AC/DC/US Edison is trying to sell his light. He has put his mark on electricity. He wants to make the history books, he wants to be rich. Tesla, the mad Hungarian, has already left, taking his theories elsewhere, tired of being promised money he never got, tired of having his children stolen. Now Westinghouse is wooing the market with his alternating flux. Edison's current is direct. He is a snake-juice salesman through and through, a hard-assed sonofabitch. To convince them that AC is lethal, a hazard in American homes, he electrocutes several dogs, a horse, and finally, when they still will not believe, still will not pay him, an elephant. The slow, shocked beast stumbles to its knees, never to rise again. But he loses, anyhow. All they will buy is this death for the Rosenbergs, the rapists in the slums.
Brahe at Uraniborg Comets are not breathed out of the earth. I do not know their origin, but I have studied them for years, made calculations, and I will say this much: they are not breathed out of the earth. Aristotle was wrong about a lot of things. There are no crystalline spheres so far as I can tell. Sometimes I think there is nothing solid in the heavens, just a spool of numbers off which the stars unreel. Certainly any fool can tell (any fool who is mad enough to stay up nights for a lifetime and count) the planets do not move in shells about the earth. They come and go, yaw and sweep in a tangled knot of points. The numbers are simplest if they turn around the sun. And the simplest numbers are always best. Thus the planets turn around the sun, and the sun and moon revolve around the earth. This is my theory. It will serve as well as any other. Frederick believes it. He gave me this island. He gave me the best instruments in Europe, the best brass traps for guesses. I gave him a calendar, a day-map guaranteed to hold the seasons in their place for centuries. I promised him: you will not lose one second of the year, your Majesty. Actually it is winter and the nights are sharp. I have not been well. I do not expect to live much longer. I think my greatest discovery has been this: that things move in the darkness, and the numbers that we give to them move in the darkness of our minds, but the law of thoughts is a web that we account for, a crystal sphere to keep us sane, to justify our hungers. I shall not tell the king, but I do not now think the earth stands still.
Galileo Galilei The truth is a strange beast. There are those who think because I balked the church I am an angel. They do not know my curiosity, my pride. They have not counted the hairs that sprout in the beard below my mouth. I lied. For the right reasons and for the wrong reasons. And in any case the truth is a horse to ride and I am too old to ride now. I loved brass. As deep a skin as gold but cheap, and harder. I loved the instruments. But what they discover is what you have already decided shall be there, the externalization of your anger. So they were right. I was as proud as God. And what are facts? The building blocks of theory. The necessary consequence of thought. Some fool in Genoa says he cannot verify my proofs. The idiot! The liar! Does he think truth crawls in the sky? I served my particular system and history will love me for my sins, impale itself upon my ideas of the dark. And then again, I recant, I recant. What does it matter? The Pope is right, God is behind it all. And guards his secret like a mad old man.
Francis Bacon 1561-1626 He rose to high office through the law. He was a public man at the heart of England -- and England the heart of the world, or its strong left arm at least. In 1613 he became Attorney General, Lord Keeper in 1617, Lord Chancellor in '18. In 1621 he was named Viscount St. Albans. He was convicted of bribery and banished from Parliament, superannuated in disgrace, but his head still on his shoulders. 'My aim has been to reinterpret phenomena on rational rather than Aristotelian lines.' He died of a chill caught collecting snow to prove that freezing chickens kept them from decay. See the old man moving out in the snow, his long cloak trailing in the drifts. See him stooping on the hill where no one sees him but us. This is history -- the greatest mind of Europe chewing its beard and laughing at the cold.
Werner Heisenberg is Dead This is the principle of uncertainty -- the structure does not converge exactly at a point: it is impossible to restrict the target in all ways. If you can say where it is, you cannot say how fast it travels. If you know its speed, you do not know its place. The mind hungers for numbers to satisfy it but reality declines -- the process of measuring itself changes every quality we measure, and we are in every frame we shoot, every atom we delineate to justify our fierce mechanics. The world is an illusion, and our dearest myth is our freedom from this flux, our need for facts, for nothingness. The illusion is our blood, our hands, the dance of our nerve-ends in the substance of our dream -- which is history, geography, the wine-dark sea, and will not sleep in the co-ordinates of longing.
An Experiment with an Air Pump The bird in Wright's 'Experiment with an Air Pump' climbs frantically at the glass of its hermetic jar. It cannot hear the music around it as the atmosphere is withdrawn and it is left hanging like a note, like an idea in an empty mind. Science has marooned it, the necessity of knowledge, in a perpetual understatement, a corner of a laboratory where it is forever seen but not heard. 'Death is not really so terrible', it seems to say, as it reaches that ultimate isolation, and all its feathers stretch into delicate frozen ruffs, 'only the absence of words'. And the scientist? -- the scientist turns to the window and reaches for his pen. And reaches, and reaches, but never touches it in that vast, silent world.
Relativity All things are relative: time is a function of place, speed of where you watch from. The mass of an object grows as you force it on till nothing can make it faster, its difficulty infinite. -- Laws for the physical world, beyond what we can grasp with hands and eyes, spun out of numbers and desire but true in other ways, these things, patterns for other frames. All things are relative. And the landscape of our wishes is not absolute, the clocks of our loves irrelevant in other lives. All that we cherish, fear and climb towards, like mountain peaks, is only in our measure, truncated by the speed of light, shifted to red or blue. The voice of certainty is never ours. Opinion, intention and desire are collapsing stars in distant space, and the final statement that they make is one of those impossible events: a white dwarf, a black abyss.
S.F. If the mind is an engine moving in the accident of space, it must have keys that lock its battered drift through centuries of cradles, shuttered tombs, the sea, the shore, houses built on desire and levers, a thousand wounded limbs. This lonely conclusion is his legacy -- a Newton ping-pong game of consequence, absolute within a flame of flesh. What keys, then, if we do not hide? he asked. Out of what engendered all our flash and myth, the tragedy of our mountains, all our words? And answered: the basest things -- the moans and shrieks of speech, the grunt of the animal at rut, the infant mewling in the dark, the voiding of the bowels. But out of these what software grown -- towers of distinction, gardens of the possible, deep caves of dream. He overreached at last, seeking, like all of us, that final love, that final truth, not wanting the endless opening of themes, and made the song a code, the globe he could not grasp a smooth crystal nestled in his hand. An old man, waiting for death, moving pieces upon a board. Knowing time mocks him and no longer sure what womb he sails to, what men, or women want.
John Dee 1527-1608 The princes of the church, the priests, are a bureaucracy interested chiefly in holding onto power. Outside of that there are two kinds of science. -- Ha, you suppose I do not know, take me for some hide-bound mountebank, some back-street abortionist of angels. Well I grant, I look it now. But I corrected the calendar all England used -- with my own calculations, nothing stolen, taught explorers how to track the seas, wrote the preface to the text of Euclid. The Queen asked and the Queen listened to my answers, and the Queen wanted science (or shrewdness). I was not a goddam tea-leaf reader! And I know young Bacon too -- a smart lad. He'll go far. (Likely too far.) Two kinds of science. No one disputes the numbers, the perfect forms, opening and closing like an angel's fists. But what is beneath them? Must everything come from grubbing in the cold embers, or can we speak to the heart of fire itself? Is the world a dream that the dreamer is still dreaming, something we can put our hand through and touch, that responds to the tongue as fire responds to the fiddlebow of language? Does the name hold power over the named? Or are names merely handles, toys for children, the world an endless latitude of junk, that must be learned by inches, ruled by levers? Of course Kelly was a rogue. Do you think I did not know that? I can recognise cropped ears, a sly, insidious tongue. Give me credit! I remember how he stood there that first day, at the door of my house (my house, the Queen's adviser's house, the Queen's trusted councillor of science -- do you know I had one of the best libraries in Europe in that house: truly time's riches in a little room) a great shambling figure, filthy, with a leather cap to hide his mutilation, the ends of his fingers thickened, cracked ... Of course I knew he was a rogue -- but how do we learn unless we accept our own ignorance, unless we allow for foul, pot-bellied grace? I wanted to know. ... I have failed. I may have turned dross to gold, but it has cost me. No one will ever count the knowledge I assembled, the conclusions that I reached, and failed to reach. Most of my books are gone already -- taken by creditors who'll sell them by the pound, use them for door-stops. I weep and history is laughing at me. I am old and cold and poor but worse than that I wagered wrong, chose the wrong party of the courtiers of truth. I am fallen out of favour, my fingers slip from the strings. This is the worst -- because I lost, the agony was for nothing. I staggered forward two paces with a great light in the dark. But the light went out. Write my name in the register of fools.
Halley's Fish The heart leaps like a fish the heart migrates up the same dumb river again and again and again not realizing that the stream is cinched like a sleeve in a tourniquet not realizing that you can bleed but you can't get back. * * * The orbit of comets is elliptical. This is why they come back. But the elliptical orbit is a theory. The darkness is a fact. The comet squats in the night like an oblique stroke. Then it moves to a hairpin round the sun, and out. Perihelion. Darkness. The virtual comet in the spaces between things. The imaginary comet between the fanfares of history. Brass telescopes, printing presses, letters to the King. Stitches of light in the fabric of darkness. The comet orbits the heart, and we cannot hear it falling through the night.
Kepler Mankind is wicked. -- Oh, I know we'd rather not believe it. But I have crossed Europe half a dozen times, seen children starve, and women on the rack, and paupers beaten, thrown out in the snow. And always ordinary men, so many ordinary men. (Kings and churchmen, too, and alehouse keepers -- all of them gripped, ice in their veins.) Mankind is wicked. And the universe is chaos -- a man, guttering in some corner of the map, like a candle forgotten in the dark, never knows what's going to hit him: plague, some strange hooligan, a rock from the sky, a fit of uncontrollable laughter. Chaos. (In human terms, at least -- it has its own kind of order: numbers, unfurling in the dark with no one to watch them but God.) Man makes order (little islands of fragile domestic geometry, libraries of what matters, piles of hearts). Man makes evil. The nail in the eye. I do not know whether we are better when we are making order or when we are exceeding it. Whether to hold on or give in. This is what has shaken me all my life, the fever I am sick with. Do we always finish by making prisons for ourselves? All we can do is build, arrange, own a little space in which to hide. But we always brick the demons in with us. We are the demons. Mother! what did you want me to do? with this magic? these numbers? Did you even know the difference? I remember you showed me the comet, out in the cold that night, bending down to point it out to me. All you really understood was curses, pins in the wax closed in the palm of the hand, the object in the ball of the eye. You must have known they'd get you in the end (dungeons for witches, only the two-edged name my numbers bought between your bones and the fire. Imperial Mathematician. What a joke!) But perhaps you were right: we are left alone and we curse. This is what it comes down to. Watching the stars burn. The tumblers in the lock of the heart fall into place. The planets sing like madmen. We are shut in forever.
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