Posts Tagged time

Unintentional Haiku from New Scientist on The Unknown Universe


I added some features to Haiku Detector so that it will find haiku made of more than one sentence, though I haven’t released the new version yet, since I’d like to release it on the Mac App store (even though it will probably still be free, at least at first) to see how that works, and to do that I’ll need an icon first. If you know anyone who can make Mac icons at a reasonable price, let me know. Meanwhile, New Scientist has released a new ‘collection‘ called The Unknown Universe, so why not mine it for haiku? The topics are ‘The early universe’, ‘The nature of reality’ (again), ‘The fabric of the cosmos’, ‘Dark materials’, ‘Black holes’, ‘Time’ (again) and ‘New directions’.

Let’s start at the very beginning, the early universe:

Can we really be
sure now that the universe
had a beginning?

At first, that seems like a terrible place to break the sentence to start a new line. But what if we pretend, until we get to the next line, that ‘Can we really be?’ is the whole question? Because that’s the real reason people wonder about the universe.

Now, here’s a multi-sentence one, which conveniently has a full sentence as the first line:

“We’re back to square one.”
Tegmark agrees: “Inflation
has destroyed itself.”

Deep. But what is this inflation thing, anyway?

Well, for one thing, it’s
not clear what actually
does the inflating.

Only then will we
truly know what kind of a
bang the big bang was.

“I am not convinced
the cyclic model is that
grander idea.”

But I think this is my favourite. There’s a monster at the end of this universe, and it’s making crosswords.

Cosmic monsters that
have survived into our times
also pose puzzles.

Now for the nature of reality:

“It pulls the rug out
from under us to prove a
theory right or wrong.”

Maybe we just need to look around us.

There is also down,
and, for that matter, left, right,
forwards and backwards.

Have we figured out what we’re looking for yet?

What it is, though, we
do not have the words or the
concepts to express.

Maybe E. L. James can help us figure it out:

“This experiment
allows us to see the shades
of grey in between.”

These ones are about the fabric of the cosmos:

“If you go by what
we observe, we don’t live in
space-time,” Smolin says.

We battle against
them each time we labour up
a hill or staircase.

“But where did the weak
primordial fields that seed the
dynamo come from?”

The same force that keeps
our feet on the ground also
shapes the universe.

I like this one for the contrast between the first and last lines:

The information-
loss paradox dissolves.  Big
questions still remain.

Here are some of the ‘dark materials‘ haiku, about dark matter and dark energy:

The discovery of
dark matter would be the find
of the century.

I love how this contrasts ‘discovery of’ with ‘find of’; I didn’t notice that in prose form.

We still don’t know what
it is. It is everywhere
and we can’t see it.

That opens the door
to a dazzling array of
possibilities.

This chase through space will
be thrilling, but the quarry
may still elude us.

“It seems like a long
shot,” he says. But others are
being won over.

“But we don’t see a
fifth force within the solar
system,” says Burrage.

Though maybe the array of possibilities isn’t so dazzling after all:

It is limited
to perhaps three things. First, dark
energy pushes.

There are only two haiku about black holes, but one of them sounds like an idea Dan Brown might write about, probably without first reading New Scientist:

A BOMB made out of
a black hole is a rather
unsettling thought.

And the other sounds like it belongs on an episode of Doctor Who:

One of them will have
to blink if this paradox
is to be undone.

There are no more haiku on time, but luckily there were some in the last collection. I love this one about new directions, though:

Put that to many
physicists, and you will get
a grumpy response.

Ah, those physicists, always hopeful:

“Historically, these
things have usually led
somewhere,” says Davies.

They even have a solution to that ‘we still don’t know what it is’ problem from earlier:

“We don’t know what it
is so we have to give it
a name, a symbol.”

After that, it gets
a lot more speculative,
but here’s the best guess.

But they’re not that confident about it:

There are also good
reasons to think it is an
unwarranted one.

Paths to a theory
of everything will become
even more winding.

For instance, it could
decrease with time, or even
become negative.

Infinity makes things even more difficult:

INFINITY. It
is a concept that defies
imagination.

But it is at the
big bang that infinity
wreaks the most havoc.

The first line of the first infinity one reminds me of a CERN friend’s recipe for gravity: you just put ‘it’ in gravy.

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Unintentional Haiku from New Scientist, on Consciousness, Life, and Time


I’m going out tonight and won’t have time to finish writing a poem for NaPoWriMo, so here are the haiku that Haiku Detector detected in the next three topics of New Scientist’s special issue with the ‘big questions’. I posted the unintentional haiku on reality, existence, and God last week.  This seemed like a good place to find interesting unintentional haiku, so I ran Haiku Detector over the first three sections. Perhaps I’ll do the rest on later Saturdays, to give myself a weekly break during poetry writing month.

There’s only one unintentional haiku on the subject of consciousness, but it’s a good one:

You may think you know
the reasons, but they could be
a work of fiction.

Two about life:

These discoveries are
bringing an old paradox
back into focus.

There is a simple
way to get huge amounts of
energy this way.

One of these days I’ll add in some linguistics-based heuristics or a learning algorithm to rank the haiku; haiku lines ending in prepositions are often not as good, for example, and splitting the adjective from the following noun is a little weird too.

The section on time has the most and best haiku. This pleases me, because the largest text I tested Haiku Detector on when I first wrote it was the forum thread about the xkcd Time comic. There were a lot of haiku in there, and pointing them out encouraged people to write more.

So clocks tell us that
time is inextricably
linked somehow to change.

Now, more than ever,
we have to face up to our
ignorance of time.

If time’s arrow is
not in the laws of physics,
where does it come from?

Why do human brains
only remember the past
and not the future?

WE ALL, regardless
of our cultural background,
experience time.

Traditionally they
have lived by small-scale farming,
hunting and fishing.

Nonetheless, we could
do some interesting things with
our own time machine.

On the subject of time, I’d better hurry up and go out. Tune in next week for New Scientist’s unintentional haiku on the self, sleep, and death.

 

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Five of Diamonds: Immortal


Astronaut Bruce McCandless floating in space without a tether. At least this guy has a spacesuit and a planet.

The first few hundred years were okay. I had a lot of thrilling death-defying adventures. I lived the dream.

I got used to my loved ones dying, and got better at meeting new ones, and better at being by myself. Not a problem; before the accident, I’d stayed eight years at a lab full of one- and two-year contractors and students. I stayed there for a while afterwards too, but it seemed silly to chip away at the minutiae when I’d seen how huge and incomprehensible the whole thing was. Even with the amount of time I had, I knew I could never get my head around it.

In any case, the universe would stick around for a while. I wanted to study the things that wouldn’t. I don’t think I realised back then just how little time I had to do that. I always felt like there were so many more people to meet, so much more alone time to savour, so much more to learn, so many more ideas to realise than I had time to, but somewhere in the back of my mind I assumed I could get back to them later. Oh, if only I could.

I travelled the world while there were still means to do so, tried the foods when I could pay for them, smelled the flowers when I found any, learnt the languages, met the people while there still were some. Had a few wives. A few husbands. A few children. Thirty-three thousand, nine hundred and eighty-three known descendants, before I lost count. They all died, of course. I had my alone time to savour.

One by one, then ten by ten, species went extinct. We got used to it. People are good enough at ignoring things as long as they’re still comfortable. Eventually things were stretched too far to be comfortable. After the human race died out, when there was not much left bigger than bacteria, I went through a moody phase. For a millennium I’d be content just wandering around admiring the landscape, watching erosion create interesting patterns. Then I’d occupy myself by carving my own intricately-shaped rivers by hand and swimming back and forth along them. I learnt to shape them in such a way that oxbow lakes would form naturally to complete my designs. Next thing I knew, I’d be in a ten-thousand-year blue period, craving someone to hold, barely noticing as the mountains grew. Those lifelong romances seemed so short.

Sometimes the despair would give way to industriousness. I tried to work out a chemistry that would allow complex life to thrive in the changed environment. I tried to evolve something from lichen using as sole selection criterion ‘something I can talk to.’ Later I changed the goal to something I could enjoy eating. This was rather more successful, maybe because millennia of hunger had made me less picky. Every so often, I’d find little niches where life had figured out how to adapt in ways more ingenious than I’d come up with. I’d sit and watch them for generations upon generations, but nothing complex enough to be worth watching was ever as successful as before.

Time always seems so much shorter when it’s behind you, but in my case, things really did happen more quickly back then. Two-year contracts, 80-year relationships, ten-thousand-year bad moods, million-year species. When finally something interesting happened, it seemed sudden even though by mortal standards it took a long time. I still remember watching the sun expand and redden like it was yesterday, and I suppose it was yesterday, for I wouldn’t define days by that pitiful white dwarf I ended up with.

Boy was it hot when the Sun expanded to near Earth’s orbit. I’d been injured plenty of times, many times enough to kill anyone else, and it hurt a lot. If I was having a bad aeon, there were times when I jumped off cliffs or into volcanoes every day in the hope of dying. But the first time I felt the corona of a red giant, I really thought that was the end. A nanosecond of it was worse than all the pain I’d experienced until then. I did not know why my nerves could even feel pain at such magnitude. I just closed my eyes and waited for death to come. I waited what could have been thousands of years, not like the thousands of therapeutically-dull years of river carving, but thousands of slow, slow years in which I felt every moment.

And then… then it was over, but it still felt like a long time looking back. It took me a while to recover emotionally, and the blood-freezing cold didn’t help. The Earth wasn’t engulfed by the Sun, but just continued orbiting the cool, withdrawn white dwarf. The atmosphere and liquids were lost to space. I didn’t miss breathing as much as I missed eating and speaking; the urge to breathe comes more from the buildup of carbon dioxide than from the lack of oxygen, and I had none of that. There wasn’t any life I could see, but from what I’d already seen, I was sure some had survived somewhere under the surface. Sometimes I’d dig down and have imagined conversations with bacteria I couldn’t detect.

The next life-changing event came when the Earth was knocked out of its orbit. A few chunks came off it, and I had less gravity and some fragments to look at in the sky for a while. I took to jumping around the world, pretending to fly. A couple of destructive meteorites later and I accidentally reached escape velocity. Goodbye, cool world.

There was no such thing as a year for me after that, but it may as well have been ten billion years ago. I haven’t come close to any planets since. I’ve passed through a few stars, and I can tell you it doesn’t get any easier. Spent some time squished inside a black hole waiting for the Hawking radiation to free me. I took little comfort in knowing it was quicker for me than for anything on the outside.

Between stars, with no air or plasma rushing past my skin, no sound, almost no light to prove my fantasies wrong, I could construct worlds in my head that felt more real than anything else. I’d forget I was lost in outer space with nothing to look forward to but that moment of beautiful views and relief from cold that preceded an epoch of burning inside a star.

A frequent dream is that of finding the genie again, the god, that creature I had conversed with through that little tear we’d made in spacetime. Back in the old days, even before feeling the hellfire of a red giant Sun, I used to wish I’d asked to be impervious to pain as well as immortal, but now my only wish is mortality. And once again, I feel like time’s running out. The universe is expanding away from me. If I don’t find a way to summon the genie before the last matter retreats over the de Sitter horizon, I will be stuck with nothing but the taste of my mouth and the feeling of my cold, hungry body, for infinitely more time than I had anything else.

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