Poetry by D.W. Walker

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Journey to Unknowing

Once upon a time, we knew how the world worked,
Four elements, earth, air, fire and water,
What plants would kill us,
And what animals would eat us.
The rest was up to the gods,
Up in the sky, under the ground,
And next door in every creek and tree,
Some benign, others willful, unpredictable, angry,
All demanding grovelling and tribute.

Only one solution for any self-respecting hominid:
Take over their job.
It wasn't easy, with savage opposition
From the gods' self-appointed intermediaries,
And lots of magic-inspired dead ends,
But finally,
After patient observation, cataloguing and experimentation,
We were there,
With a neat world of bouncing billiard ball atoms,
Orderly tables of elements,
Electric and magnetic fields described by elegant equations.,
And enough time for the rocks to shape themselves.
A few diseases needed curing, but that was a detail.

Anyone in their right mind would have stopped here,
But a few knowalls plugged on,
Conducting esoteric experiments on tiny objects.
Suddenly light didn't know if it was a particle or a wave,
Mass became energy, space and time merged,
The speed of light became our cosmic speed limit.
Billiard ball atoms turned into mini solar systems
With nuclei and whirling electrons,
Splitting into other atoms in ways that would wow any alchemist,
Other kinds of particle emerged from a mass-energy sea,
Colliding, merging, annihilating,
So many that new particles were invented as their constituents,
Explained as "undiscoverable", then discovered after all,
As a new "Standard Model" took shape,
Dogged by incomprehensible symmetries and unexpected infinities,
But grasped as a new model of most things

Except it isn't.
A few galaxies got in the way,
Rotating as if they were solid,
Needing far more mass than they were supposed to have.
Enter Dark Matter.
What is is, no-one knows.
Then the universe decides it's expanding
Much faster than it's supposed to.
Enter Dark Energy.
Another big question mark.
Black holes don't help, with a featureless sludge of material
Concentrated at point, making a nonsense of space-time,
Nor does the big bang, which started with the same thing.
Funny quantum effects like entanglement are a problem too,
Suggesting instantaneous effects over infinite distances,
A job now given back to magic.
Exit Space and Time.

So what do we have left?
A collection of unknown objects, interacting in an unknown way,
Forming an unknown network whose emergent properties
Might be space and time,
And all those other features that we know and love,
Or could be totally different and alien
And not our thing at all.

David Walker

Dedication: To Titus Lucretius Carus, who wrote On The Nature of Things, a poem (much longer than this one) about atoms.

Copyright D.W. Walker, 2016


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