Friday, 25 February 2011

Old Church, Old Hat?

By the age of nineteen, my budding intellect had already decided that God was a figment of man’s imagination, but, as it turned out, a powerful figment; in my view, a very exceptional piece of imagination. My budding scientific and engineering education reinforced this agnostic feeling, but, because I was brought up as a regular church goer from the earliest age until I left school at the age of seventeen, I know that deep down I have a kind of belief that cannot be erased. In my budding dotage, that kind of belief is now founded on an understanding of man’s ultimate fallibility and frailty and evidenced by the failure of human endeavour everywhere you look. This may sound very gloomy and negative, but it isn’t intended that way; on the contrary.
I hold a very strong feeling about the value of church in our communities. They are symbolically the last bastion, the writing through the stick of life’s rock, of family, community and the nation. They represent a foundation and an anchor in stormy times, whether for religious devotion or simply to reinforce community spirit and togetherness, it matters not, as long as thy are maintained and used. I believe that the development of the established church and of all world religions over the millennia of the existence of homo sapiens, has come from a human need, borne by political instability, pestilence, plague and all sorts of stuff not experienced since WW2. The drift away from the church and its community is, I believe, attributable, in today's society, to ‘enlightenment’ of the material age and an age where our physical health and life expectancy has increased almost exponentially over the last 100 years; the population of the world has double in my own lifetime. So we have developed a selfish, almost arrogant expectancy of health and wealth and, at the same time, a denial of the need for a God, who has become intellectually unfashionable. What will it take to get us together again: a cataclysmic world crisis?

(This post was originally my response in a comment to a post by Kona Macphee at her blog site, 'That Elusive Clarity', but because of the subject and of the fact that this thought process has preoccupied me philosophically throughout my adult life, I thought it worthy of inclusion here as a post in its own right).

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Reality vs Unreality

To kick off with the broadest view of it all, in line with the theme of this blog and to put some perspective into our lives on earth, I was somewhat inspired by BBC2’s Horizon programme, broadcast on Monday evening, 17th January 2011. Its effect on my intellect was considerable and quite mind blowing! Its purpose was to inform us about the work of particle physicists, using hugely powerful accelerators, in their quest to define what is reality, what is mass comprised of. What an unreal quest!

The poem, "Unreality", is the result and follows below this preamble.

In representing the programme's content, I have tried to represent the facts, at least the terminology, in the way they were presented in the programme, but the key perspective of this poem is to open the mind of anyone who reads it, just as the Horizon programme makers intended for their audience, but giving it another interpretation; another set of feelings and emotions about this incredible mystery. There is a little bit of tongue in cheek, and 'naive' humour, like referring to the word particle, as an 'icle part; a sort of anagram that a child might use, which alludes to the littleness of the things 'they' are researching and maybe confirming that human beings are really very little 'children' inside the awesome scale of the universe. I also make occasional comment that may not be strictly logical, but this merely reflects how close to illogical thought this research appears to be, at least to us mere mortals.

Crucially, however, the poem offers a subtly alternative conclusion and this is that they may never find the answer they crave to the question: "what is reality'. Effectively, this is done by saying that, assuming there is enough theoretical evidence that there is a reality, which is a definable and reasonable alternative to the one most of us perceive - and it could be argued here that each one of us has a different view of reality, but I would argue that this variation in personal perception is very minor compared with the alternatives presented by theoretical physicists - then all we have, until they do unfurl their mystery, is unreality. You'll need to think about that, because I certainly did!


How far can poets go, then,
down into 'icle physics?
To discover parts of subatomic mass,
so small it is beyond minute
and, in just a second, what happens is
really unbelievable, beyond imagination.
Protons collide with protons
and create a random mess
of particles, so mini and invisible,
that they cannot find them all!
There's one they really had to find:
and in ten years, they found top quark.
So small it was that it could not be seen
or heard or measured, but they did...
they did, the clever buggers, they did!

I can see and hear and feel him
stirring in his grave; Albert is excited
at the very thought of contemplating
the distinct possibility that space-time,
(that is the space-time he invented)
could actually be outside the universe
or is that what he meant by relativity?
Is it perhaps, therefore inside itself?
Who will win the race to tell?
We know they'll find a smaller particle
[they say they know of one already] that's
smaller than top quark, so small it cannot be,
it couldn't even exist, until another brain
turned it round and called it by
a human name; Higgs-Boson is...

Well, he is like a wanted criminal
only, so romantic, all the greatest
physicists and philosophers of the world
want a piece of him, or her.
They have a huge accelerator,
deep under mountains, under ground,
where no harm can come to us.
They justify the billions by saying
that the quest is so enjoyable;
so much a part of human instinct
to enquire about the boundaries,
[if they exist at all] of our perception..
..of reality, by physics and philosophy.
The journey's worth the cost, they say,
but all the poets, they know so much more.

They know the nature of the universe
may be measured in very 'icle parts,
so small, so infinitesimally small,
that we suspect they are beyond
description using epithets. Oh no,
they're under the spell of mathematics!
No earthly words suffice, not there.
Even the ancient Greeks didn't know this;
their Alpha has been squared, and will
Omega cubed and integration, calculus
return the answer they all crave?
Or will the search for ultimate smallness,
through fuzziness, get us to the end?
Is the start to finish of a shrinking universe,
rather like a journey round the Circle line?

So we could arrive back at the point
where it all started; where we all began:
four dimensional Space-time Relativity.
The structure of the universe, a hologram?
Could we be a product of our imagination?
To recapitulate, then, we are searching
for something that is so damned small,
that we can't see it, hear it, measure it
in any human way at all!
And yet, theoretical physicists claim
that one day soon, they will exclaim
Eureka! We have found Higgs-Boson!
But if they can't describe it mathematically,
the beginning and the end of everything
is the poetical imagining of unreality.

© 2011 John Anstie