Extreme physics as dada art – really!

It seems to me that by our everyday standards, hyper-extreme physics of the Einstein variety is magic – abstract, nonsensical and absurd. To me it’s like dada art. And that also isn’t surprising, conceptually.

Albert Einstein lecturing in 1921 – after he’d published both the Special and General Theories of Relativity. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Setting aside the fact that both dada and Einstein came from Switzerland, the turn of the twentieth century brought the great age of the abstract and the absurd in the western arts, an era of abstruse and anti-realist thinking in general. It was an era of thinking differently by older standards. The way western thinkers explored physics was inevitably going to be influenced by the diaspora – conceptually framing the nature of the revolution in physics that was going on at the time.

Extreme physics as dada? Sure. Most of the deeper insights into physics aren’t first devised mathematically: they come from personal inspiration and have to be reverse-engineered to get the mathematical proofs. Pretty much like art. What’s more, the kind of thinking that goes into imagining those basic concepts has to be deliberately abstract – especially of late, because reality at the extreme edges of our curved and indeterminate universe is so different from the everyday world we live in.

That is what I am ultimately exploring with my short book Explaining Our Weird Universe: it’s a high-level look at relativity, black holes and quantum magic, but really it’s about ways of thinking – ways of looking at the world. It’s how physicists have had to think differently, not in the sense of a marketing slogan, but for real. It’s a concept I’ve tried to convey through the nature of the essays and the structure of the writing which, by design, deliberately follows a kind of dada-ist shape. It is a way, I hope, of conveying an insight into the off-the-wall jumps that lead physicists to their ideas. That understanding always amazes me, because the reality is so different from the ‘intuitive’ everyday world – begging questions about just how such ideas could even have been conceived.

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All going well, it’ll be followed by other short volumes detailing all sorts of geeky stuff in more detail, everything from Big Bang Theory to interesting discoveries about dark matter.

And it’s available right now on Amazon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016