I really want to get this going....

Each day's listing is an excerpted edit from my work. These are numbered and sub-headed for ease of read and isolation from full body of continued text. Each small excerpt is a single-themed piece culled from a much larger whole. Please follow the heading numbers down to #1, or click on 'archive'. The highest numbers are most recently posted, obviously. If so interested, for follow-up, you may contact via e-mail shown - perhaps for discussion or annotation needed.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


285. A DULL MAN WITH A KNIFE (I visit Godel and Einstein in Princeton):

[I can't remember what I said and I can't remember if I said it - all I do recall is the space between hearts and the accumulated intentions of all the things which I'd ever meant to do and never did and the end-results of all of that now are gone : people who have died people who have left me people who are no longer heard from again and who instead become figments on some stage of promise and I stand here and watch the orange curtains flutter and I try to understand the people who pass me in all their different arrays of employment and attitude and even the 'how' they carry themselves with and it all seems so different and there are none the same and I walk the sorry hill to put all of this BEHIND me instead of in front and I arrive (gratefully happily) at the Great Egyptian Needle the wandering spike the Eternal Obelisk from somewhere and it all blends in so well as I am taken to speechlessness by the people around me who all seem to have just stopped and in their long black coats or heavy garments simply gape at the image they see - that weather-marked old festooned thing which rises in place and stays with its incongruous message and image and lobster claws and faded erosions and all the rest BUT even through all that I detect the reverence and the scrambled strange awe which wordlessly stops these people in their tracks and the trail of years and the story of hundreds and the shadows and suns of a million different times still regale us all as they emote their 'selves' from Cleopatra's needle into the sickly modern day - swathed in shrubbery and bare needled branches where the wind-whipped travails of Nature and Mankind seem combined in one mixed attempt at full eternal glory].
'Every chaos is a wrong appearance' - that was said by Kurt Godel a peer of Einstein's while they both spent time together in Princeton (walks I've traced and walks I've walked) and it was in 1933 - with his great scientific discoveries behind him - that Albert Einstein came to America and spent the last twenty-two years of his life in Princeton where he had been recruited as the star member of the Institute for Advanced Study 'Princeton is a wonderful piece of earth and at the same time an exceedingly amusing ceremonial backwater of tiny spindel-shanked demigods' he'd said (content with his new milieu and taking its pretensions in stride) and his daily routine began with a leisurely walk from his house (at 115 Mercer Street) to his office at the institute and he was by then one of the most famous and with his distinctive appearance - that whirl of pillow-combed hair and the baggy pants held up by suspenders - the most recognizable people in the world and a decade after arriving in Princeton Einstein acquired a walking companion a much younger man who next to the rumpled Einstein cut a dapper figure in a white linen suit and matching fedora and the two would talk animatedly in German on their morning amble to the Institute and again later that day on their way home BUT while the man in the suit may not have been recognized by many townspeople Einstein recognized him as a peer and someone who like him had single-handedly launched a conceptual revolution for if Einstein had upended our everyday notions about the physical world with his theory of relativity then Godel the younger man had had a similarly subversive effect on our understanding of the abstract world of mathematics - Godel has often been called the greatest logician since Aristotle and he was a strange and lonely man in that as opposed to Einstein's gregarious and full-of-laughter nature he was a solemn solitary and pessimistic man (Einstein was a passionate amateur violinist who loved Beethoven and Mozart while Godel's taste ran in another direction entirely - his favorite movie was Walt Disney's 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' and when his wife put a pink flamingo in their front yard he pronounced it 'furchtbar herzig' which means 'awfully charming' Einstein freely indulged his appetite for heavy German cooking while Godel subsisted on a valetudinarian's diet of butter baby food and laxatives) for while Einstein's private life was not without its complications outwardly he was jolly and at home with the world but Godel by contrast had a tendency toward paranoia - believing in ghosts and having a morbid dread of being poisoned by refrigerator gases he refused to go out when certain mathematicians were in town apparently out of concern that they might try to kill him and while others in the institute thought his behavior baffling and unapproachable Einstein told people that he went to his office 'just to have the privilege of walking home with Kurt Godel' who it seemed was undaunted by Einstein's reputation and did not hesitate to challenge his ideas and as another member of the institute Freeman Dyson observed 'Godel was the only one of our colleagues who walked and talked on equal terms with Einstein' but even as they both seemed to exist on a 'higher' plane than the rest of humanity it was also true that they had become (in Einstein's words) 'museum pieces' - Einstein never accepted the quantum theory of Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg and Godel believed that mathematical abstractions were every bit as real as tables and chairs (a view that philosophers had come to regard as 'laughably naive') but Godel and Einstein insisted that the world is independent of our minds yet rationally organized and open to human understanding and the two of them united by a shared sense of intellectual isolation found solace in each other's companionship - 'they didn't want to speak to anybody else' one member said 'they only wanted to speak to each other' -- what did they talk about you wonder? -- Godel was well versed in the subject of Physics and he shared Einstein's mistrust of the quantum theory but he was also skeptical of the older physicist's ambition to supersede it with a 'unified field theory' that would encompass all known forces in a deterministic framework and while both were attracted to problems that were - as Einstein said - of 'genuine importance' which were problems pertaining to the most basic elements of reality it was Godel who was especially preoccupied by the nature of time - which he told a friend was - THE philosophical question for 'how could such a mysterious and seemingly self-contradictory thing form the basis of our world's and our own existance?' (that was a matter of course in which Einstein had shown some expertise) ...FOR...
IN 1905...Einstein proved that TIME as it had been understood by scientist and layman alike WAS A FICTION - as 1905 began the 25-year old Einstein was employed as an inspector in a patent office in Bern Switzerland and having earlier failed to get his doctorate in physics he had temporarily given up the idea of an academic career - telling a friend that 'the whole comedy has become boring' and he had just read a book by Henri Poincare a French mathematician of enormous reputation which identified three fundamental unsolved problems in science : the first was the 'photoelectric effect' or how did ultraviolet light knock electrons off the surface of a piece of metal? the second concerned 'Brownian motion' or why did pollen particles suspended in water move about in a random zigzag pattern? and the third concerned the 'lumeniferous ether' that was supposed to fill all of space and serve as the medium through which light waves moved - the way sound waves moved through air or ocean waves through water : WHY had experiments failed to detect the earth's motion through this ether? yet for Einstein each of these problems had the potential to reveal what he held to be the underlying simplicity of nature and working alone the unknown clerk rapidly managed to dispatch all three and his solutions were presented in four papers written in March April May and June of 1905 -- in his March paper on the photoelectric effect he deduced that light came in discrete particles (later dubbed 'photons') in the April and May papers he established once and for all the reality of atoms and gave a theoretical estimate of their standard size and showing how their bumping around caused Brownian motion and in his June paper on the ether problem he introduced his theory of relativity - then as a sort of encore he published a three-page note in September containing the most famous equation of all time: E=mc2 -- and all of these papers had a touch of magic about them and upset deeply held convictions in the physics community yet for scope and audactiy Einstein's June paper stood out for in thirty succint pages he had completely rewritten the laws of physics beginning with two stark principles First the laws of physics are absolute and the same laws must be valid for all observers and Second the speed of light is absolute for it too is the same for all observers - the second principle though less obvious has the same sort of logic to recommend it - since light is an electromagnetic wave (this had been known since the nineteenth century) its speed is fixed by the laws of electromagnetism and these laws ought to be the same for all observers and therefore everyone should see light moving at the same speed regardless of their frame of reference [still it was bold of Einstein to embrace the light principle for its consequences seemed downright absurd] :
SUPPOSE - to make things vivid - that the speed of light is a hundred miles an hour and now suppose that I am standing by the side of the road and I see a light beam pass by at this speed THEN I see you chasing it in a car at sixty miles an hour TO ME it appears that the light beam is outpacing you by forty miles an hour but YOU from inside your car must see the beam ecaping you at a hundred miles an hour just as you would if you were standing still : THAT is what the light principle demands - BUT what if you gun your engine and speed up to ninety-nine miles an hour ? now I see a beam of light outpacing you by just one mile an hour but to you still inside the car the beam is still racing ahead at a hundred miles an hour despite your increased speed HOW CAN THIS BE? speed of course equals distance divided by time so evidently the faster you go in your car the shorter your ruler must become and the slower your clock must tick relative to mine for that is the only way we can continue to agree on the speed of light (if I were to pull out a pair of binoculars and look at your speeding car I would actually see its length contracted and you moving in slow motion inside) - so Einstein set about recasting the laws of physics accordingly - TO MAKE these laws absolute he made distance and time relative and it was the sacrifice of absolute time that was most stunning - for since Isaac Newton it had been agreed that 'time' was 'regulated' by a sort of cosmic grandfather clock as Newton stated : 'ABSOLUTE true mathematical time of itself and from its own nature flows equably without relation to anything external (in his 'Principia') but EINSTEIN realized that our idea of time is something we abstract from our experience with rhythmic phenomena - heartbeats planetary rotations and revolutions the ticking of clocks - and 'time' judgments always come down to judgments of simultaneity - "if for instance I say 'that train arrives here a 7 o'clock' I mean something like this - 'the pointing of the small hand of my watch to 7 and the arrival of the train are simultaneous events'" Einstein wrote in the June paper and if the events in question are at some distance from one another judgments of simultaneity can be made only by sending light signals back and forth - working from his two basic principles Einstein proved that whether an observer deems two events to be 'happening at the same time' depends on his state of motion - in other words THERE IS NO universal NOW and with different observers slicing up the timescape into 'past present and future' in different ways it seems to follow that all moments coexist with equal reality : Einstein's conclusions were the product of pure thought proceeding from the most austere assumptions about nature and they have been precisely confirmed since then by experiment after experiment (yet his 1905 paper on relativity was rejected when submitted) - it was only by an accident of King Gustav V's presence at a Nobel lecture in 1921 that it was brought forth - and at the time that Einstein first formulated the principle in his 1905 paper he restricted 'all observers' [the key principle of relativity is that the laws of physics should be the same for all observers] to those who were moving uniformly relative to one another - that is in a stright line - and at a constant speed but he soon realized that thise restriction was arbitrary and if the laws of physics were to provide a truly objective description of nature they ought to be valid for obersevrers moving in any way reaitive to one another - spinning accelerating spiralling or whatever so it was that Einstein made the transition from his 'special' theory of relativity to to his 'general' theory whose equations he worked out over the next decade and published in 1916 and what made these equations so powerful was that they explained gravty - the force which governs the over-all shape of the cosmos - and even decades later again Godel walking with Einstein had the privilege of picking up the subtelties of relativity theory from the master himself as Einstein had shown that the flow of time depended on motion and gravity and that the division of events into 'past' and 'future' was relative GODEL HOWEVER took a more radical view : he believed that time as it was understood imtuitively did NOT exist at all and as usual he was not content with a mere verbal argument : philosophers ranging from Parmenides in ancient times to Immanueal Kant in the eighteenth century and on to J.M.E. McTaggert at the beginning of the twentieth century had produced such arguments inconclusively but GODEL wanted a proof that had the rigor and certainty of mathematis and he saw just what he wanted lurking in the relativity theory SO he presented his argument to Einstein for his seventieth birthday in 1949 (along with an etching) and what he'd found was the possibility of an until then unimagnable kind of universe - the EQUATIONS of general relativity can be solved in a variety of ways and each solution is in effect a model of how the universe might be and Einstein believed on philosophical grounds that the universe was eternal and unchanging and he had tinkered with his equations so that they would yield such a model - a move he later called 'my greatest blunder' - another pysicist (a Jesuit priest as it happened) found a solution corresponding to an expanding universe born at some moment in the finite past and this solution (since known as the 'Big Bang') was consisent with what astronomers observed and because of that it seemed to BE the one which described the actual cosmos - but GODEL had come up with a THIRD kind of solution to Einstein's equations - one in which the universe was not expanding but rotating (the centrifigal force arising from the rotation was what kept everything from collapsing under the force of gravity) and in Godel's view an observer would see all the galaxies slowly spinning around him - he would know it was the universe doing the spinning and not himself because he would feel no dizziness AND Godel further showed that what makes this rotating universe truly weird is the way its geometry mixes up space and time - for by completing a sufficiently long round trip in a rocket ship a resident of Godel's universe could travel back to any point in his own past - but EINSTEIN was not entirely pleased with the news that his equations permitted something as 'Alice in Wonderland'-like as spatial paths that looped backward in time - in fact he confessed to being 'disturbed' by Godel's universe and while other scientists marvelled that time travel (previously the stuff of science fiction) was apparently consistent with the laws of physics GODEL himself drew a different moral 'if time travel is possible' he submitted 'then time itself is impossible' - for a past that can be revisited has not really passed and the fact that the actual universe is expanding rather than rotating is irrelevant for TIME like God is either necessary or nothing and if it disappears in one possible universe it is undermined in every possible universe - including our own (Godel's conclusion went almost entirely unnoticed in its time) and all of this was received during a bleak time in Einstein's life - his quest for a unified field theory of physics was proving fruitless and his oppostion to quantum theory alienated him from the mainstream of physics - two failed marriages a lost daughter two sons with problems and his 'circle' of friends had shrunk to - essentially - Godel and one or two others : he said "the exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease and I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler" - he died a month after saying that at age seventy-six and when Godel and another colleague went to his office at the institute to deal with his papers they found the blackboard covered with dead-end equations : after Einstein's death Godel became even more withdrawn - he preferred to conduct all his conversations by telephone even if his interlocutor was a few feet distant and when he especially wanted to avoid someone he would schedule a rendezvous at a precise time and place and then make sure he was somewhere far away - he was chary of the honors bestowed upon him and refused attendance at most events but for a 1952 honorary doctorate from Harvard where his incompletness theorems were hailed as the most important mathematical discovery of the previous hundred years - he said he had been 'thrust quite undeservedly into the most highly bellicose company' by that event - and in 1975 he refused to goto the White House to receive a national Medal of Science from Gerald Ford - even after a car had been provided for him - he had hallucinatory episodes and talked darkly of certain forces at work in the world 'directly submerging the good' and he feared that there was a plot to poison him and therefore refused to eat until finally 'looking like a living corpse' he was taken to Princeton Hospital where two weeks later on January 14 1976 he succumbed to self-starvation and according to his death certificate the cause of death was 'malnutrition and inanation' brought on by 'personality disturbance' and although a certain futility marked the last Princeton years of both Einstein and Godel their most futile efforts seemed to be their willed belief in the unreality of time - the temptation was understandable - for if time exists only in our minds perhaps we can hope to escape it into a timeless eternity (then we could say like William Blake 'I see the past Present and Future existing all at once before me') - toward the end of his life Godel had said that he had long awaited an epiphany that would enable him to see the world in a new light but that it never came and Einstein too was unable to make a clean break with time saying 'to those of us who believe in physics this separation between past present and future is only an illusion if a stubborn one' and when his own turn came a few weeks later he said 'it is time to go.'


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