Fractures, fissures, cracks, and imperfections

by Bruce E. Camber

In the 1950s one of the little ditties that I learned as a child was about Humpty-Dumpty.  It was a particularly disconcerting nursery rhyme; it begged many questions especially for our young imaginations:

  • As a young lad:   “An egg that can talk? …it can walk? …it’s masculine? …so, is it dead now?”
  • My little girlfriend:  “What a mess! How sad for all the king’s men.”
  • My logical friend: “I guess he’s real. He’s also in Alice in Wonderland!”
  • Our rules-oriented friend:  “What was he doing up on that wall?”
  • From our sensitive side: “He’s scary looking.”

Every one of those thoughts ran through our hearts and minds at various times as we read about such characters as Humpty-Dumpty,  Old Mother Hubbard and all the most popular rhymes from Mother Goose.  She was a collective soul who provided cover for many fairy tales that were collected and published by Charles Perrault, John Newbery, and Iona Opie.

There is comfort in order. Too much order is confining and we don’t like it being forced on us, but it is OK if it comes from within oneself or if it seems fair and consistent and not arbitrary (especially from parents and school systems).

In the 1950s, Humpty-Dumpty was our introduction to the messy, unpredictable world of quantum mechanics. Little did we know, but our world was a quantum-cosmic egg that fell off the wall of life within a seemingly boundless universe.

We found comfort in learning about things that worked and where whole. 1+2=3  2×2=4  Squares do not go into round holes. Marbles did. There were rules, even within the games we played, and we began to learn them, and follow them.

And then something happened to us. Either we stopped questioning and puzzling everything. Perhaps we all got a little lazy, or we fell in line and got used to being in  queues.  For sure, we stopped asking those silly “Why?” questions:

  • Why does Pi and all the numbers that work with pi never end and never repeat?
  • How can there be order, the circle, and disorder (never-ending, never-repeating) at the same time?
  • Why are there dimensionless constants that are also never-ending and never repeating? Where do such numbers come from and where do they go?
  • Why is infinity so hard to understand?

Perhaps to be continued some day…