31 August 2013

Quarks and Coincidences and Conversations

A Quark is not a noise made by a duck with a quacking impediment. Quarks are elementary particles that are one of the fundamental constituents of Matter. They combine with other particles to make up things called hadrons - some of which are protons and neutrons. This is Physics stuff. It is genius type of mathematical and science material that is way beyond my level of understanding.

I am a simpleton in such matters but I am nevertheless fascinated by it.

I got on the Quark train of thought after receiving an email the other day from my good mate Alex. He is a scientist and he lives now in Sydney in Australia. Alex is an old friend and an ex work colleague of mine. He is of Bulgarian birth I think - but he has spent most of his life in Australia.

I don't think that Alex and his family arrived in Australia as a refugee nor did they arrive in the country on an overcrowded and leaky and dangerous boat. I don't think that Alex and his family were intercepted by the Australian Navy and sent to an offshore Immigration processing centre in a country like Nauru - nor were they were kept as a prisoners by Australian Immigration Authorities in atrocious conditions for years and years.

However I will have to check with him on that.

Two genius-type Physicists named Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig founded the Quark. Zweig was Russian born but he grew up in America and Gell-Mann was born and bred in the USA. I have used the term 'founded' because neither of the genius Physicists discovered or made the Quark - they simply posed theories about it's existence. This was back in the early 1960's - which was around the time of my birth. Zweig and Gell-Mann did not work together in their field and it was somewhat of a coincidence that they were looking for the same thing.

It has been a day of coincidences for me - as I am soon to reveal.

It was Gell-Mann who named the Quark. He came across the word in the writings of the great Irish novelist James Joyce. The word was used in Joyce's book 'Finnegans Wake' - which he wrote in 1939. He wrote:

"Three quarks for Muster Mark".

‘Finnegans Wake’ is a dream-like rambling of mad, brilliant and at times quite inexplicable prose. It is a very different piece of work from his much more famous book "Ulysses".

I have read both books and they are excellent.

I like that Gell-Mann chose to call the Quark the Quark. Many scientists and physicians who have discovered big things named them after themselves. It is my opinion that this is a little vain. The Quark could easily have been called the "Gell-Mann" - which I think has far less resonance.

Gell-Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize for Science in 1969 but it was not for his discovery or naming of the Quark. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on something that is known as the "Eightfold Way" - which from my very un-genius like understanding has something to do with the manner in which other genius scientists are able to classify sub-atomic things. As I have already stated - such matters are way beyond my comprehension. I often repeat myself.

I often repeat myself.

The email that I received from my friend Alex was about Quarks and Black Holes and he sent it to me because he knows that I am interested in such things. The email from Alex was a piece of synchronicity and coincidence that life quite often serves up - for when I was out with friends last night I bumped into Gabriel who is a Swiss Particle Physicist genius who studies Black Holes and something called ‘Dark Matter’.

I have written before about my first encounter with Gabriel in an article I named 'Dark Matter'. 

I separated myself from the friends who I was out with when I bumped into Gabriel, as he is quite shy and introverted. This is I think not uncommon with genius type people but here are of course exceptions. I consider my old friend Alex to be in the genius scientist type category of person but he is not shy or introverted. He is very social and conversant.

I had a quick cup of coffee and a slice of blueberry cheesecake with Gabriel at an outdoor table at a cafe in the Club Street district of Singapore. Whilst we were sipping on our coffees and munching on our cheesecakes I mentioned to Gabriel the Quark email that I had received from my friend Alex. 

Our conversation was briefly interrupted by a drunken intrusion from a whining and miserable Scot I know whose name is Ernie. He staggered up to our table whilst he was on his way to a bar that was up the road from the cafe that Gabriel and I were sitting at and he addressed me in some barely comprehensible Scottish English.

I introduced Ernie to Gabriel and I explained to the Swiss Particle Physicist genius that the drunken Scot Ernie was a gay ex-colleague of mine. Ernie responded with the somewhat slurred comment:

"Ahm noot fookin gay."

"Of course you are Ernie." I responded.

"He is.” I told the bemused looking Swiss Particle Physicist genius. 

I endeavoured to reassure Ernie that there was nothing wrong with being gay and that it was not illegal to be so in Singapore. This is not a falsehood. Being gay is not illegal on the Island however performing homosexual acts are.

This is as true as it is bizarre. 

The sexual preferences of everyone and anyone on the planet are none of anyone else's business and they do not in any way define who they are. I have many gay male and female friends who live all around the world and most of them are in long-standing and very loving and committed relationships. There is much public debate and argument going on at present in my home country on the subject of whether gay couples should or should not be allowed to become legally married.

Of course they should be allowed.

Love is love and harmonic relationships should not be defined by gender or sexual preferences.

Wake up you bigoted fucker politicians.

I only mentioned to Gabriel that the Scottish drunkard was gay because I know that Ernie is homophobic and making such a comment would make him go away. My cunning ploy worked and Ernie staggered and reeled off to his bar leaving Gabriel and I in peace. I have no idea or indeed any interest in whether Ernie is gay or not - his homophobia and Scottish accent simply annoy me.

I told Gabriel about my recent email from my friend Alex and asked whether he thought that the synchronicity and coincidence of me receiving the email and then bumping into him could have anything to do with such things as Space Time continuum or Black Holes or Quarks. The Swiss Particle Physicist genius replied that he didn't know but he thought that they could be.

He told me that anything is possible.

I told Gabriel the Swiss Particle Physicist genius that there was a further coincidence of sorts between bumping into him out-of-the-blue and receiving the email from my friend Alex. I told him that this coincidence was that Alex was also a genius-type scientist but he and his family spent a couple of years living near Switzerland - just over the border in France - and that Alex brother lives in Geneva where he works for the World Wildlife Foundation.

The term 'out-of-the-blue' means unexpectedly - or an event that occurs without any warning. It is an idiom. The earliest citation of the term was from a book titled 'The French Revolution, 1837' - written by the Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle - who scribed:

"Arrestment, sudden really as a bolt out of the Blue, has hit strange victims". 

The fact that Carlyle was a Scottish writer and also seeing the drunken gay Scottish Ernie was another out-of-the-blue and coincidental and synchronistic moment. As with the Alex email and Gabriel encounter it may also be Dark Matter and Black hole and Space Time continuum related.

Or it may not.

Alex and his family moved for a couple of years to a tiny and gorgeous little French village near the medieval town of Annecy. I cannot recall the name of the village but I do know that it was only a little over an hour's drive from Geneva.

I know this because I made the drive to visit Alex there from Geneva.

Alex and his wife Catherine and their three adorable children took a sabbatical just to immerse themselves in French village culture. The children went to the local village school - where only French was spoken - and they are all now fluent in the language. Their mother Catherine was already fluent but Alex tells me that he is barely competent in the language. As well as being a highly social genius scientist, Alex is a most humble individual - so I suspect that he may also actually be fluent in French.

The word ‘fluent’ means ‘to flow’ and the French word for it is ‘courant’.

I thought I would just throw that one in there.

The house in which Alex and his family lived in the little French village that I-can’t-remember-the-name-of was ancient and gorgeous and it was set in the midst of an astonishingly beautiful forest. A little bubbling brook ran behind the rear of the property and I sat in their garden overlooking it for many hours whilst I visited. I sat on the grass terrace listening to the bubbling of the brook and I chatted away to Alex and Catherine and their three children.

I am very fond of all of Alex and Catherine's children but my favorite is their middle child Molly. She is incredibly intelligent and funny and she has a natural gift for languages and she is bubbly and effervescent and she is full of life. Molly has the capacity to be a brilliant Particle Physicist like Gabriel - or indeed an equally brilliant scientist like her father when she grows into adulthood.

Her capacity is boundless and infinite.

Gabriel and I chatted away for an hour or so about a lot of science stuff but we also talked about life in general. We discussed literature and we talked about Climate Change and weather and wars. We also talked about Quarks - and it was from Gabriel that I learned about the Physicists Gell-Mann and Zweig and how the Quark was named.

It was a very pleasant encounter. 

Our conversation and encounter ended because I was tired and I needed to go home to write all of this before I forgot it - and then go to my bed to sleep. Gabriel and I have however committed to get together again soon for more coffee and cheesecake and interesting banter.

It has been a very pleasant and informative evening full of Quarks and coincidences and conversations - and one that I enjoyed very much.

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