I have a love-hate relationship with physics.
I love the way it sounds as a word. It’s a pleasurable one to say—like cupcakery, flibbertigibbet, or I’ve just won the lottery.
Okay, that last one is not so much a fun word to say as it would be a fun phrase to shout.
But “physics” is lovely to pronounce.
I also love that it works the way people expect it to—airplanes alight, bowling balls roll, people don’t fall off when on the upside-down part of Earth’s rotation—stuff like that.
I appreciate—nay, love—that so many people on this planet understand the science that studies the nature and properties of matter and energy.
But what I hate … is that I’m not one of them.
It’s not that I haven’t tried, because I have. I really have. As in sat down, read books, attended lectures, asked questions, did experiments. All that jazz. Definitely not half-hearted attempts to crack the codes of complex concepts.
It was effortful work.
But it just didn’t stick.
It never does, and I feel entirely deflated with the results.
Currently, I’m working on an art installation project with someone whose background is both fine arts and engineering. We have a massive canvas which we’ve agreed to apportion and parcel between us, settling upon no theme other than some sort of Venn diagram of shared experiences.
My first outlined section involves a three-headed snake, slithering downward through the seven levels of celestial existence, depicting the metaphysical realms of deities and including the classical planets and fixed stars.
His is a physical representation of irrational numbers. It is lines both curved and precisely angled.
It is math.
I said, Can you see how mine shows the concept of the divine wrestling with—
I get it. He broke in, nodding. I’ve studied religious antiquity through art. It’s pretty straightforward. Now can you see how mine is the answer?
I squinted at the canvas. The answer to what?
Everything? I echoed.
Yes. To the universe, to space, time, you, me, the existence and meaning of everything your mind can conjure.
My mind was not conjuring. My mind had stumbled to a cracking fat halt.
I don’t get it, I said, feeling a hot creeping blush move across my face. Where’s the formula part?
I received a look of incredulity. He pointed to the canvas. It’s right there. Where the lines and arcs intersect and join. It’s all present. It’s simple. It’s elegant. It’s beautiful.
He moved across the canvass, sweeping his hand from one point to another. Five or six minutes passed where words like “thermodynamics,” “quantum mechanics,” and “electromagnetism” were meshed with phrases like “the laws of motion” and “Bose-Einstein state of matter,” and “Are you truly not getting this?”
It made me worry. Again.
As I am currently on my way to see my daughter in her place of work. It’s a place that makes spaceships.
And everyone there comprehends all the words and phrases of physics to a point so deeply understood they can be trusted with millions of tax dollars that gets sent up to planets we all hope might one day hold a few Starbucks.
Her colleagues are the kind of people who could easily look at my art partner’s portion of our canvas and say, Yeah, man. That’s so beautiful.
They are the kinds of people who have pi tattoos, and blow-up dolls of Newton sitting a desks at work, and regularly visit therapists for anger management issues related to Flat-Earthers.
Chloe is, understandably, a little bit nervous, as in the past, when touring the facilities that educated her to qualify for her current place of employment, I apparently asked questions that left the occasional professor befuddled and giving her a second sideways assessment as to whether she may have been adopted.
Those questions usually involved time travel and multiverses—which at those moments were, in my defense, valid and being discussed by true blue scientists and not stripped from episodes of Star Trek.
And it’s not like I was asking whether all the orbiters and rovers we’ve been sending up were going to be interfering with my monthly horoscope.
Besides, I much prefer divination by means of flour. There is nothing more accurate than aleuromancy, as Chinese fortune cookies have yet to let me down.
So as I sit in my assigned seat on a fancy flying machine that surely neither Newton nor Galileo could have imagined, I am left staring out the window and wondering what I could possibly add to the art installation that could stand up to “the answer to everything,” whether I would find anything comprehendible when shortly visiting Chloe’s spacefaring factory, and whether my luggage would arrive at my final destination.
Pulling out my daily ration of much relied upon soothsaying, I cracked open my rice cookie and read today’s fortune:
A closed mouth gathers no feet.
Surely, this could be voted as a potential fourth law of motion.
I will consider it.
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