Ghost Knowledge: Leaf Tea and Astral Jell-o

Some delights of autumn leaves: the stained-glass cathedral light they filter through the trees, the shusss-and crackle of a walk through those already fallen, their earthy perfume rising from the ground after a rain.

Another delight is the ghost images left behind; shadowy impressions of their former selves imprinted for a time on wet sidewalks.  The alchemy of rain, infusing, distilling and releasing the tannin held in the leaves, makes a kind of leaf tea which stains the walkways with these brown and gray shadows.  It’s as if the leaves are so reluctant to, well, leave, that they impress upon the autumn walks a kind of photo-memory, a soft, diffuse shade of their former existence. They are gone, but still here. Ghost leaves.

Something else gone but still here –

A couple of days after my birthday this past August, the ripples from the collision of two neutron stars somewhere in the cosmos reached our tiny corner of the universe.  The actual collision happened 100 million years ago. But it wasn’t until August that we felt the tremor and, 11 hours later saw the result – the first time observers on earth actually got to see the collision of neutron stars. I won’t begin to try to explain it all, so there’s a fuller explanation and some very cool videos here.  By the way, EarthSkyNews is a great daily dose of fun and understandable science in your inbox.  You should subscribe.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have some excited and conflicted feelings about this.

On the one hand, I am pleased that yet again the late great A. E’s theories are proven right; that the gravitational waves from a collision of two huge, super-dense astral bodies could shake the universe like a bowl of gelatin. He actually never thought this theory could be proven because the tremor would be so small, we could never build a machine sensitive enough to detect the waves. Maybe this is one of the very few times he was ever wrong about anything. See my post about the first time this theory was proven – just two years ago.

And I am impressed and proud that humans are actually discovering more and more about how we all came to be and how our universe works.

On the other hand, the thought of the universe, with me in it, shaking like a bowl of jell-o is a bit unsettling: on a par with the fact that our moon is moving away from us at the rate of 1.6 inches each year.  As a result, the earth’s rotation is slowly slowing down. Worrisome, no?

We’ve got a few million (or was it billion?) years before we have to worry about that, though.

These incomprehensible space science things really fascinate me — and blow my mind.  I don’t know how scientists wrap their minds around black holes, dark matter, the space-time continuum, quarks, leptons, infinity … Sort of like the White Queen believing “six impossible things before breakfast.”

An eminent local scientist once explained dark matter to me (and a group of others), and I actually thought I understood it — for about 45 seconds — but couldn’t sustain the knowledge.

Still, the memory of once (maybe) understanding such a complex and ephemeral concept persists. Ghost knowledge.

Ghost leaves I can understand.  The universe – not so much. But I’m glad someone’s working on it and I’m content to be amazed.

Squirrels, Science and Space-Time Non Sequiturs

The squirrels are out, clearing the snow from the branches of the trees and I am pondering the relative sizes of protons and black holes, waiting for inspiration from the cosmos.pond ripples 

Time is like a river – Einstein’s theory of relativity

September 14, 2015 was a great day for Albert Einstein, although it took the general public until February 11 this year to learn just how great a day it was, with the announcement of the first ever detection, last September, of gravitational waves, originating 1.3 billion light years away/ago.

Once again the great patent clerk was proven right – but also wrong.   He predicted the existence of gravitational waves – but said we would never see them because they would be too small to measure.  Jason Davis, Planetarium Manager for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, gave a lecture on the discovery of gravity waves/gravitational waves and noted that Einstein could not imagine the technology that would be able to measure a wave, traveling millions of light years across space-time, whose impact on the earth would measure less than the diameter of a proton.

But we did. And in doing so proved Einstein’s genius once again.  Plus, we opened up a whole new way to ‘see’ and develop new knowledge about the universe.  Actually, we both saw the waves as captured by technology, and heard them in a tiny sonic ‘chirp’ from that long-ago and far away collision of two huge black holes which generated the wave.  Learn more about it here,  and from Evalyn Gates, the Director of the Cleveland Natural History Museum, whose own scientific work relates directly to this discovery.

I leave it to you to explore this mind-boggling event further. I am no scientist and would probably get so much wrong if I tried to share more of what little I learned (or think I understand). I have probably already mis-characterized some things.

But as a poet, I am amazed and stunned by trying to grapple creatively with the concepts. I don’t know if any poems will come from pondering this new and fascinating mystery.  Things have to cook in their own poetic space-time continuum before the waves of inspiration start to ripple. But one of the things I like to do when fascinated with a word or concept and the Muse is out to lunch (as she has been lately), is an exercise my mentor Jeanne Marie Beaumont taught me.  It’s called The 100 Words and it is a form of creative play.  It goes like this.

Start with a word and, without thinking and as rapidly as possible, never lifting your pencil from the page, follow it with the next word that suggests itself from the sound of the first, then one that flows automatically from the sound of the second and on and on for as long as you can. Don’t manipulate. Don’t try to make sense.  The objective is simply to generate a rich list of words, related only by your unique senses of sight and sound – not meaning.  It’s fun – and often surprising in what flows from your unconscious as a result of letting go. I don’t recommend trying this on the computer.  There is something magical about the hand/brain connection to the page that is very different than typing on a keyboard.

Given my current fascination with the concept of gravity, I began there.  Here’s my 117 words.

Gravity, gravis, gravure, grave, brave, deprave, wave, wan, wane, plane, insane, remain, pain, pan, stand, land, brand, bread, said, led, red, redress, guess, bless, bliss, kiss, swish, wish, wash, loss, cost, coast, boast, boost, roost, rest, caressed, caroused, aroused, blouse, house, hose, host, roast, most, moss, toss, toast, toes, close, clues, rues, runes, ruin, bruin, bruise, cruise, peruse, perspective, prospect, speculate, spatulate, splat, spat, spit, sit, situate, citizen, denizen, denigrate, designate, demarcate, market, harken, bargain, bark, arc, art, fart, farthest, farmer, calmer, palmer, psalmist, solemn, column, balm, boom, bloom, broom, brood, hood, hoop, loop, poop, prop, prosper, ouster, outer, otter, bother, brother, cover, covert, overt, over, mover, mother, hover, however, never, weather, weaver, seeker, seer, reaper, river.

Try it. Pick a word. See where your mind takes you.  Try it as a family game some rainy day.

I leave you with these words of wisdom.

You will find truth more quickly through delight than gravity. Let out a little more string on your kite.”   Alan Cohen

Einstein's tongueYou can’t blame gravity for falling in love. Albert Einstein

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