I am, decidedly, a non-scientist. Physics and Chemistry made little or no sense to me at school, and I entered adulthood resigned to the fact that I would remain in ignorance of all things scientific. When “Popular Science” books by such luminaries as Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins started to make an impact on public consciousness, I decided, somewhat warily, to take a look. I found, to my amazement, that a fascinating new world of knowledge was now becoming accessible for me. Since then, I have followed the news of the latest scientific breakthroughs with the enthusiastic interest of a semi-ignorant layman.
It was particularly interesting to observe how the discovery of the Higgs Boson (or “God-Particle”) last week was disseminated to us via the media. Here was a discovery that – so the scientists were telling us – was comparable to Einsteinian Relativity, or Newton’s discovery of gravity. I came across a succinct description of the Higgs Boson, on one of the scientific websites, as “. . . the particle that gives other particles mass that attracts. This allows particles to coalesce, forming everything from a rock to a human being.” So, pretty important, one would think; yet the media seemed rather unsure about how to announce this earth-shattering news to the nation. As far as the News Headlines were concerned, the Higgs Boson was deemed to be less important than reports on the progress Andy Murray was making towards the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final.
I think this reflects a general uncertainty we have towards the world of sub-atomic particles. Scientists tell us that these particles operate according to “quantum mechanics”, and are thus able to be in two places at once, travel forwards and backwards in time, and so on. We accept that this must be the case, but it remains impossible for us to connect this crazy sub-atomic world to the world of our everyday, common-sense “reality”. My poem “Disjunction” is an attempt to express the bafflement that we feel.
Our subatomic particles eddy and flow,
pass through matter, annihilate time.
No one knows how they come, where they go.
There seems no reason; precious little rhyme.
They spurn rationality; turn logic on its head.
To some, these paradoxes cut no ice.
Scientists of genius, frustrated, now dead.
‘God’, said Einstein, ‘does not play dice’.
How is it possible to explain the transition?
Am I a surfer, gliding on the particle sea?
From subatomic level, to banal decision.
From particle chaos, to ‘Coffee? Or tea?’
We are dumbfounded by the disjunction.
We are bewildered, searching for the key.
Is it a collapse of the wave function?
How can it form that strange being called ‘me’?