Back with a charged computer and taking up where I left off, I imagine many of you spotted the theme of my last post ‘Elpee!’ was Planck’s Length, L­­­p­­­ and the strange forces that seem to bind the universe together at the same time as preventing it from collapsing in on itself.

You did? Wow!

Anyway for those who might not have done:

The concealed theme in the poem is the four fundamental interactions or forces of Quantum Mechanics (QM): electromagnetic, gravitational, strong, and weak, which make up our universe. They can be hard to understand, as is QM generally, so I pictured them as a flock of starlings.

Electromagnetic radiation is the colours thrown between the sky and starlings wings (by which they know one another and their world).

Gravity is the distant longing, drawing the flock as one (Newton’s apple to the earth).

The strong interaction draws mate to mate, binding families and roosting birds into groups (atoms, molecules, compounds, you).

The weak interaction is the short range interaction between birds, stopping them crashing together but not strong enough to break up the flock (stabilising those groups drawn by the strong interaction).

LP is Planck Length. A starling’s wing-flutter and flight swirls make its position, size and velocity uncertain. If there were no limit to this, if their size could be infinitely small, the flock could collapse or evaporate to nothing. Max Planck, faced with a  problem involving radiation, found there was a limit to the smallness of things; a fundamental length or grain size, even to space, below which the laws of physics will not take us. This length is known as Planck’s Length, or LP, the smallest distance that can be measured.

Because length is effectively granular in this way, so are all those things that depend on it. Speed of travel is length (distance travelled) divided by the time taken, so time is granular in the same way; it literally ticks on in tiny portions of Planck Time (Tp), the time light, the fastest thing in the universe, takes to travel one Planck length. Mass, temperature, and electric charge also share this granular nature.

I hope you find this difficult to follow because physicists do. There is something very strange going on – a conflict between the laws governing the very small and the very large. The sums do not work. When particles, which are seen as the focus or points of action of waves of energy, come together en masse, the Earth and Moon, or an apple falling from a tree, their gravity bends and contracts the space between them and brings them together. Physicists can calculate the mathematics of this and define its laws, but these same particles on their own, in their own tiny inner space do not follow these laws. The laws we find governing the very small and the very big do not agree. Somewhere we have got it wrong.

No poem this time, but I am working on it. A murmuration of starlings is one way of looking at the cosmos with the starlings representing particles of matter in fields of energy. Each starling or particle is a focus or point of action of its field of energy.

There may be another way, a quite different, far more relaxed view, in which starlings are replaced by ‘Eddies in the Stream’ which I shall post in a couple of weeks. If you want to get ahead of me there are two fun and interesting ‘You Tube’ illustrations by ‘Physics Girl’ Dianna Cowern here and James Dann here. If you watch James Dann’s setup closely there is something to be seen that he does not mention.

See you in two weeks.

Elpee! Elpee! Elpee!

First, I am sorry it has taken so long to recover (if we have recovered!) from moving house; nevertheless the title above is not a whoop of celebration but clue to a concealed theme in this poem:

Elpee! Elpee! Elpee! the starlings cry
wheeling home in evening sky,
the folding flock outspread and high
seems beautiful and black.

Beauty yes, and black below,
but could we fly, then we would know
the colours that the sky can throw
on wings that throw them back.

And could we see with starling’s eye
the beauty of the fading sky
fall on each feather, wing and eye,
then would we learn, and would we sing,
Elpee! Elpee! Elpee!
and would we wheel and would we wing
the cosmic dance, the wheeling ring,
of birth and death and everything,
nor know the reason why?

A distant longing draws the flock
from city roof-tops where the clock
chimes evening hours.
A strong force binding mate to mate,
which narrows wider gaps;
a wary, weaker sense prevents,
when bird flies close to bird,
the flock’s collapse.

Each fluttering bird a wheeling heart –
a fundamental part – in one great family,
Elpee! Elpee! Elpee!

Sadly I can explain none of this today as I am sat at a fading computer far from home unable to recharge it. I will just say this, it is a picture which is better seen from another direction entirely: eddies in the stream (to follow).

A Quantum Genesis

Back again (although still with lots to do) it seems apt that with a new house and a new beginning, to return to the theme of genesis, so here goes!

I have written Genesis and Science creation posts before (view here) but here I try to put a modern quantum physics and evolutionary version in the language and form of the book of Genesis (Bereshith in the Hebrew Pentateuch). Genesis bears evidence of originally being a collection of prehistoric oral records put into writing sometime before the early bronze age, and brought together at the beginning of the iron age. There is evidence to show that such generation to generation passing on of oral racial memories maintains an accuracy that exceeds that of the written word. One reason may be that the spoken word depends far more upon accuracy than the written in that hearers’ criticism of error is more immediate than that of readers of written records, making the speaker more conscientious. The point here is how a very early world view, predating any modern scientific approach, comes so close to producing a thesis similar to modern physics and evolutionary theory – something much more than ‘truth dressed up as story’.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Creation was formless and void,
darkness was on the face of the deep
and the Spirit of God brooded over the waveforms.
God said, “Let there be light.”
and there were waves of light.

God saw the initial conditions were good,
dark gave way to light.
The first era dawned.

God said,
“Let a space spread in the waveforms,
to separate waves from waves.”
An expansion separated the waves
and it was so.
Fermions, unable to cling together,
flew apart;
baryons permeated space differently,
providing driving and drawing forces.
Spacetime and the heavens formed.
The second era dawned.

God said,
“Let waveforms condense in spacetime
let gravity draw them together
and let matter appear.”
It was so.

Baryon waveforms – distinct from fermions,
permeated one another,
permeated spacetime.
Fermion waveforms gathered in spacetime,
drawn by the forces of baryon waves:
weak forces,
strong forces,
Here the Earth formed, with dry land and seas.

God saw it was good.

God said,
“Let the land produce vegetation:
plants yielding seeds according to their kinds,
trees bearing fruit with seed
according to their kinds.”

It was so.
Organic compounds forming a primordial ‘soup’,
organic compounds,
self replicating molecules,
primitive vegetal life,
single cells feeding on each other
until, some a single event,
the absorption of one cell by another,
formed a symbiosis,
both cells surviving as one,
reproducing as a single entity,
forming the first nucleated cells,
the cellular building blocks of the first plants
evolving into plants yielding seeds according to their kinds,
trees bearing fruit with seed
according to their kinds.

God saw it was good.
The third era dawned.

God said,
“Let the lights in the sky’s expanse
separate day from night,
drive seasons, days and evolution.
giving light on the earth.”
It was so.

The greater light ruling the day
the lesser light ruling the night,
the stars also,
shining on Earth,
driving tides, seasons, evolution.

God saw it was good.
The fourth era dawned.

God said,
“Let the water swarm with living creatures.
Let birds fly above the earth,
across the expanse of the sky.”

God created the great sea creatures,
every living, moving thing
with which the water swarmed.
Life spread to land.
Over millions of years, the time of the dinosaurs,
birds evolved.

God saw it was good.

God blessed them and said,
“Be fruitful, multiply,
fill the water in the seas,
let the birds multiply on the earth.”

The fifth era dawned.

God said,
“Let the land produce living creatures:
cattle, creeping things, and wild animals,
each according to its kind.”
It was so.

Wild animals evolved
cattle according to their kinds,
all creatures that creep along the ground.

God saw it was good.

Then God said,
“Let us make humanity in our image,
to rule over the fish of the sea,
the birds of the air,
over cattle, and all the earth,
and all creatures that move on the earth.”

God created humankind in His own image,
in His image He created them,
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said,
“Be fruitful and multiply!
Fill the earth and subdue it!
Rule over the fish of the sea,
the birds of the air
every creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said,
“I give you every seed-bearing plant
on the face of the entire earth;
every fruiting tree with seed.
They will be yours for food.
And to all the animals of the earth,
to every bird of the air,
to all creatures that move on the ground –
everything with the breath of life –
I give every green plant for food.”

It was so.

God saw all he had made –
and it was very good!
The sixth era dawned.

The seventh era lasted less than a millisecond, all was done.

Dame Julian of Norwich

Because of our moving house with its difficulty of finding space and time for new writing I am using spare moments to continue my translation of Dame Julians book. Being someone else’s finished work it is no more than translation into modern English from the early text as edited by Georgia Ronan Crampton, Rochester University.

I thought it might be interesting to show my working, so beginning in chapter 53 I have set out Julian’s writing, breaking it into separate lines at each punctuation and clause. At full stops I usually make a double line break so the text appears versified. Then, as I work through, I copy each ‘verse’ into two identical ones and first do a straight translation of words that differ from Modern English. I then make other changes to fit our present day way of reading and, where suitable adjust the wording to make as poetical flow as possible while keeping the meaning. This leaves the Middle English version and the Modern English together as a comparison.

Marius’ Mules

‘Lent’ comes from an Anglo-Saxon word,
lencten meaning springtime,
lengthening days.

As winter stores run short,
the last tightening of the belt
before the earth sprouts again
and birds return,
we look to seed-time.

Buried seed rises, life resumes,
seed-time leads to regrowth,
as regrowth leads to harvest,
and God who gives the seasons,
turns seed-time celebrations
to the greater one of Easter.

We mark this time of self-denial,
the desert of temptation
and the journey to the cross,
with Jesus’ words:
If any would be my follower,
let him deny himself,
take up his cross and follow me.

Then they heard Him differently,
not as we do now, but then.
Now we sometimes change the words
to include men and women,
but His listeners thought of men.

They saw lines of Roman soldiers
with crosses on on their backs,
their nickname, ‘Marius’ Mules’
from the general who led them
and made them wear cross-shaped packs
weighing over sixty pounds.

The pack was called a sarcina,
a military marching backpack,
but in their slang it was furca,
the word for two pronged forks,
for crucifixion crosses and punishment yokes;
furcifer was slang for jailbird,
gallows material.
All a man needed was tied, or hanged,
on his furca,
his cross.

There is more.

Soldiers can’t be individuals,
self-seekers or go-getters,
but a troop with a leader;
holding together as one.
Legionaire, centurion,
cook, quartemaster,
introvert, extrovert
or barrack-room lawyer;
soldiers are part of a company,
one esprit-de-corps,
watching each other’s backs,
carrying their full packs,
denying personal wants
for the sake of the legion,
following the one in charge.

We know our King was crucified,
His hearers, then, just heard the call:

If any would be my follower,
let them deny themselves,
take up their cross and follow me.

What was Jesus saying to that first century crowd? Many were waiting for a Messiah, a warrior in Joshua’s mould, who would drive out the Romans and restore Israel and David’s throne. Here was a stirring speaker with Joshua’s Aramaic name, speaking in soldierly language, calling for followers. Was He speaking to them?

We read His words knowing He was crucified, and interpret them differently, but so would his first-century listeners just two or three years later. It is as though He was not talking to that crowd, not then, not there, but to that crowd as it would be when His work was done.

John (ch.6:15) described how, having heard Him speak, with their high expectations they tried to force Him to be their king. Instead they gained the Servant King who so loved the world that He came as His own Son so they might have eternal life.

We often only understand God’s words and actions after they are fulfilled.

Quark Flavours

There are six flavors of quarks: up, down, strange, charm, top, and bottom.
Up and down quarks have the lowest masses of all,
but heavier quarks can rapidly become lighter, changing to up and down.

A quark is a many flavoured thing,
with its ups and down, and a certain charm,
yet the strangest thing,
when it’s heavy, given time,
it will lighten and be fine.

Though stuck inside a shroud
of the proton – neutron crowd,
it’s position is uncertain,
as though hid behind a curtain,
part of the cosmic harmony,
dancing with its destiny.

We think of quarks as small,
almost not there at all,
but there is still a stranger thing to say.
Its unpinned-down position,
surely here but perhaps there,
gets more doubtful as we travel far away;
yet the chance that it is elsewhere
stretches faint and far forever,
this little shrouded entity
harmonic in eternity,
of limitless potential grace
throughout all time and space,
it is this that holds the universe together.