Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dark Energy

            I recently listened to a TED Talk podcast to distract myself while exercising at the gym. A physicist was talking about how time is an illusion, a construct we use to make sure that everything doesn’t happen at once. And just as there is no up or down in space, there is also no past or future beyond what we invent so that we don’t overcook our boiled eggs. Got that? (The same podcast also explained how there is no present either, for there is a moving line between past and future, but that line has no dimension. OK?)

            The physicist went on to discuss “dark energy” and “entropy.” I didn’t pay sufficient attention to what he said because I was out of breath, but I went home to do my usual light research on the internet. I learned that dark energy is an unknown form of energy posited in the 1990s when we learned that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. Dark energy causes, physicists theorize, this accelerating expansion. Otherwise, dark energy is as undetectable as Trump’s _____ [fill in our own word here].

            Entropy, in one of the few explanations that I could understand, “usually refers to the idea that everything in the universe eventually moves from order to disorder.” Entropy is the measurement of that change.

            To summarize: The universe is flying apart in an inevitable staggering march into chaos. I recall the explanation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics by a physics prof at Amherst: “You can’t kick shit up a cow’s ass and expect it to spit hay.”

            I explained all this the best I could to Kim, and she countered that it is her job – all of our jobs – to exert her energy to create an orderly and harmonious world. She is good at getting her ducks in a row (Where did that expression come from?), and she helps me with my ducks as well. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, for Kim, is more of an unwelcome suggestion than a law.

            Though dark energy was first postulated in the 1990s, we see evidence of it at work in this prophetic 1919 poem by William Butler Yeats:

The Second Coming 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity. 

Surely some revelation is at hand; 
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi 
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep 
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? 

            So, what are we to do?

            I would suggest that we start with Kim’s approach. It’s difficult, under the circumstances, not to see the “rough beast” as her cancer pushing toward disorder, which mirrors what we see in the news every day. Her response is to create beauty – in the cottage we are building, in the meals she presents to me, in the sunrises she shows me. The creation and discovery of beauty, even when it includes elements of wildness and decay, is a way to combat entropy, and to counter dark energy with affirmation. We do what we can. This morning we cleaned grease off of a lighting fixture over the stove, pushing back against entropy and dark energy.

            For my part, I will fight my entropic decline by going to the gym, taking daily walks with Kim, maintaining friendships, voting wisely, and posting blog entries every Thursday.

            Yeats got one thing wrong: the best do not lack all conviction.

Charmaine Stangl responded:
I like Kim's response to the Second Law of Thermodynamics a lot.  I prefer to act/live as if there's something i can do about it.  Even if I can't stop entropy i like to think i can make the trip to disorder as enjoyable as possible.  And I also like her ideas about the contribution of beauty to the journey -- creating it, discovering it, noticing it.  As Mary Oliver said, "Instructions for living a life. Pay attention.  Be astonished.  Tell about it."  AND I like your steps such as walking, writing, voting... .  These things contribute to giving us a sense of purpose.  As another admirable writer, William James said, "Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does."  I believe this about as much as i believe anything.  Hence,  I teach my poetry class every October and April, read to second graders every Friday, cook good food, spend money to have trees pruned, cook with grandchildren and whatever else the day calls for. 


  1. I totally agree with Kim's philosophy,especially in this crazy political world of ours. I think we have to find harmony and some kind of order in our personal lives to combat the chaos that exists outside of us. There is still a great deal of harmony and beauty in the world. It's not so obvious to many people.

  2. You seem to have known the art of maintaining wits and deliver your ideas. Do share more stuff that might help people maintain "The Flow" ;)