Saturday, May 27, 2006

A scientific explanation about how I feel

I was surprised... of course it was a pleasant surprise; when my favourite poem made it to the WriteClique Top 10.

"When the wind blows" was written on a cold, cloudy and lonely day in Kandy. It was a time when I had much to look forward to and much that I had to leave behind. But what makes this special was the fact that it did not start off like any other poem. It actually started off as an equation on a torn piece of paper... an equation that I tried to solve by referring my physics books about "ideal gas law" and later even "quantum theory"!!! As a gust of wind swept past me, I was trying to calculate how many of those air molecules that brushed against me and I breathed in would actually have brushed against and have been breathed in by an 'angelic figure' that lived a few miles away and occupied my thoughts day and night...

We are ourselves made up of a countless number of atoms that make up complex molecules. We are also surrounded by so many molecules and atoms that the actual numbers border the outer limits of human imagination. Each glass of water that we drink – at least mathematically – should contain thousands of water molecules that have passed through the body of Jesus over 2000 years ago and each second, we are bombarded with perhaps millions of the very air molecules that would have bombarded the skin and lung tissues of our first ancestors, the dinosaurs and sabre toothed tigers. Some of those molecules would have also been breathed in by a most wanted terrorist leader only a couple of days ago!

From a scientific perspective, it should be possible to calculate the probability that a Nitrogen molecule that hits your skin at a given moment could have touched the skin of any living person or historical figure, but this involves many variables – the values of which cannot yet be accurately determined. For example; for two people standing close together, the probability of one air molecule hitting both persons within a time frame should be higher than if they were miles apart right? According to classical physics this should be the case but according to quantum theory, the distance between the two people may not even matter. In the same way, for simple calculations, one has to assume that all the air in the atmosphere is evenly mixed – or at least that all the air gets evenly mixed within – say for example – a thousand years. Still there is no way of finding out for sure how long it takes for the air in the atmosphere to mix evenly – and whether all the air molecules that you breathed in today would not be swept away to the north by monsoon winds and remain in the northern hemisphere for the next 200 years; in which case an air molecule that touched you would not touch someone in Australia until two centuries have passed! In that case, a person in the north may have a higher probability than a person in the south; of encountering an air-molecule that you have breathed.

The problem is further compounded by the different elements and their unique properties. Most of the oxygen molecules you breathed in last year may no longer exist as oxygen molecules. Their atoms would have split and joined up with other elements to form different molecules. Some of those atoms could be attached to two more hydrogen atoms and turned into water which could be in the air as water vapour – or flowing in a river or frozen on a mountain ice-cap or a glacier or most likely in the sea. The carbon from the carbon dioxide molecules that you breathed out last year are likely to be deposited in trees as carbohydrates or proteins making up the tree’s leaves, bark or fruits. The nitrogen molecules are the most likely to be around as they were – even though some of them would surely have been transformed into nitrates under the intense heat of a lightening strike and dissolved with the rain. There would have been molecules of other gasses that you would have breathed that are still around, but they would constitute only a small fraction.

Even though scientific investigation has uncovered some of the secrets of nature, we do not yet know the exact numbers and we are not sure of the exact quantities and the rate of these changes to be able to make our calculations with precision. Quantum mechanics shed new light on this problem yet it also compounds the solution by many degrees simply because our understanding of the universe is barely enough to even scratch the face of its most glorious secrets.

Yet the mind continues to probe into these countless mysteries and venture beyond imagination into the limits of time and space as the heart revels in its mystery and tries only to grasp what it deems to be meaningful. Would I bother with these calculations if not for the fact that I found meaning in its solution; beyond its mere numbers? Would I have cared to even think about it if I had not been so hopelessly infatuated?

Science opens up new and wonderful spectrum of thoughts about life itself, but the equations of life are more complex than those in a physics or chemistry book. The scientific method leads us in exploring the world around us and perhaps even the world within, yet exploration does not guarantee answers – but an experience and a better understanding. Each dawning day present more challenges than the bounds of the most intricate science book and science is yet unable to explain or define the beauty of the view from a mountain top. Though the logic and reason of scientific investigation engage our minds, it cannot subdue the heart – which breaks free from its binds and roams in creative imagination. Knowledge empowers us and enlightens the dull mind, but knowledge is made meaningful and beautiful only in its artistic expression through the mysteries of our hearts.

Even though the poem I wrote on that gloomy day has since become my personal favourite, I have still not solved the equation. I believe I am making progress but the solution itself will not matter.

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