December 2013

BEWARE!

     A former student of Einstein, living in Florida and working for NASA, once told the Prose Poem that Einstein often carried a baseball bat. After that, the Prose Poem was driving slowly late at night, down a remote dusty dirt road, enjoying the stars, and suddenly Einstein appeared in the car sitting next to him holding a bat.
     “No, I never played baseball,” Einstein quietly remarked, speaking slow English in a German accent, an English he learned while working at Princeton. “Baseball never enjoyed any popularity in Europe in my day, but there was a small sports equipment store on my walk to work at the Patent Office, and one late autumn afternoon I stopped in and bought one.
     I enjoyed the heft and firmness of the bat in my hands, but of course I had no intention of threatening my fellow employees at the office, no matter how much I hated my job. The bat was a way for me to think about the nature of time. At that point in my thinking, I believed that time was controlled by the motion of electrons around atoms. I had this notion that if I swung the bat around my office I could knock plenty of electrons off their atoms and disrupt slightly the flow of time, at least around me.
     During the lunch break, when everyone went out, I often set cheap clocks along the edge of my desk and smashed them one at a time with the baseball bat. You see, Prose Poem, I hated those clocks and their slow motion toward death. We were trapped inside the clock’s absolute notion of time and no one seemed to be able to do anything about it.
     Frankly, I wanted to dance around death, so I had to come up with a new notion of time. Eventually I did that. No doubt you’ve read my book on relativity, but I did not devise an understanding of time that allows us to break inside it to provide greater freedom. That’s the trouble with science. It often inexorably leads you to conclusions that you don’t want and don’t wish to use. Am I happy that my work led to the atomic bomb? No. Never! And we are still in the noose of time. We are surrounded and squeezed in the elastic rubber of space-time. It is a dynamic prison, but a prison nevertheless.
     Our only hope,” Einstein continued, “is to get out of this universe, perhaps through a passageway deep in a dark hole, into an entirely different universe that works by different laws of physics.
     That’s why I choose to make my appearance and ride with you, Prose Poem. Sadly, mathematics has reached its end. It has become obsessed with trivialities and can take us no further. What’s his name—Stephen Hawkins—he does not go forward in his researches. He is a nostalgist. Hawkins stares into deep space and takes us billions of light years backwards.”
     Einstein stopped speaking for a moment, and looked out the Prose Poem’s car window at the bright and distant stars. The Prose Poem was too shaken at this moment to say anything back.
     Einstein continued: “Only the imagination, built into this new form of poetry called the prose poem, has any hope of leading us forward in new directions. I am hoping that your flights of fancy can lead us toward a new understanding of time that will allow us to break on through to another side.”
     The great physicist then tipped his hat and vanished, but he left behind his old, German made baseball bat. When the Prose Poem reached home and got out of his Volvo, he hefted the bat while standing in his front yard. He stared up at the stars a long time.
     “I am working on you, time,” he said. “Beware.”

—Chuck Taylor

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