Saturday, 11 April 2015

A Master Of Physics And Politics

As an sf writer, Poul Anderson is a master of both physics and politics. He describes a television interview about practical applications of quantum mechanics being recorded during a military coup:

"'...if you hit a speck of dust, wouldn't that be like a nuclear warhead exploding?'
"A jet snarled low above the roof. Thunder boomed through the building. Cameras shivered in men's hands. Fleury tensed. The noise passed, and she found herself wondering whether to edit this moment out of the tapes."
-Poul Anderson, Starfarers (New York, 1999), pp. 7-8.

Do not edit it! This is a moment in the history of physics and in the history of the United States. Natural and human events interpenetrate in Anderson's prose. A collision at near light speed is compared to a nuclear explosion while the sound and effects of a low-flying jet fighter are compared to thunder and cold. The coup leader becomes permanent Chief Advisor to any President of the United States while the television crew records an account of the dramatic origin of the universe:

"'...the universe originated as a quantum fluctuation in the seething sea of the vacuum, a random concentration of energy so great that it expanded explosively. Out of this condensed the first particles, and from them evolved atoms, stars, planets, and living creatures.'" (p. 9)

So the sequence was:

virtual particles constantly beginning and ceasing to exist;
a random concentration of energy;
explosive expansion;
condensation of real particles;
evolution of atoms (originally thought to be the smallest particles and most basic realities) etc.

I think that, of the creation myths, the Ginnungagap (see also here), with its dialectical interaction between opposed unconscious forces, is the closest to this scientific model.

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