The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry


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Their supervisors were nonplussed. Dirac's aestheticism is a dubious research philosophy unless you're blessed with superhuman intuition, something he had in abundance. Like poetic facility, it cannot be taught. Dirac discovered his beautiful equation in , when he was a year-old fellow at St John's college, Cambridge. By combining quantum theory with the special theory of relativity, it sensationally explained the electron's spin observed experimentally two years before , as well as its magnetism.


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But the equation had another trick up its sleeve. After three years of studying puzzling properties of the equation, he concluded in that it predicted a new particle that had exactly the same mass as the electron but the opposite electric charge. A year later in California, the experimenter Carl Anderson discovered a particle with precisely these properties among cosmic ray showers raining down from outer space.


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Dirac and Anderson initially knew nothing of each other's work, but when the results were published it was clear that Anderson had unwittingly detected the first example of what became known as "antimatter". Modern cosmology tells us that at the beginning of the Big Bang there was almost as much of this antimatter as common-or-garden matter.

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So Dirac had, courtesy of his equation, been the first to glimpse what was once nearly half the material universe, about which the rest of humanity had no inkling until he let them in on the secret. His aesthetic strategy yielded another intriguing prediction in when, after persevering with some mathematically beautiful equations, he predicted another new type of particle, the magnetic monopole.

We usually think of north and south poles as coming in pairs, but Dirac pro duced equations suggesting there exists a particle with a single pole. No one has yet observed such a particle, but this idea has long been part of state-of-the-art thinking about fundamental theories. Its detection would be a posthumous Diracian coup.

His work and his style of doing theoretical physics remains powerfully influential in modern string theory. According to this theory, everything fundamentally consists of tiny pieces of string, each about a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimetre long.

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What the Physicist said to the Poet

In this picture, the fundamental particles, such as electrons and quarks, are actually vibrating pieces of strings, much too small to see. Although not a single experiment has come out in support of this theory, its mathematical structure has a compelling beauty for string theorists.

It is this beauty that leads so many theorists to believe that the theory is too beautiful to be wrong. Dirac would have been proud of them. Dirac's aesthetic sensibilities did not extend to poetry of the literary kind. On hearing that the Manhattan project supremo Robert Oppenheimer was writing poems, a puzzled Dirac remarked in a rare outburst of cross-cultural criticism: "I do not see how a man can work at the frontiers of physics and write poetry at the same time.

They are in opposition. Where two lines intersect, they share a word, a literary device Catanzano used to evoke an anyon knot. The text can be read linearly—following each line of text sequentially—or the reader can jump from one line to another when they encounter a textual knot. The idea of using literary devices to explain concepts in physics is not a new one. Physicists have long turned to metaphors to break down complex mathematics. Physicists use the word to evoke the concept of two connected quantum particles, where the manipulation of one affects the state of the other, even if the particles are separated by great distances.

But metaphors can be hazardous; they repurpose ordinary language, which can lead to misunderstandings. In actuality, the particles have no physical connection or communication line, as evidenced by numerous quantum physics experiments. Catanzano thinks this confusion could be avoided if poetic thinking were more commonplace. Poetry is a nuanced and complex form of language that goes beyond simple dictionary definitions of individual words.

The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry - Robert K. Logan - Google книги

Poems use rhythm, visual structure, line breaks, word order, and other devices to explore invisible worlds, alter the flow of time, and depict the otherwise unimaginable, says Catanzano. For these reasons, she thinks that poetry is a compatible language for quantum theory.

Katherine Wright is a Senior Editor of Physics.

The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry
The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry
The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry
The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry
The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry
The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry
The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry

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