Monday, June 13, 2005

Ode to a p-brane

In his "Defense of Poetry," Percy Bysshe Shelley contended that it is the task of the artist to "absorb the new knowledge of the sciences and assimilate it to human needs, color it with human passions, transform it into the blood and bone of human nature."

I have just finished reading Brian Greene's newest book, The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality, a long and engaging exposition of the new cosmology -- superstrings, quantum chromodynamics, vacuum field fluctuations, entanglement, brane worlds, that sort of thing. Greene deserves his reputation as a popularizer of far-out science, but what we are really waiting for are the poets and artists who will (can?) transform this stuff into blood and bone.

The quantum-grtavity cosmologists are no less tenuously connected to ordinary reality than the medieval theologians who supposedly argued about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but at least the theologians abstractions took human form. One can imagine warming to an angel -- just think of those sexy enclosing wings -- but a Higgs boson or -- gasp! -- an M-theory Dirichlet-p-brane -- it will take more than Percy Bysshe Shelley to make those things warm our hearts.