Amy Catanzano

quantum poetics

All origin stories are Newtonian, Part 1 of 2

From The Secret Books: Writings by Jorge Luis Borges, Photographs by Sean Kernan
From The Secret Books: Writings by Jorge Luis Borges, Photographs by Sean Kernan. Courtesy of Matthew Baird.

One of my first encounters with poetry that overtly addressed theoretical physics and cosmology was Frederick Seidel’s book, The Cosmos Poems (FSG, 2000), which I read, without any knowledge about the author, as soon as it was published. This would have been a year after I graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, when I was teaching innumerable sections of freshman composition and a literature course in fiction. In my copy of The Cosmos Poems, the corner of the page of the poem, “Who the Universe Is,” is turned down, and I drew a small star on the corner. Or is that an x?

R.U. Sirius

The dog door to the observatory projecting a live-feed of Sirius
The dog door on the observatory projecting a live-feed of the dog star Sirius from a telescope mounted on the roof of The Franklin Institute. From Demetrius Oliver's installation, Canicular, at The Print Center in Philadelphia.

It is not every day that after your science-informed literary reading, you, the other writers who read science-informed work, and the audience for the event climb through a dog door into a small, astronomical observatory that was constructed in the art gallery where the reading took place to see a live-feed projection of the dog star Sirius — the brightest star in the night sky and so nicknamed due to its containment in the constellation, Canis Major — from a telescope mounted on the roof of a nearby science education center.

"The binary is only a metaphor"—SS Prasad

The snail's shell is a spiral, a repeating pattern in the natural world
The snail's shell is a spiral, a repeating pattern in the natural world

I began this commentary by writing about poetry and quantum supercomputers as well as the failure of Western science from before Democritus to the present day in perpetuating the belief in elementary particles, spanning from the atom as the central concept of materialism in Greek philosophy to the open and closed strings in contemporary string theory. (More on this later.)

Symbolic multiplication

Image I made using Alfred Jarry's equation for the "surface of god"
Image I made using Alfred Jarry's equation for the "surface of god" and NASA's latest picture of the known universe

I have often thought of Werner Heisenberg’s interpretation of quantum mechanics as the most conceptually radical of the breakthroughs in theoretical physics to emerge in the last and current century, in part, due to its claim that physical reality cannot be observed. This claim challenged Isaac Newton’s classical mechanics and the scientific method, which assumed that physical reality can be observed and tested and that principles of nature can be determined.