Some Thoughts about the Ocean and the Universe
By Maria Popova
In many ancient creation myths, everything was born of a great cosmic ocean with no beginning and no end, lapping matter and spirit into life. In the cosmogony of classical physics, a partial differential equation known as the wave equation describes how water waves ripple the ocean, how seismic waves ripple rock, how gravitational waves ripple the fabric of spacetime. In quantum physics, a probability amplitude known as the wave function describes the behavior and properties of particles at the quantum scale. Virginia Woolf described the relationship between consciousness and creativity as “a wave in the mind.”
Waves lap at the bedrock of being, beyond the scale of atoms, beyond the scale of stars, to wash up something elemental about what this is and what we are.
This dialogue between the elemental and the existential comes alive in a splendid poem by the astronomer and poet Rebecca Elson (January 2, 1960–May 19, 1999), composed as she was dying in the prime of life, included in her superb posthumous collection A Responsibility to Awe (public library), and read here by Amanda Palmer to the sound of “Optimist” by Zoë Keating:
SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THE OCEAN AND THE UNIVERSE
by Rebecca Elson
If the ocean is like the universe
Then waves are stars.
If space is like the ocean,
Then matter is the waves,
Dictating the rise and fall
Of floating things.
If being is like ocean
We are waves,
Swelling, traveling, breaking
On some shore.
If ocean is like universe then waves
Are the dark wells of gravity
Where stars will grow.
All waves run shorewards
But there is no centre to the ocean
Where they all arise.
Couple with Rachel Carson on the ocean and the meaning of life, then revisit Elson’s poems “Antidotes to Fear of Death,” “Theories of Everything,” “Explaining Relativity,” and “Let There Always Be Light (Searching for Dark Matter).”
Published May 27, 2023