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Monday, October 21, 2013

Teenagers, Us and Classical Physics

Since the previous post concerned quantum mechanics, I thought it apposite to do one on classical physics. It's not complicated. Strictly speaking there are several branches of physics: Newton's laws of motion, Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formalism, Maxwell's electrodynamics, thermodynamics and relativity etc. But once you get to thinking about quanta --to which size, distance and time are nearly meaningless-- everything outside of it is classical. Like classical music, it is not always easy to dance to but is less distracting and helps even me to think in our big everyday world.
This entry is hard for me to write because it's not inherently silly. I like being silly. I was raised by the silly and the silly prize love over all things. So when I reached the age of sentiment and fell in love, I kept notes. Consider this nearly 50-year-old  poem:

E Equals
Over treetops,
In the sky, we
See ourselves
By computation
In moonlit leaves
We are the
Square root
Of light.

I posted it in 2009 and friend Willie commented, "I like the rest of your poem after the title so much better than the traditional completion that Al gave us, mc squared."

By "Al", He was referring to Albert Einstein, who expressed his imagination in mathematics. I shall do so here: E= mc^2. E is for energy. "m" is for mass. "c" is for constant, which in this case is not a thing or idea but a velocity, the speed of light. "^", when used in mathematics on a limited keyboard like mine, is called a caret and indicates the next symbol is not a multiplier but an exponent-- in this case squared, ^2.

Every 14 year-old algebra student has probably tried to solve for m (because we are m). I did and it left me with a strange realization. Divide each side of the equation by c^2 and you get the last three lines of my old poem. Upshot is, if you want to define light, you have to use a velocity, and if you want to go the speed of light you have to be light. Light is made of photons.

We receive no information about the universe smaller than a photon.

Plants synthesize light. We eat plants. Animals eat plants and each other. We eat them. By a process of measured combustion, we grow and thrive, live our lives on energy from the stars. We weigh something in a gravitational field. We have mass, are mass. We are on both sides of the equation, and have the brains to know it. But do we know what we really need? Entrenched in a food and life cycle of devouring everything that doesn't devour us, burning with desire for love and acceptance, do we know? If we don't want this chaos of exploitation, nutrition and cognitive distortion, then what the heck do we want?

Danged if I know. Haven't really thought about it since I was a teenager. You?


  1. My cowboy hat is off to anyone who dares to make a coherent comment. I am so unscientifically inclined that anything I say will be futile (not to mention stupid).

    I marvel at anyone who can express their imagination in mathematics. I can only express mine in music. I've heard somewhere that mathematics and music are in unison - - but I sure as heck don't believe it.

    1. Jon, you are in the good company of all those who have witnessed my attempts to carry a tune or do arithmetic. I hope readers comment --whether the powerful or the meek inherit the earth, they'll both have to deal with the silly.

  2. Oh dear. When I was at school my mother and one of my brothers squabbled over which of them got to do my physics homework. I let them. And I am still afraid of the subject.
    Silliness on the other hand is my friend. I don't think there is enough of it about, and promote it whenever I can.

  3. I think people want freedom...from the chaos.

  4. What DO we want?????? I think I would like to be pure thought spinning through the universe unencombered by this meat and plant eating body, being everywhere at the same time, moving faster than light, seeing everything and maybe...just maybe...understanding how your brain works.

  5. I agree with Jon, I was lost from the beginning when you said "it's not complicated". I need to brush up on some knowledge. I would hate to play you in Jeopardy :)

    1. Keith, I'm laughing at this. I, too, got scared when he siad "it's not complicated."

  6. Nicely done.

    Your post made me think of a book I read 30 years ago or so, "The Tao of Physics," by Fritjof Capra and the ying and yang balance in all things.

  7. Dear Geo.,
    I love your poem very much! To be the square root of light sounds very good to me - so I won't recalculate. :-)
    As to your question what we want or what we need (mustn't be the same, I think) - difficult to answer. I mean: in the core/gist (is that the word?) A few years before my answer would have been cristal clear - now I'm not so sure.

  8. *It's not complicated*
    Too complicated for me Geo. LOL

    But I do love your poem.
    And the fact that your poem is 50 (nearly) years old makes we love it all the more.

  9. I love the poem. Hubby studied quantum mechanics. He's much better than at all the physics and technical things than I am, but I don't need that to know what I want.

  10. Thanks again for your elucidation, Geo.!

  11. As you say, we are the mass. But I think we want to be the energy and the light. We are defined. The rest is magic.

  12. I love this: I picture that snake eating its tail. I think we want (beyond the animal drive to consume and reproduce, which does keep us pretty busy) a sense of meaning. I think that desire for meaning drives all art. The creation of it, the consuming of it.

    But I really like Delores's answer, too.

  13. I just want the voices in my head to stop!

  14. I don't think I've ever thought this deeply--my mind is spinning but I'm impressed!

  15. I thought about such things often as a teenager and 20 something, often under the influence. These days, not so much. Today, I stronger adhere to the "chop wood and carry water" school, which, stated another way, practices the philosophy of "when hungry, eat; when tired, sleep."

  16. Geo, I want to say I'm not nearly stoned enough to venture here but that's probably bad form. Too late. Ah, maybe I'll just comment on the comments. I read Jon's comment and laughed because I was thinking the same thing. Then I read Delores's comment and I wondered if she has heard Robert Frost's poem on this subject. I believe it starts: Love has earth, to which it clings but thought has a pair of dauntless wings....It's a good poem. And that got me to thinking about love and then I came full circle back to your question, like a snake eating it's tail. This is what I think: We all want to be happy. For some of us that means love, for some, freedom, for other's, Thought's dauntless wings. Whatever it is we want, if we are happy, we must have it.

  17. I think as a whole, most of us want to escape our own corporal limitations, and to be as unbounded and carefree as light. Me, I wish my mass would stop expanding at the speed of light squared.

    Cool poem, dude.


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