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Friday 18 March 2011



Male Silverback Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla): photo by Raul654, 2005

We have to do the best we can
That is our sacred human responsibility
Said Einstein to the gorilla
Who yawned and smiled patiently once again

Albert Einstein lecturing on theoretical physics, Vienna: photographer unknown, c. 1921

File:Einstein theory triumphs.png

"Einstein Theory Triumphs"
: New York Times, 10 November 1919 (image by Ravidreams, 2005)

Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein discussing theoretical physics, at the home of fellow physicist Paul Ehrenfest, Leiden, December 1925: photo by Paul Ehrenfest, 1925 (image by Fastfission, 2005)

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Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer in a posed photograph at the Institute for Advanced Study, n.d.
: photo courtesy of US Threat Reduction Agency (image by BenTels, 2005)

File:Trinity Test - Oppenheimer and Groves at Ground Zero 002.jpg

J. Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves, wearing white overshoes to prevent fallout from sticking to the soles of their shoes, examine the remains of one of the bases of the steel test tower at Manhattan Project's Trinity nuclear test site, September 1945
: photo by US Army Corps of Engineers (image by Hawkeye7, 2010)


TC said...

Robert Oppenheimer, the Berkeley scientist who took Einstein's theory and ran with it all the way to Los Alamos, seemed to consider himself a sort of poet among physicists. He related famously his private association of the first atomic blast with a passage in the Bhagavad Gita (which he'd read in the original Sanskrit) about "the radiance of a thousand suns..." ("I am Death, the Destroyer of Worlds"). He was also said to have had a literary reference in mind in codenaming the first test site "Trinity". It's thought perhaps he was referring to Donne's Holy Sonnet "Batter my heart, three-person'd God..." But Oppenheimer himself referred in some recollections to another poem of Donne (a lately deceased woman friend in Berkeley had introduced him to Donne's poetry) , "Hymn to God, My God, In My Sickness", and this passage in it:

Whilst my physicians by their love are grown
Cosmographers, and I their map, who lie
Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown
That this is my south-west discovery,
Per fretum febris, by these straits to die;

I joy, that in these straits I see my west;
For, though those currents yield return to none,
What shall my west hurt me? As west and east
In all flat maps—and I am one—are one,
So death doth touch the resurrection.

Is the Pacific sea my home? Or are
The eastern riches?...

Could Oppenheimer, in those utopian early days of the white sanitary anti-fallout booties, possibly have been thinking about global airborne particulate dispersion?

It was curious to hear yesterday from a network newsradio commentator that folks in California "need not fear" any potential dangers of radioactive fallout coming from a Japan meltdown, because "Berkeley is where they figured out how atomic power works, and nobody anywhere is in a better position to know what's going on with it..."



"We have to to the best we can" -- what else can we do, and sometimes (most often) it's not enough ("in these straits I see my west") . . . .


grey white cloud moving across invisible
ridge, motionless green leaves on branch
in foreground, sound of wind in branches

that is ‘trace’ of past, as
some ‘previous’ event

by means of color, indicate
by lines, in terms of

whiteness of clouds to the left of point,
lines of white water breaking in channel

aditya said...

Bravo !! Great poem.

Having studied engineering in college the poem did prove to be cathartic in more than just one way.

The itch pervades throughout the planet. Apes itched themselves to become gorillas some of which have since then itched into Einstein(s) many of whom have rather .. etched themselves into the Noble Prize lists; noble there being very little about them.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Surrogate for sure ..

Anonymous said...

That gorilla and Einstein really look like they might get along well together. It's nice to see them linked by your gray lines of poetry. One of my college professors, the Dutch astronomer Peter Van De Kamp, who apparently once played music regularly with Einstein, Niels Bohr and Enrico Fermi in Princeton, used to tell us what a nice man Einstein was. Oppenheimer's literary associations have always creeped me out. I'm sure it misses the main point, but I really prefer it (most of the time) when people go quietly about their business and don't unnecessarlly implicate third-parties in their designs. Having expressed all that, what I really want to say is that reading Steve's verse (today's lines are an especially good example) always makes me feel I'm there on the spot he is describing.