|There is an excellent small press literary magazine called Poetry Monthly, published in Nottingham, England. They published the following poem of mine:|
The Triumph of Geometry
The Universe is dead.
Poems, like jokes - and protestations of love - are best left unexplained. However, I have been asked to explain
this one and so am adding these notes.
I was reading a physics text that made frequent reference to the 'Universe' and it occurred to me that it is an often-misused word. It is not a thing like other things, with boundaries in space and time, like a bus or a buffalo or a binary star. It has no beginning or end because things can only begin or end in time and space, and the Universe comprises all of time and space. Philosophers refer to a 'category mistake', of treating a thing as something different from the kind of thing it actually is. The classic example is the traditional, Cartesian treatment of mind as a substance distinct from body. It seemed to me that most references to the Universe involve category mistakes. In trying to state this, I used the phrase 'it is all and everything there is'. This struck me as poetic and made me think that I may have a potential poem here.
Humans use narratives to make sense of their environment and of themselves. These narratives are of various kinds, including scientific (theories) and poetic (poems). There is no one correct or best kind of narrative -- they all contribute to our world view, just as laying bricks and plastering walls both contribute to the building of a house. I wanted to incorporate this notion in the poem, as it was a poetic approach to a scientific issue.
The poem is about the evolution of ideas and Mankind's changing world view. Both science and poetry constantly evolve and therefore constantly challenge old assumptions. Many of us find this troubling. A purposeless Universe and a freeform poetry (poems without rhyme and worlds without reason) can be disturbing. It is Truth's habit of upsetting us in this way that makes Faith and Custom so much more companionable. Neither science nor poetry can ever stand still. The form and content of their narratives will ever change, like it or not. I for one happen to like it.
Specifically, the reference to a 'finite but unbounded' Universe refers to the idea that the Universe has no limits and yet does not continue for ever -- it folds back in upon itself, in a literally unimaginable manner. Continue in one direction for long enough and you end up back where you started, because spacetime is curved. It all 'reduces to geometry' because all matter is ultimately packets of energy quanta, which in turn are ultimately disturbances in the spacetime continuum. The elephant and turtle were an ancient Babylonian view of the Universe. Both Science and Poetry have come a long way since then and, if left unbounded, have an infinite distance yet to go.