Friday, March 25, 2016

Math for Writers

I've been reading about galaxies today (because why not?) and naturally I sought out something that could whittle down a complex astronomical event into a few paragraphs: Wikipedia. I eventually ended up at the page for "Interacting galaxy" which describes what colliding galaxies are:

Colliding galaxies are common in galaxy evolution.[2] Due to the extremely tenuous distribution of matter in galaxies, these are not collisions in the normal sense of the word, but rather gravitational interaction. Colliding may lead to merging. This occurs when two galaxies collide and do not have enough momentum to continue traveling after the collision. Instead, they fall back into each other and eventually merge after many passes through each other, forming one galaxy. If one of the colliding galaxies is much larger than the other, it will remain largely intact after the merger; that is, the larger galaxy will look much the same while the smaller galaxy will be stripped apart and become part of the larger galaxy.

Because I am utterly incapable of reading about science or math without ascribing some kind of poetry, symbolism or meaning to it, I read galaxy collision as a beautiful, raging love story.  It's why the only class I ever failed in my entire life was Introduction to Astronomy. And man, did I fail that shit. Failed it with the speed and spectacle of a comet (the trajectory of which I cannot calculate). I mean sure, it was my first semester, freshman year, my first roommate was spending several nights a week hand jobbing her way through missing her boyfriend back home, and the class was Friday mornings at 9 a.m. but the main reason there is a huge F that sits atop my undergraduate transcript is that I couldn't learn about stars and their dominion without putting it all into stanzas or making it romantic.

I remember one winter, taking a road trip upstate with my friend Bridgit and one of her friends, a math genius who, at the time, was being recruited by the FBI to break codes. I was falling in and out of sleep in the backseat when I heard them discussing a math theory and, it could have been my half dream like state, but I swear it sounded like they were talking in verse. I obviously don't remember the details of the theory or the specifics of what they were saying but I have a clear memory of closing my eyes and picturing a crystalline landscape covered in cracked ice with a black, starless sky suspended just above it. Each time the math guy talked about another facet of whatever theory he was explaining, another part of the landscape would appear in the distance until I had a complete picture in my mind of some other planet in some other universe. I didn't learn a damn thing about math, though.

I always wished for a course of study called "Math for Writers" or "The Poetry of Science" or something along those lines. But I suppose there is no way to learn math or science through metaphor; I always (probably correctly) assumed that I just don't get it. I still think it would be fascinating. Or maybe just loopy. 

In keeping with understanding the universe through metaphor, here's a subcategory inspired by the same Wikipedia article that describes galactic collision: Understanding  Modern Love Through Astronomical Metaphor:

Galactic collisions are now frequently simulated on computers, which take into account realistic physics principles including the simulation of gravitational forces, gas dissipation phenomena, star formation and feedback.

Tell me that doesn't sound like online dating to you! I defy you!

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