There are people in this world, who just wander about doing the stuff in front of them. You are most likely, one of these. Some may have grand plans, some may say they had a grand plan just after they got lucky and some are happy to tootle around the place, in an ever decreasing circle of mild mannered mediocrity. A few others, well, they don’t do things like that, they don’t plod along, in relatively straight lines. These others think, no not think, are wired to think, like the things that they end up, thinking about. Well, at least a small number of them, while the rest of us, are never exposed to the kind of thing that could have once upon a time, exposed our existential wiring.
My favourite person in the world (apart from my other half, now busy fuelling daisies) is one of the wired types and has absolutely no idea what the wiring works like. I have a good hypothesis, but every argument ends in a categorical failure to categorise. A staggering head full of wiring and a proper bloody nerd, but what they are a nerd in, is not Mathematics, nor Coding, nor Physics; for a change. Nor Philosophy, definitely not metaphysics nor psychology, nor any of the stuff buried under the amorphous catchall of Cognitive Science. They don’t do art, but love everything about it, they write poetry, hate reading and love language: the etymology is intriguing, but also the syntax, morphology, phonology and perhaps most tellingly, the cadence. Scarily, they live in all those worlds, and can do maths with one hand, while the other one is bored to death drawing on the desk or tapping out a 15/16 rhythm on any marginally percussive surface. They are my oldest friend, my deepest love (brains not hearts) and my enduring regret. I’m way too old to be around when they finally find the something, they are wired like.
My love is in a very bad place, hence reminiscing and writing. Having been pursued for several years by ingrates, I can only conclude the experience, as an institutional fear of Neurodiversity. They hate or more likely are frightened of, people who think differently to them. It’s very sad and typically caused by those who’s only goal is to fill their empty heads with power, or money, or (and I’m serious) the pain of other people. They have no interest in the essence of being a human, the sapience, they are in essence why I exist, they embody the condition of nosapience. My many peers poke fun at me when surrounded by mere pips, chattering about hits and links and that I should enter the age of the internet. Little do they know that I was (almost) in the room, when it was invented. Tim is smashing and arguably was in exactly the right place, at completely the wrong time, ‘thanks to Eywa’ one pip declared with a quick selfie.
I asked my love, to come and talk to a bunch of physicists who were struggling to get passed an injunction (mental not legal) in a big project, described by a grey brow grumpy old friend of mine, as “not the most creative of conglomerations”. I asked my love to come and just, honestly, this is what I said, “piss on their chips, micros and spuds” and handed over several pages of physics proposal that meant nothing to me. A challenge indeed. The first session was designed to break the ice and we placed an envelop on the desk at the front of everybody, addressed to ‘the right answer’.
We first asked the creative-ophobes to describe what they thought the universe was made of, in a way we could fathom. One said “for God’s sake” declaring many of them, felt their time was better placed elsewhere. In my accidentally echoing rebuke, I suggested banging your heads in the same way, against the same wall, again and again. One got up with a fluster. We had all the electronics that the world could imagine, but she picked up a dry marker. This was extreme improvisation in action, we (me and my love) were stood there in front of a large group of frustrated people that we believed, were wired to this stuff and we felt, quite rightly intimidated. Well I did, but the wired one beside me, picked up another marker.
A circle was drawn around a weird looking expression, with the question ‘is that always the same thing’? The comparatively old hirsute grey brow, stood up, glared at me and stropped out of the room. A more kindly-faced type explained how letters could assume any meaning in “this sort of advanced logic, that most people don’t get to see”. I wanted to cover my head and leave quietly.
Suddenly “cool” was shouted, “everyone hold up a blank piece of paper”, the room (unassumingly) loved the sudden absence of grey brow and instantly complied. Then bawled out like an offer you couldn’t refuse, came the verbal punch on the nose; “write down everything you’ve ever seen, that ringed thing, to mean or even could mean by mistake”. There were 19 different answers, all with something like “but I know what it means in this sense”.
So what if the term went from an axiom to an unknown? “Play the game, imagine that you don’t know what you already know and had to work it out”. Before even the sentence was finished the room lit up, full of, for the first time, laughter. Not sure if it was defiance for the old grey brow marching out or group exculpation for the ensuing rethink . We all laughed as people mentioned Lorenz, Dirac, Bethe and a load of names, a couple of non physicists had no idea about, other than catching an occasional bit of popular jargon.
We then played a game of theoretical physics, looking for stupid questions. What if all electrons, suddenly changed charge? How many positrons in a kilo of Phlegmatron based on it’s general level of repulsiveness? And then what if matter is empty and space is full? I thought this was just another bit of fun and cracked a joke that I’m sure wouldn’t have otherwise, created such an affront. They challenged each other to prove that matter was in fact empty and it was space that was full, because that was technically true, apparently. By this time, they were in ebullient mood and came up with all sorts of stuff for the physics equivalent of a knob joke, to a 2 minute explanation that only the 2 people in the room, giving the explanation, could have possibly repeated.
A quiet nerdy type at the back of the room said, “no it’s right, we’re not mass in a soup of masslessness, we are the gap, the vacuum, exerting a force to divide spacetime itself”. It was like ping pong, as back came the ‘yes and’ improvisation of all sorts of things like “if the universe is like soup then mass is bubbles, pushing everything away from everything else”. Loads of laughing and stupid ideas went from Stretchy Cheese to Pokemon to the Matrix to an inanimate teddy bear with an experimentally provable personality. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, even the proper on-the-spectrum types, because we mixed mathematics with metaphor and as my love declared at the end, “it’s because Mathematics is Metaphor and you speak both”.
A door burst open at the back of the long room and grump old grey brow, jumped out yelling an expression, that was subsequently explained as “fuckaye”. He’d shot out to switch on the recording equipment and had watched the whole thing. The familiar wail was engulfed in a cheer, a visceral buzz and a clap that dimmed into a doorway and a long narrow walk to the drinks that was eerily quiet.
One of the proper nerdy types came up after a few beers and said “you’re right, space is full of one dimensional particles and two dimension planes and we’re just a three dimensional gap in the middle of it all” or words to that effect. There were several empty wine bottles. “Look we’ve just worked it out” he said, pointing to the table cloth covered in felt penned weird shapes and equations now hanging on the wall, above their table. It was a gag I thought, but to be honest, I couldn’t have told the difference if it was, or it wasn’t.
My love said, that means of course that there wasn’t one big bang at the beginning of the universe, but bloody millions of little bangs like this, and blew bubbles into a Long Island Iced Tea until they frothed over the top and across the table. Out from a pocket came the envelop addressed to ‘the right answer’, still sealed. Handed over, it was slid open like an Oscar Ceremony Result. With a look of disbelief and a massive guffaw, it was turned toward the table, to reveal a hand written phrase “lots of little bangs”. Grey brow got up again, as if in disgust, pulled the table cloth off the wall and disappeared. He now has some lovely things to say about the role of creativity and a rediscovered love for abstraction in theoretical science.
I’m not kidding myself, we did not invent a new epoch in physics, we just came in, buggered about with a theory for creativity that we were fluent in and set the scene before, inviting a few people to play with their equal theoretical fluency: the stuff they knew really well. It was a bit of fun to blow out the cobwebs, and of course, my love asked a few bloody stupid questions, to make them appreciate the new space.
Some people, to their own inevitable detriment, take themselves far too seriously, but nevertheless, my love believes unconditionally that we’ve all got it in us, “you just need to know how to tease it out!”