Friday, 29 October 2010

Theory and Practice

When Arthur realised he could experimentally prove or disprove
Albert's theory (that space-time is bent by the gravitational field of objects that lie within it)
by photographing (during an eclipse)
the light from a distant star as it bends round the sun,
he set off to Príncipe – an island off the coast of Africa,
to take the pictures.

Then he compared the same part of the night sky
when the sun was not there.

The greatest experimental physicist of his day
proving the theory of the greatest theoretician.

Practice and theory,
coming perfectly together.

So: that she
wants to get married in a balloon,
although I am terrified of heights,
makes complete sense to me.

After all it is closer to the stars
from which the key ingredients of our viability came
and from which comes most of the energy on our thin planet.

When 14 billion years ago the universe started,
it was either because there wasn't anything better to do,
or because it couldn’t help it,
or for some other reason or absence of reason.

But now 14 billion years later
her and me are up in a balloon,
the fat pair of us, a couple of random lives,
considering whether to promise to love each other until death.

I would love her until death anyway,
but previously you only had my word for that, whereas up here in the balloon,
you also have the evidence that I face my greatest fears
(that massive objects really do bend space-time),
in order to prove or disprove the theory of our love.

The light of a star,
the heat of a burner,
the weight of a sun,
the strength of a basket,
the shadow of a moon,
theory and practice,
Arthur and Albert,
her and me.

At the turning point where the light from a distant star,
passes around the sun,
there is a moment of complete stillness
where all these things hang in balance,
waiting to be proved or disproved,
while light decides whether to go along with General Relativity,
or stick to Newtonian Mechanics.

But just maybe,
once in a lifetime,
if you are very, very lucky,
and you just happen to be on an African island that lies under the moon’s shadow,
the universe will conspire in your favour,
space-time will decide that she does like being curved after-all,
and she will say “I do”.

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