Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Help I'm Stuck: How can science help?

Once in a while, I see an article in the NYT science section or in a NASA Science Newsletter that completely amazes me. And the science may be in micro form or macro, from things seen only through an electron microscope to things seen only with radio telescopes and computers or the Hubble Telescope. 


Pictures like this one of horses in the caves at Lascaux and Altamira were studied by scientists who were curious about their coloring, of all things. They discovered from studying genetic material gathered from uncovered remains of horses living at the time of the cave paintings, that they share color genes with today's horses. Those genes account for the coloring of the horses in the paintings. I found this amazing, but was prompted to speculate further about those genes and what they could tell us about life and what they probably can't. That produced a poem about an appaloosa colt, the product of my memory of seeing colts frolicking in pastures and meadows in Colorado.

Spotted Horses

Scientists studying DNA to discover the colors of horses 
painted on cave walls 25 to 30 thousand years ago found 
that " ... there were really only these three color patterns 
— spotted or dappled; blackish ones; and brown ones ...."

The leggy Appaloosa colt first walks
then trots a lazy path around his dam.
He gallops off through tawny prairie grass
and finally finishes his head-long charge
to nuzzle lovingly his mother’s face.
They're two white horses kissed with leopard spots
who seem like mirror images or else
that they have floated off the walls of caves
in France to drop into this sun blessed field.

The scientists who study DNA
have found those leopard spots have been around
for thirty thousand years; they've found a gene
that inks those spots. Do you suppose they'll find
that pony's genes for spirit, grace, and joy?

Published in Golden Words, 2012.

That's the micro end of the spectrum. At the macro end, I saw an article in the NASA Science News that featured a discovery made using the Hubble Telescope. The article said that scientists wondered what might be in a tiny black space that apparently held no stars at the edge of the universe. The article said the hole was about the size of a grain of sand held out at arms length. Their discovery was mind blowing to me, and I thought about it for a while and wrote this poem. I included details from the article.

To See A World In A Grain Of Sand

A small dark hole at the edge of space
no bigger than a grain of sand held out
at arms length. Curious scientists point
the Hubble telescope and let it watch
that dark for ten days, then for eleven.
It searches thirteen billion light years out
and finds that the darkness, that grain
of sand, holds three thousand galaxies,
each with hundreds of billions of stars
like our Milky Way. The human mind
cannot begin to grasp the magnitude 
of that discovery. How then to grasp
the wonder of the God who flung 
those galaxies and stars for us to find?

Published in The Weekly Avocet, January 2014

So now, when I'm stuck, I often look to articles about science to help get me unstuck. Some of these discoveries are so philosophically challenging or completely mind blowing that they take me for a ride back in time to Lascaux or the creation of the universe and cause wonder and joy. The neat piece for me is that the human mind can use these scientific discoveries as jumping off points to reach out further into the philosophic and poetic universes to create more magic.