Hazelnut Forest

This perhaps should come with the warning, ‘Let the reader who can, understand.’
(Why a hazelnut forest? LHC? Who was the Sybil of Cumae?)

Small clues: LHC is the Large Hadron Collider, the largest machine ever built on Earth (27 kilometres across) with which many new particles, some expected, some not, have been discovered. Other clues are hidden in the tags, but not in the correct order (WordPress shifts them into alphabetical order).

Some time in April (I promise!) I shall write an explanation. I also promise (don’t look at my crossed fingers) that the explanation will not itself need explaining.

λ = 2πħ/p

How small is the forest?
How tiny its leaves?
Where the pattern of branches
tosses and weaves;
and the canopy sways,
and the summer winds moan,
until shortening days
say summer is gone.

Halfway in the forest
its deepest heart;
where calling birds fly
to its farthest part,
and the leaves’ rustling sigh
gives place to the sky,
and the height of the trees,
and the birds flying free,
and the tiniest leaves,
are the forest to me.

How Small is The Forest?

How far is it from constancy
to Heisenberg’s uncertainty?
A tiny length defines
a volume that we find:
the smallest we can know.
A fundamental distance
that we call Planck’s length (L)
shows there is a thickness
we cannot go below.

A circle has a volume just like a carousel
the volume of a circle is pi times r squared L,
(by this we come to see
there is no ‘true’ 2D
and a circle without volume,
is an anomaly).

A Circle With a Volume

This volume hides a mystery.
How small can it be?
How can it be measured,
a space too small to see
by eye or LHC?

The smallest space we cannot see:
the rings inside, the rings inside,
the rings inside a tree,
is found from four-thirds pi
times its depth to power of three.

This volume, this conundrum,
too veiled for us to see,
a mystery its diameter,
its radius an enigma,
the Sybil of Cumae,
time in eternity.

Radius is half of width,
we know that very well
but half a fundamental
is a word we cannot spell.
Diameter equals radius,
it flickers to and fro,
in the tiniest of instants,
the shortest we can know.

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.
Fission and expansion, a cosmos to unfold.

A whole that ever seeks
the shimmer and the chime,
Infinite from finite
in the infinite-finite rhyme:
the Word that ever speaks
at the birth and death of time.

Great and Small Wonders

 
Can you discern the true seat of your soul?
Or say of what your true self is composed?
Give reason for your life? or know the way
In which the essence that is you arose?
Though close confined in flesh and bones, your eyes
Observe the turning world and endless skies.

Enclosed, your soul in seeming prison lies,
Restrained by flesh, particular, within
God’s infinite, eternal universe.
Our boundaries (self stops where else begins)

Show only what our senses will let pass.
Until you know what links your soul to sense
Make no decision as to here or hence.

A boy catches the Sun in a burning-glass. Its image dazzles his eyes blackening a paper sheet; smoke wisps curl, a tiny spot takes fire. A burning glass of photons, tiny portions of the Sun’s heat, so many they dazzle his eyes and light the paper. There are more photons in a burning-glassful of Sun than there are glassfuls of Sun’s rays shining on Earth.

At night; the boy lies in bed gazing out at the sky. Photons, filtered by the clouds, the atmosphere, his window and his eyes, focus in his eyes. He sees small wonders.

He is a marvellous harmony with the photons. Each photon is a harmonic of the whole cosmos and deep calls unto deep. The clouds break. He sees stars, planets, galaxies, the Milky Way. Photons are distorted, focussed and refocused by the gravitational pull of stars, galaxies and galactic clusters, by dark and light matter and the Cosmos itself.

Like a violin string producing harmonics and sub-harmonics, the music of the Cosmos is filled with waveforms and sub-forms. We call them fundamental particles but particles are just our name for the focal points of these very faint, weak waveforms. Although weak, the extent of each wave is as vast as the Cosmos itself. A photon is a fundamental harmonic, one of the smallest notes in the cosmic harmony. The Cosmos is a waveform with many interplaying themes. The burning-glass and the boy are unique and special themes; symphonies on the cosmic scale. It does not matter how many or complex the harmonies may be.

The boy, the burning-glass, the Sun and the farthest star, his body and brain, every cell, sinew and neuron, are part of that harmony. The workings of the mind, emotions, logic, faith, hope, love, may all be explained by analysis of the brain. Not because the brain is all there is but because it is a network of harmonies played on the greatest scale imaginable. Some say that the Cosmos can be examined solely on its own terms; others that it is a wonderful dream in the mind of God. Both may be right. Half a picture may seem complete in itself but it is still half the picture.

Lying on his bed the boy breathes deeply; fascinated by the stars. He listens to his breath. There are more atoms in a lungful of air than there are lungfuls of air in the atmosphere. Every breath since men walked on Earth disperses throughout the atmosphere. Any later breath will include some atoms from it: the dying words of Julius Caesar, the Beatitudes and Hitler’s wartime speeches; the breath of kings and commons, saints and sinners, old, young, hale and dying.

Plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They fix nitrogen and other elements necessary to life. The same distribution goes on in soil and growing things as his breath in the atmosphere.

He takes part of every living thing and person from the beginning of life on Earth with every breath and every mouthful. He is involved in mankind from his birth and in every moment of living.

Earth is older than men. The boy lives in the presence of immense antiquity. No breath of his, of kings or commons, Moses, Abraham or Mahomet went into the Earth’s making. Men have raised up its stone at their most sacred sites, worked it, used it and admired it. But they are not part of it. It is part of them. The constituents of the boy’s body, like those of the Earth, were not formed on Earth but in stars and supernovae at remote times and distances. We are made of the ashes of dead stars.

A picture may seem complete and yet be part of a greater one. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are men so passionate about the way the world is if it means nothing? Should we listen to those who quote Macbeth: Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing? Or to a still, small voice that tells us: ‘All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made that was made.’?

‘Before Abraham was, I AM.’

All the Time in the World

Linespace

Concerning time we tend to ask,
(though feeling slightly foolish)
‘If time began with the Big Bang,
what happened before then?’
before when there was no before,
when there was not a when,

a question in a circle,
a circle in a round
when never was was never found
nor ever was again.

We are growing old together,
we two, the world and I.
and we often talk together
as I lie in the heather
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.

‘If time began with the Big Bang,
there must be something other.’

We both were born so very young,
we two, the world and I,
when time was nothing to be found,
except we heard a bugle sound
to live or die.

In these purple heather flowers
the minutes turn to hours
and the passing of the clouds
is passing time.

Concerning space we tend to ask
(though feeling slightly foolish)
‘If space began with the Big Bang,
with what beyond did it compare?
beyond where there is no beyond,
where there is not a where?

a question in a circle,
a circle in a round
where nothing there is ever found
nor ever will be there.

We are growing old together,
we two, the world and I.
and we often talk together
as I lie in the heather
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.

‘If space began with the Big Bang,
there must be something other.’

We both were born so very small,
we two, the world and I,
when there was nothing else at all,
except we heard a bugle call
to live or die.

In these purple heather flowers
the sky and space are ours
and the passing of the clouds
is far away.

Spacetime began with the Big Bang,
with no before or any where.
There must be something other.
Other than the world and I,
Other than the clouds and sky,
Other than the words we choose,
Other than the facts we use,
Other in the most extreme,
Other than all other.

Could that Other that is other
than this universe be nothing?
No time? No space? No thing?
A song we cannot sing?

We cannot think of nothing,
but we think of nothing less,
a void, an emptiness.
An emptiness in what?
So we look for something else,
for something Other.

We lie here in the heather,
we two, the world and I.
and we talk again together
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.

In the heather banks of spacetime,
in the flower bells of space,
tiny quanta flicker and tiny quanta chase,
ghosts of Might and Might Not,
ethereal as lace.

We two, the world and I, are lost in idle chatter.
Matter in our cosmos has mirrored anti-matter.
Is the Other anti-universe?
The Other in the Looking Glass,
converse of our own converse?
Has it mind? And does it matter?

Matter and anti-matter
annihilate each other,
What would become of spacetime?
No more us and no more Other?
No-thing, no where, no when,
questions in a circle, circles in a round,
where never was was never found,
nor ever was again.

We lie here in the heather,
we two, the world and I,
and we talk again together
and ponder altogether
just what it is to die.

We cannot think of nothing,
but we think of nothing less,
we look in an abyss, into an emptiness.
Asking emptiness in what?
always wanting something else,
something Other.

We two, the world and I,
have much to take and give.
We two were born a single kind
The world is home for humankind.
It is our home, we are its mind
we much search and we must find
just what it is to live.

We’re conscious here, why not the Other?
Years of searching, years of dreams,
for others here found nothing more.
Are we rarer than it seems?
Are we alone?

Mitochondrial DNA
has one root through all the Earth.
Cells of mosses and of trees,
spiders, antelopes and fleas,
the lion and the lamb, all these,
the fossil and the newborn babe
are each other’s families.

Only once was life’s seed sown,
in this dear Earth we call our own.
Once in this land and all its seas,
once in four-plus billion years,
with so slim chance are we alone?

We two, the world and I,
have much to give and take.
we lie and talk together
and still we wonder whether
If conscious mind is scarce to find,
what chance is there in Other?
Does it know? Is it awake?

Here the chance of consciousness
is cut by the click and chime,
of fourteen billion years or less,
but Other has all time.

Infinite is far without end.
Eternal, an ageless when.
If far is as far as the dice are cast,
and an age is as long as spacetime lasts,
and when all time and space is past,
the Other is beyond then.

More than ‘eternal’ and ‘infinite’,
Unbound by time and space
pervading here and now,
in every time and place,
distance, seconds, years, alike,
our world is a treasured seed
Other has all the room in the world,
Other has all the time it needs
to nurture and to weed.

We lie here in the heather,
we two, the world and I.
and we talk again together
and think of wind and weather
and what it is to die.
And the sheep go grazing yonder,
while the world and I still ponder
how the bush that flamed with wonder
could speak in tones of thunder,

‘I AM what I AM.’

Where Have all the Little Green Men Gone?

When I was a boy it seemed certain that somewhere ‘out there’ were other worlds like Earth – strange and wonderful plants, birds and animals and civilisations, good and bad like our own. People wrote stories, mathematicians calculated the chances. The universe was vast and becoming vaster. At home our old encyclopaedia knew nothing of other galaxies beyond our own Milky Way, yet ‘out there’ is now known to be filled with others. Science fiction writers had to invent hyperspace travel and warp speed, stargates and wormholes in space to cover the limitations of distance and speed of light.

And yet…

Even as the twenty-first century approached, when Dan Dare and Jeff Hawke had grown into Captain Kirk, Luke Skywalker and E.T. there were hairline cracks. I remember an article listing the factors which led to the development of life here, concluding that there would probably be at least a hundred thousand intelligent civilisations like our own. I noticed that among the factors the writer had not included was the influence of the Moon. We are almost a twin planet with a satellite so large it produces powerful tides that have driven adaptation and evolution in the tidal zone so critical as life moved from sea to land.

I wondered how many planets in the life zone of other stars had a similar large companion; one in fifty or less did not seem unreasonable, That would reduce the number of other civilisations to two thousand. Three more such missed factors would mean we were probably alone. A bleak prospect.

Since then work by scientists such as Nick Lane, evolutionary biochemist of University College London, on the origins of nucleated, cellular life which found that the common basic structure of mitochondrial DNA points to a single, one-off event in the origin of all cellular life: plants, insects, us, everything in the four and a half billion years this planet has existed (Google Nick Lane ‘The Vital Question’). Derek Bickerton, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, University of Hawaii has found strong evidence of a similar one-off development in language and spare brain capacity. In ‘More than Nature Needs’ he investigates why, in the billions of years since complex creatures evolved on Earth, we are the only species that can study the universe in which we have evolved.

It is noticeable that more recent science fiction, such as Gravity and The Martian, is of human endeavour fighting the perils ‘out there’.
Are we alone? If so is that a bleak prospect?

Genesis

You can talk of the Day of the Jackal.
You can talk of the Day of the Dead.
In Cromwell’s day, so it is said,
the days were black and the days ran red.

But the days that are as a thousand years,
and the thousand years as a day,
belong to Him who made the world
in six, plus one for play.

I have long wondered at the scientific accuracy of the biblical seven days as described in the first chapter of Genesis and the beginning of the second, and how few Christians think it has any accuracy at all, usually describing it as ‘truth dressed in story’. Its accuracy is particularly remarkable as it bears all the hallmarks of an oral tradition which predated writing. Even in the bronze age when it probably first found written form there was little scientific basis to draw on.

As in the poem above, biblical folk used day in the same varied way that we do. Peter, quoted in the second verse, gave an inspired explanation of this (2 Peter 3:8). I have interleaved the complementary biblical and scientific accounts below (or see children’s version, September 2016).

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void,
Space-time traces back to a chaotic void, in which possibilities, eventualites, shimmer in and out of being.
darkness covered the deep
an unstable, pregnant darkness.
and the spirit brooded over the waters.
The initial conditions had to be just right, in perfect balance…
God said, ‘Let there be light.’
… for electromagnetic waveforms to survive.
He separated the light from the darkness
Those first waves separated, producing others in the primaeval void.
***
God said, ‘Let there be an expanse…to separate waters from waters
The new waveforms burst in a vast expansion…
God called the expanse ‘sky’
… and space was created.
***
God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be drawn together…
Waveforms condensed to particles, protons, neutrons, electrons…
… and let dry ground appear.’
… atoms condensed out of this ‘soup’ of particles, …
God called the dry ground land, … the waters he called seas.
… mass and gravity brought them together. Solids and liquids formed and eventually the Earth with its amazing landforms and sea-scapes.
Then God said, ‘let the land produce vegetation…
Primitive vegetal life began, probably in hot inland springs, and travelled to the seas.
***
God said, ‘Let there be lights in the sky to separate day from night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons, days and years…
The tidal forces of the sun and moon and stars drive and mark the seasons, days and years, which in turn drive evolution.
***
God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures…
Animal life, primitive at first, formed in the oceans…
… and let birds fly above the earth and across the expanse of the sky…
… then spread to land. Many early forms perished, including the dinosaurs, of which birds are probably the only descendants.
***
God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals each according to its kind…
After the great Permian extinction mammals proliferated and became the predominant large creatures on land…
God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness…
…of which man, the latecomer, came with the ability to wonder at creation and to love it…
… and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over livestock over all the earth and the creatures that move on the ground.
… and with the immense responsibility this brought.
***
... on the seventh day God rested from all his labour…
… like the first it lasted less than a millisecond.

Then the real work began.

The events and order in this early creation account match modern science almost too accurately. Then there is the coincidence of waters and waves and the apparently contradictary concept of a formless or chaotic void, translations of the original which quantum physics now supports. Those with a statistical bent may work out the odds. But whether we can, whether we want or need to, we can still be amazed. We should still wonder.

Existence is Coexistence

Born during the Second World War, on the edge of London’s East End, too young to be evacuated to the countryside, I have remarkably early memories back into my first year, including my cot, being given snow off my pram coverlet, barrage balloons, the bomb shelter, a doodlebug and a window blown in by blast. My father, unfit for service from a heart condition, joined the ARP in which he volunteered to enter a bombed building at night to comfort a woman trapped in rubble. He was refused permission at first but, having been given no more than two years to live anyway, he went in. Sadly his heart did not stand the strain and he died shortly after.

Those days and my mother’s compassionate attitude, to the Germans and the Allies, probably contributed much to my interest in how we relate to one another, the way the world works and the nature of existence. It set the seed of seeing all existence as co-existence. At school my main interests were in the arts, but my chosen occupation was science based. Nevertheless a foot in each camp gives better balance.

The war ended when I was three years old. With other boys I collected small beads of shrapnel with magnets from roadsides and gardens. I had a number of inspirational teachers in my early years, but there was another component. My first senior school gave boys the morning off if we went to church on the morning of Ascension Day. This made me very religious! I went to St. Mary the Virgin, Ilford, where the vicar, Fr. Alexander Colvin, learning I had not been christened in the turmoil of wartime East End, gave me baptismal classes in the Resurrection Chapel below the Pieta of Mary grieving over Jesus’s body. That image has stayed with me all my life. In spite of, or because of, St. Mary’s High Church position, Father Colvin made a special effort to state the one-ness of the Christian community, describing how the different traditions recognised baptism and Mass but that there was only one Church. Again, though in other words, was the sense that existence was co-existence.

I have a mongrel faith. St Mary’s was High Anglican; I was briefly a Boys’ Brigader in a Baptist Church, then a boy scout in a Methodist church. Since then, mainly for geographical reasons, I have attended Anglican, Congregational, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, and Presbyterian churches in ‘traditional’ and ‘evangelical’ forms. I was a Baptist church deacon, and Sunday School teacher for many years.

In my early twenties I edited a Presbyterian Fellowship of Youth magazine, and later a Baptist Church Magazine, Outlook, for which I enjoyed writing a monthly Schultz-style strip cartoon. Later I have written articles for other church publications. I think of myself as an essayist, dipping my pen in a subject to let it flow where it will, contributing off-the-wall articles to church magazines. Increasingly I am drawn to a mixture of poetry and prose and have written plays, articles and short stories.

My thriller, Namestone, builds on the theme of co-existence. Two men, a 15th century monk and a 21st century scientist, are brought together by a series of horrific events which stretch loyalty, trust and friendship to their limits. They become bound up with the enigmatic Hérault – a man with exceptional fighting skills and even more deadly persuasive powers, who seeks power beyond anything else, using evil as a practical tool. Power for him means total freedom, depending on no-one, neither in this world nor any other. There is interplay between age-old faith and a scientific undercurrent. We depend not only on each other, in whom we find the image of God, but on the universe, spacetime, in which we find ourselves.

It is not a simple ‘baddies get their come-uppance’ story. Hérault, makes no excuses or pretence of goodness or of being misunderstood, instead he makes as strong an argument for being evil as possible. I wanted to present challenges we all face one way or another, through the lens of an adventure story of ordinary people under extra-ordinary stresses.

I have always been fascinated by the impact of Quantum Physics on our everyday attitude to life and faith; that the harmonic trinity of energy, matter and observation mirrors that of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Ultimately philosophies that try hardest to understand the way the world is must resemble each other and each contain fundamental truths. The cosmos is a harmony of matter and energy; it has been suggested that matter as we see it does not exist, that it is ultimately the interaction of energy fields; that we are each a harmonic in a greater symphony. Existence is Co-existence: we cannot and should not separate the how from the why.