vacancy would quickly appear.
AN IDEA WITH NO HAIR
I read something,
But I lost the magazine;
So I will try to reconstruct it…
We were once very furry,
But now have very little hair
On our bodies.
Most animals still have
A lot of hair or fur,
But for the larger beasts
That ever need to cool
A large mass.
It’s warmer now,
So even the naked elephant
Is no longer a Wooly Mammoth.
When eats and treats were abundant,
Our furry ancestors could just
Laze around, not exerting themselves;
But, when forest shrank,
‘We’ had to walk/run
Over long distances
To secure our prey and food,
And so some thick clogged hair
All over would not do so well for us.
Hair was thus selected out,
In conjunction with
The arrival of sweat glands
That could dump
12 liters a day.
We were pink underneath our fur,
This turning to black in the hot regions.
Hair on the head still works
To ward off the direct sun.
Via our new epidermal sweat glands,
We could increase
Our body and brain size
And exert ourselves more.
THE BIG BANG
We are ready to mix the Witch’s brew
Of that endless energy making me and you…
…Stand back, for when we tickle the tail,
The dragon may laugh, cry, or ach-choo.
Energy conservation is absolute in each O region.
Energy conservation globally is undefined
Since there is no time translation globally.
Inflation is the ultimate free lunch (almost)
Which drives each O region to a flat metric
Which locks each O region
Within the Bekenstein bound
And creates a zero energy Universe.
The process of inflation required
A given amount of seed energy to it.
Once inflation is launched
The work function of expansion
Is used to create all the mass energy
In the Universe
Without violating the conservation of energy.
The small seed energy to launch inflation
Comes from a Quantum Fluctuation
Which creates both
A negative energy time reversed
And a positive energy time forward
The sign of energy and arrow
Of time being always forward
And the energy always positive
From the perspective of any observer.
This is a process analogous
To particle pair creation
And conforms to numerous cosmological models:
Sakharov multisheet model,
The no boundary model,
The Venzianio and Gasperini
String cosmological model etc.
The end state of the Universe
Will be an empty De Sitter State
With a constant vacuum energy density.
This De Sitter space will be the birthing ground
For baby BIVERSES as described by a model
Like the Carroll Chen proposal.
Please keep this under your hat—in your mind!
In the same way as particles
Emerging from the vacuum
Are produced in pairs and characterized
By opposite physical properties
(i.e., opposite charges,
Momentum, angular momentum, etc.)
To avoid violations of conservation laws,
The Universes are created
Are also produced in pairs,
And are characterized
By opposite kinematic properties.
One of the Universes expands
While the other one shrinks.
However, the shrinking Universe
Behaves as if it was
Traveling backwards in time
With respect to the coordinates
Playing the role of time in mini superspace.
THE VIRGINS CLUSTER
The galaxies of Virgo are strewn about…
The brand new ladies ever within without,
Like those glorious new flowers of May—
‘Tis where Islamics go when martyred away.
Working long before
The DNA/genetics revelations
Of the 1950’s,
Was a Victorian era scientist
Who constructed his revolutionary theory
Of evolution through natural selection
Over a lifetime of meticulous
Observation and thought.
It is perhaps the must powerful idea in science
And still drives the contemporary research agenda.
Life was staggeringly dull
A billion and a half years ago,
And, of course,
In the 3 billion years before that,
The once steaming ocean having become a cold,
Thin, dreary broth of look-alike organisms.
With internal structures had appeared,
But not yet were there
Any multicellular creatures.
Life lazed through those doldrums
For a million millennia.
Imagine the lengths of these times.
Then some combination
Of environmental circumstance
And genetic novelty triggered
A wild diversification in
The variety and complexity of animal life
Over tens of millions of years,
Climaxing in what is now called
The Cambrian explosion.
By 530 million years ago
The seas held a multitude
Of bizarre creatures—
As now seen fossilized
In the Burgess Shale,
Perhaps near where
Graham of ToeQuest lives.
As is often the case,
Many of those weird Cambrian monsters
Were evolutionary dead ends,
But a certain few were
The progenitors of every animal alive today.
Darwin’s real breakthrough
Was that evolution became inevitable,
Since, in organisms
Whose environment had changed,
Those who had reproductive success
Depended on inherited traits.
Then, too, there was the simple mechanism
Of natural selection,
Although there could be more methods.
Since then, Darwin’s ideas have connected up
With genetics, molecular biology,
Ecology and embryology.
Today, Darwin’s legacy is a larger,
More richer, more diverse set of theories
Than he could have imagined.
While the competition
For ecological resources,
Also called natural selection
Or “survival of the fittest”,
Demonstrably drives much
Of evolution and speciation,
Biologists are now onto
The elaboration of Darwin’s ideas
About sexual selection,
Plus ongoing debates about roles
For selection at the single level of genes,
The individual organism,
Whole species, and/or all of the above.
THE EVOLUTION REVOLUTION
The Darwinian evolution revolution
Indeed overthrew the notion
Of the fixity of the species,
Science once again
Conflicting with the Creator
By showing that Man
Is neither the purpose of creation
Nor its end point.
In the face
Of the random winnowing
Of nature and time,
Purposefulness becomes a lost wish,
All the lower animals escaping
The hierarchy of inferiority to man,
Who, as we now know,
Is an animal as well.
Clumsily and bloodily
From brutish animals,
And, ultimately, from slime.
Darwin had discovered
The truth of evolution,
Confirmed as fact since then.
Due to the prevailing [false]
Ideas of the time,
As well as his theology training,
He was hesitant to reveal his findings,
But did so, they being confirmed
By the geological strata
And now even more so
By observing evolution
In 40,000 generations of bacteria,
Although they freely pass DNA around,
And, more importantly,
In our own DNA record
That matches the fossils.
Natural Selection remains
The best theory
For the means of evolution,
The actual genetics of DNA
Arriving in the 1950’s.
Could there be more ways?
Evolution by natural selection
Was a revelation whose time had come.
There is a wealth of information supporting it
And a dearth of information denying it.
The creationist argument that a hurricane
Can’t cause a 747 jet to be assembled
From a warehouse of parts
Shows the great lengths
Of their attempts to deny,
That being about their ‘best’ argument.
If they can really supply
Scientific details against,
In order to make a solid case,
Then I don’t see why
They would hesitate to do so.
It seems that some may have
Such a wide open mind
That emotions such as hope and despair
Can trump the evidence of the senses,
Especially in times like these,
When the world seems to
Be spinning out of control,
When there is a surge of belief in astrology,
ESP, and other paranormal phenomena,
Spurred in part by a yearning
To feel a sense of control.
The mind looks a bit too hard for explanations,
Especially for those that let one be connected
To a larger reality, a comfort bolstered
By the thought of angels
Who are watching over one.
Yet none of this is ever so clear cut
That one can ever see it straight out.
Why is it all so invisible?
Or, to say the same thing,
Because it is not really there.
Science, as it explains more
And more each day,
Actually thus pushes people
To seek even stranger sources
Of mystery and wonder,
Such as being abducted by aliens.
What makes abductees stand out
Is an inability to think scientifically.
They are often asked if they understand
That sleep paralysis,
In which waking up during a dream
Causes the dream to leak into consciousness
Even while one remains immobilized,
Can produce the weird visions and hopelessness
That abductees describe.
They say that they do
But that it doesn’t apply to them.
It’s really more that they didn’t know
What was happening
And so they settled on abduction
As the most plausible explanation,
It being the simplest for such episodes
As a pain in the groin,
This being the stealing of sperm
By shadowy figures of ETs.
But are aliens really the most likely reason
For bad dreams, nosebleeds, and bruises?
As for other paranormal events,
It’s not too far a step to see or hear
What they are thinking intensely
About through mental imagery.
On another random topic,
My IBM office mate had been designing
A floating point instruction
That had to follow some random rounding
Or something like that.
I think he had to make a history
Of the randomness to keep it 50/50,
But I could see that he was sweating
This waste and some other things.
I asked him how it was going.
His immortal reply was
EXPLAINING TIME’S DIRECTION,
THE UNIVERSE, SLEEP’S PURPOSE,
Possibility, a brute force type of ‘Mind’
With all that’s possible therein superimposed,
Was/Is the forge of creation,
And its echoes are our universe—
At some stage,
Whether in the real
Or in the wave function,
Great potential to be,
To continue onward.
But, what kind of observation
Collapses the wave function
To form the real from the possible?
It can only be consciousness,
For consciousness is
All the reality we can know,
Although it could be gravity
Or its own interaction.
The wave collapse is a one-way street
And so that then must be time’s arrow.
There is no going back[wards],
Although it’s remotely possible.
Observation creates the instantiation
Of matter that then persists.
The colors, the words written here—
They are consciousness in operation.
It is in the trees and the houses—
It is the feel of those things…
The odours, the mountains beyond—
They are all consciousness.
Our only portal is consciousness.
Bell’s theorem shows that
Nothing “out there”
Has an entirely independent existence.
We can never see “out there”;
We only ever see the inside of our brain!
It only seems literally out there
Since the brain projects it
As being out there.
Colors, form, textures, odours,
Light and everything exist
Only in the brain as such.
The brain is amazing
And can sort a 100 million bits
Of information in an instant.
Consciousness must play an active role
In the functioning of the brain,
For both evolved together.
They are intertwined in a process.
It’s also a way for one to actionize
Without actually moving.
Perhaps mechanically fundamental
Since it is so unlike all else,
Must still yet tie into
The regular physical, and vice-versa.
How is consciousness mediated
In order to interact
With the physical world?
It must be at the synaptic cleft
That what we call ‘mind’ qualitatively
Meets the brain proper.
Here is where the neuron fires or not;
Here is where a neuron meets other neurons;
This must be where data turns into thought.
Whatever triggers these switches
Produces thought in consciousness.
But how does consciousness operate?
The nonlocal properties
Of quantum mechanics
Might play a role,
For, any of the regular physical forces
Such as electromagnetic, weak, and strong
Would be too disruptive
And/or not have enough reach.
Consciousness may be
Of a quantum biological nature;
So, then, it would be tied
To the quantum mechanical process.
The electrons reach everywhere,
Tunneling and hopping about,
Then take the most useful path,
Perhaps globalizing the results
Of the synapses
By selecting a thought or an action
From the superimposed scenarios
Of the action’s consequences.
This is the will selecting a course.
The long-range electron tunneling
That connects synaptic firings
Throughout the brain
Into a self-sustaining pattern
This contact, then,
Between synapses and electrons,
Reaching across the whole space of the brain,
Turns on the light of knowing.
Above a certain synaptic firing rate,
While sleep ensues below the limit.
Sleep is to allow the ground state
To be refreshed;
Consciousness has to pause
When it gets worn out.
This was so important
That evolution retained sleep,
A time of grave danger to any species.
(What is it doing inside the head?)
Absorbs many of the electrons,
But not all of them.
Sleep accounts for the rest,
To relax their excited states.
While time’s arrow is always pointing forward,
Since the quantum wave function collapse
Is a one-way street,
There is the ‘not time’ notion
Of no time,
That is, nothing happening—
No movement of any definites
And therefore no change and no time.
Time, said someone,
Is Nature’s way of preventing
Everything from happening at once.
Yet, in the neutral position
Of Pro Theory,
There is the timeless,
Which is also in the realm
Of the Possibility TOE,
That is neither time nor ‘no time’,
But an all-at-onceness.
HOW THE BRAIN UTILIZES ENERGY
AND REFRESHES ITSELF
The brain is amazing and can sort
100 million bits of information in an instant.
Consciousness must play an active role
In the functioning of the brain,
For both evolved together;
They are intertwined in a process.
Consciousness, being a global physical,
Must still yet tie into the separate physical;
So, how is consciousness mediated?
It must be at the synaptic cleft
That what we call ‘mind’
Qualitatively meets the brain proper.
Here is where the neuron fires or not;
Here is where a neuron meets other neurons;
This must be where data turns into thought;
Whatever triggers these switches
Produces thought in consciousness.
As for our theme that consciousness
Is made by the brain,
This is confirmed again since results
Appear ‘in it’ 200-300 milliseconds
After the brain has finished its analysis,
For this takes some time, as we would imagine.
Might arise in trees and such,
But, who knows.
Perhaps a snail has
A limited smudge of consciousness
In which thoughts of just warmth and cold,
Light and darkness surface.
We know that consciousness is of the brain
Because we can introduce
Molecules into brain areas,
This being anesthesia,
And turn off consciousness completely;
Consciousness has no independent existence.
Whatever it is that the brain does
To achieve consciousness
Can be stopped by anesthesia when it dissolves
In the oily regions of the neuron microtubules.
The brain then stays active
But it does not produce any consciousness
Until the anesthesia is taken away.
The same kind of result occurs when you faint;
Consciousness is therefore surely of the brain;
As such, consciousness can be turned off and on
By the xenon or isoflurane gas of anesthetics.
Our environment, inside and out,
Is symbolically represented in the brain,
Our memories and cross-associations
Recognizing and remembering
The meaning of what we ‘see’, think, feel,
And witness in the unified experience
Of living life as a being.
We all know how wonderful and quick the brain is,
It nearly instantly processing visuals, sounds,
Touches, tastes, and odours
Into higher and deeper systems;
It searches memory very quickly
For what is known,
Such as what the letters
And words of this essay mean,
Forming an abundance of
Further thoughts and actions
Based thereupon, and so forth, and so on,
One hundred billions brain cells
Winking and blinking and connecting,
Making their results known consciously,
At the last, continuing on
In a train of thoughts ever becoming
And arising in almost a kind
Of competition for attention.
Brain cells (neurons) have
A hundred billion connections among them,
Their ‘firing’ depending on their inputs.
Electricity carries the ‘message’
Through the length of the cell
To the gap (synapse),
Where the message turns
To chemical (neurotransmitters)
To take it to another neuron,
Wherein it becomes electrical again,
And so forth.
Your brain neurons have been arranging
Their connections all your life;
It is what you have become,
Molded by your experience and learning.
You are a bio-electrical-chemical being.
THE SCIENCE OF CONSCIOUSNESS
We can exist in the world
Being both subjectively self aware
And not subjectively self aware,
Depending on circumstances.
Brain injury can permanently remove
Subjective self awareness
But the individual can continue to exist.
Anesthesia can remove awareness
For a period of time,
TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation)
Can do the same.
Drugs can either severely impair
Awareness or heighten it—
Which is to say, the degree of information
That makes its way up
To subjective awareness varies greatly.
So, subjective awareness can be turned on and off,
But subconscious being must always be on.
The subconscious systems in the brain
Interpret and process information,
Then selectively feed relevant information
Up to awareness.
It is possible to be alive
And act without subjective awareness,
And in fact we can jerry-rig a system
Into forming a memory in a specific way.
Hypnosis is just such a thing.
When the memory is recalled,
It may bear little resemblance
To the actual experience or event,
And was in effect placed there
By a hypnotist in such a way
As to have exploited the subconscious system.
We then have a subjective experience
Of a fake memory.
This points out that the subject’s interpretation
Of the subject’s relationship to objects can
And would be different
Under the effects described above.
This tells a few important things —
Our brains process information
In the absence of subjective self awareness,
Especially in brain areas outside
The cerebral cortex.
This is the case in infants,
Whose subcortical structures develop first.
These areas create the mental model of the world.
Now to form a memory the brain must
Have some basis for the world
Which it does not have straight out of the womb.
The connections simply have not developed yet.
Master glial cells quickly multiply,
Lay out a scaffolding of sorts
And guide neuron development
To the appropriate areas
Where they will form synapses.
Before this is done
There is no subjective self awareness.
It is possible in extreme cases
For a handful of memories
To form very early on,
But these memories have
Been polluted over time,
Like all memories, by recall,
So the memory we think
We formed during this time
Is more of an evolution
Of a very crude experience.
This is necessarily so
Because the brain hasn’t worked out
What things are at that point in development
In order to generate the adequate description
Of them at that point in time—
Ex., what a wire is, what lights are,
What faces are, etc., etc.
The next important point
Is that the brain areas
Associated with implicit structures
Matures before the explicit structures.
The consequence of this
Is that the infant
Doesn’t subjectively know
That it is learning,
But the brain is working to develop
A crude model of the world in the meantime.
The infant is guided by instinct,
Which we now generally refer to
As implicit memory or the implicit system.
It is mandatory that the implicit,
Subcortical structures mature quickly (primacy)
And are working properly
Because they also control breathing,
Heart rate, digestion, and other things
Which we don’t have to actively think about to do.
During this learning the brain is forming
The explicit, declarative system,
Where glial cells are customizing
And nourishing the neurons.
At a critical point,
The brain connects these systems
In such a way to produce subjective awareness.
The crucial point now
Is that the implicit system
Is communicating with the explicit system—
Making the associations we perceive
At the level of subjective awareness.
Intentionality is then determined
By our history according
To these interactions.
In other words,
Intentionality is a form of decision making
At the subjective level
In the context of a self aware being.
A decision will include influences
From the implicit or subconscious systems
And those will be largely undetectable.
Some intentionality is the result of instruction,
For example: I am going to reframe
How I approach my physical pain
Because I heard that positive attitudes
Lead to less severe reports of subjective pain.
This is only a start, for intentionality requires
Further explanation from this perspective
Because it leads to physical changes in the brain.
Meditation is a good example
Of a top down phenomena
That leads to physical changes.
This is still consistent with the theory
That neurons that fire together wire together,
That is, the more a particular thought is thought,
Or memory recalled,
The stronger those connections become,
And this leads to the physical changes we see.
We, like most other animals,
Are mostly automated—
That is, we can act and exist
Without being subjectively
Self aware of the actions.
The subjectively self aware self
Then can be turned on and off
(By drugs, anesthesia, injury, TMS, etc.).
This implies that this type of self consciousness
Is dependent on certain connections
And interactions between physical systems,
Perhaps specific types of cells in a certain order
In the implicit and explicit networks.
Basically, evolving organisms
Are a stable platform,
Since they didn’t die off;
They ‘take on’ chance to perhaps move on
To the next stable level;
So, evolution doesn’t just proceed
By all kinds of chances right in a row
Like one trying to make
A fortune at a roulette wheel.
THE 2ND GENESIS
For 100 million years
After the birth of the universe,
Space was dark and mostly formless.
That’s 100 million years.
It was not interesting in the least.
It was mostly hydrogen and helium,
With faint traces of lithium and beryllium.
It was an abysmally black “void”;
Darkness was upon the face of the deep.
Who would have bet on this dark horse
Running through a 100 million year night?
Then hydrogen caught fire
And so the stars were born.
In these blast furnaces,
Atomic nuclei were crushed, burned,
And transmuted into
More complex elements.
That was the second creation,
The one that really mattered.
We contain those elements.
Parts of those stars
Are in our blood, bones, and skin.
We are those stars.
THE FACT OF EVOLUTION
Evolution simply means
That a species undergoes
Genetic change over time,
The differences based
On changes to DNA.
All was mutable.
The record is in the fossils and the DNA.
LIVING IN INTERESTING TIMES
Eighty five years ago our universe
Consisted of a single galaxy, our Milky Way.
Now we know there are over 400 billion galaxies!
The three pillars of the big bang, are
1. The Hubble Expansion,
2. The existence of the CMB radiation, and
3. Observations of the abundance of light elements.
Because of cosmic acceleration,
All galaxies outside of our
Own bound cluster will disappear.
With no galaxies there will be
No tracers of the Hubble expansion.
Interestingly, with no such tracers,
All evidence of the existence of dark energy,
And an accelerating universe will also disappear.
The only period
When dark energy is detectable is now;
At much earlier times
It had a negligible effect
Upon the expansion,
And, at late times, it drives out
All tracers of the expansion.
The CMB becomes unobservable
Even in principle,
As the peak wavelength is driven
To a length larger than the horizon.
The final key bit of evidence for the Big bang
Rests crucially on the fact
That relic abundances of deuterium
Remain observable at the present day…
But, by then, both the QSOs
And the Lyman-Systems
Will have red shifted outside of the horizon.
What will observers of the far future infer then?
Their picture of the universe
Will not be significantly different
Than that which Einstein had
When he developed general relativity:
A static universe in which our galaxy
Was surrounded by eternal empty space.
HELL ON EARTH
Hydrogen sulfide at 800 ppm leads to death,
Yet, paradoxically, we need it to survive.
We can detect it at even 0.0047 ppm;
It is the smell of rotten eggs.
Some 250 million years ago,
The outlook for life on Earth
Was very grim indeed.
The Permian Era
Was unrelentingly harsh
And the single most devastating
Extinction even was underway.
Carbon dioxide emissions
From massive volcanic eruptions
In Siberia had triggered
A chain of environmental changes
That had left oxygen levels
Dangerously low in the world’s oceans.
This shift in ocean chemistry was bad news
For oxygen-breathing marine species.
What purposeless fates were
To befall life so “unprecious”?
What sulfur fumes were to arise from the depths?
Anaerobic organisms such as
Green sulfur bacteria
Thrived and flourished
Under the low oxygen conditions.
Their success made the oceans
All the more inhospitable
To its remaining aerobic inhabitants,
Since the bacteria generated
Vast quantities of hydrogen sulfide (H2S).
The lethal gas then diffused into the air,
Wiping out plants and animals on land.
By the end of the Permian Extinction
95% of marine species
And 70% of the terrestrial ones had perished.
The creatures that survived
This Hellish catastrophe
Were the only ones who could tolerate H2S,
And, in certain cases, even consume it;
Thus, we humans have retained
Some affinity for it.
H2S increases the responsiveness
Of neural circuits,
And even protects stressed neurons.
It dilates blood vessels,
Controlling blood pressure
And protecting the heart.
It regulates contractibility
Of smooth muscle cells in the lungs,
And does the same for the small intestine,
Regulating movement of material
Through the gut.
H2S “hibernation” can even
Protect vital organs from damage
Until energy supply levels
Return to normal,
Such as during trauma,
By helping to maintain
A baseline metabolism.
We arose from Hell,
Once upon a time,
It would seem,
But brought a useful
Part of it along.
THE OPTIMIZED MIND
The mind (always the brain)
Is not just “good enough”,
Or a “kludge” of a contraption,
But is one of the most
Optimal devices we know.
Nor does it strictly use logic,
As its Artificial Intelligence
“Imitators” found out
When trying simple
But employs vague
And generalized notions.
Logic can only be “right” or “wrong”,
But, an emotion,
An inseparable part of cognition,
Cannot be, but we can feel them
As “good” or “bad”.
While evolution is a “tinkerer”,
It was cleverer than
We might think.
We neither have a single,
General purpose learning system
Nor a myriad of special-purpose systems.
There are 4-5 core systems
In human babies and nonhuman animals
Objects, actions, number, space,
And possibly social partners.
When the language module
Is added, we can manipulate
And combine the core systems
In various ways that lead
To high level cognition.
Language and cognition
Now a marvel of optimality.
Now, what is it about logic
That misguided all of the
Early artificial intelligence research?
It is that exact matches
Can almost never be achieved,
And so our memories
Must be necessarily
Vague and uncertain,
But, they can go from vague
To crisp representations.
Close your eyes
And imagine a familiar object.
It is vague compared to a perception
Of the object with eyes wide open.
During perception, “bottom up” signals
From the visual system
Interact unconsciously with
The vague “top down” signals
Coming from memories.
Only when perception runs its course
Does perception become conscious.
But for this, we would not be able
To understand anything.
The mind-brain has had billions of years
To evolve optimally to solve a wide set
Of unknown future problems.
We are the un-kludged.
LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE
A proton is made of three quarks, true,
But quarks are so small
That they only make up
Two percent or so
Of the proton’s total mass.
The quarks travel about
At near-light speed,
But they are imprisoned
In flickering clouds
Of other particles such
Other quarks and anti-quarks that
Materialize briefly and then vanish,
Plus, above all, gluons,
Which are massless and evanescent
But bind the quarks together
And carry most of the proton’s energy.
Such, it would be accurate to say
That protons are made of gluons
Rather than quarks.
Experiments have proved
Wilczek’s descriptions correct.
Every proton now around
A quark-gluon plasma soup
That existed for a microsecond
After the Big Bang.
Which is about interactions
Of electromagnetic fields,
A screen made of photons
And short-lived electron-positron pairs
Partially cancels the electric fields,
Although, on the inside,
The fields get much stronger;
However, in QCD,
The opposite happens,
The strong force between the quarks
Gets weaker as the quarks
Get closer together.
So the quarks seem to be
Moving about as if there
Were no force between them at all
But this freedom is an illusion,
For, as the distance between them increases,
So does the strong force.
It is that the proton has parts,
But it cannot be taken apart!
The proton is mostly glue,
A kind of a super glue.
One number remains constant in protons
As their virtual quarks and anti-quarks
Come and go in their uncountable swarms:
There are always three more quarks
Why is the universe made of matter
And not anti-matter?
A slight imbalance between
Quarks and anti-quarks
Already existed in the
Primordial quark-gluon plasma.
Why do we not eat all the scarce food,
Feeling the other’s hunger?
Why are moods contagious?
Why do we feel the wish to dance
When we see another doing so?
Why do I feel your pain
When you cut your finger?
Why might I get an itch
When you scratch yours?
How are you “out there”
Felt “in here”?
How do your acts become mine,
And my acts become yours?
Using very thin electrodes,
The activity of a single neuron
Of the premotor cortex
In a monkey grasping a peanut.
Amazingly, a bit later,
Grasped a peanut—
And the same
Monkey neuron activated
Merely by watching.
This was the beginning
Of explaining vicarious feelings—
The mirroring of others’ behaviors.
It seems that free will
Is not so impregnable;
Each time I witness your movements,
You permeate my stronghold.
It extends to sounds, sensations,
And emotions, as well,
And so we can feel
All of those inside of us,
As if we were in another’s shoes.
These brain circuits blur the bright line
Between your experiences and mine.
Without these mirror neurons
There could have been no learning;
But, it goes beyond that
And onto intuitive altruism.
In many places in the world,
People tend to share the wealth.
Of course, sometimes,
Our desire for benefits
Might outweigh our empathy.
In the military,
The General is at a distance
That separates him or her
From the suffering
That their armies cause.
The same for weapons
That kill at a distance—
Empathy can then be bypassed
In the service of efficiency.
Otherwise, it is
“Do unto others
As you would have them
Do unto you”.
Each time we see an action,
Our mirror neurons mimic
And transform this sight
Into the motor commands
Necessary to replicate the action;
However, a neural gate
Blocks the immediate output
Of our motor areas.
Behind this gate,
We can covertly share
The actions of people around us.
We feel them,
And they thus become
A part of our extended self.
The brain is ethical by design.
It was advantageous
To know another’s needs.
THE UNIVERSE IS TRYING
TO TELL US SOMETHING
So, we will have to interpret it,
Seeking the final story.
No one thought
That the Standard Model
Was the final word.
For one thing,
It doesn’t include gravity,
And so it is incomplete,
As well as having
And some broken.
Vacuum energy is
The energy density
Of “empty” space,
And, by Einstein,
Is inherent in
The fabric of space itself,
Imparting a persistent impulse
To the expansion of the universe;
Whereas, ordinary matter
And radiation disperse.
Yet, the estimation
Of this cosmological constant
Is off by 10**120.
What is the universe telling us?
Well, for one thing,
If the constant really was larger,
We wouldn’t be here.
Do we live in an unusual part
Of the universe?
Well, who knows, but,
What about the Big Bang?
The History of the Universe
We are talking here about
The Big Bang model,
Which is not about the Big Bang itself,
But about the afterwards.
While the Big Bang is
But a placeholder for our ignorance,
The afterwards Big Bang model
Is on firm empirical ground.
There are still some questions:
Why did the early universe
Look like it did—
Hotter, denser, and smoother?
And in the future the universe
Will have gone from the primordial soup
To but a thin gruel of particles
Growing even colder
And more distant from one another.
Thus, the past was
Very different from the future.
The arrow of time moves forward.
Higher entropy configurations
Are more natural than lower ones,
For there are a lot more
Of those configurations to be found.
However, if entropy had always
Been very high. or maximal,
There would have been no life.
We have a medium entropy.
Why did matter collect into galaxies rather
Than spread uniformly and thinly throughout space?
The Prehistory of the Universe:
What! Huh, how can this be here!
Well, we will try to peer beyond the veil.
Imagine a previous, dispersed universe;
However, even empty space
Is not perfectly quiescent,
For there is still vacuum energy—
The irreducible fluctuations
In the “vacuum”.
Here, particles pop into
And out of existence,
And the fields occasionally
In statistically unlikely configurations.
If we wait long enough,
The right kind of configuration will arise,
Giving rise to an entirely new universe,
As it pinches off a small region
And creates a disconnected bubble
Of distorted space.
It had to be a small region because
It was easier to create a new bubble universe
In such a configuration than it is
To make a large, dilute universe from scratch.
This may be what the universe
Is trying to tell us.