Today's Fresh Story is the final installment of the Asymptote chapter. Doing a Ctrl+F search, I just realized that, not only is this the only part of the story where I actually use the word Asymptote, but I only actually use the word one time. I might need to change the title of the chapter for the final manuscript. Feel free to suggest an alternate chapter title or leave any other feedback in the comments section.
Also - I'm super pumped to be hosting my first guest writer next week! For next Friday's Fresh Story, we'll be featuring (2) pieces by The Fly Fishing Poet himself, Dean K Miller! There will also be several giveaways for people that leave comments so make sure to tune in next week and leave some feedback so you can get your free stuff.
Anyway, that's all. Well, there is one other announcement, but you'll have to subscribe to my newsletter to hear about that one. Or just wait until next week.
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Asymptote (part 5)
‘Anyway,’ Amanda said, as she shook off the conversation.
‘Anyway, right, so, yeah, we had classical mechanics and that was great and we thrived with this new knowledge. These new truths. It wasn’t until the early twentieth century that this didn’t tell the whole story. It wasn’t until then that we learned that Newtonian physics, like religion, was just another temporary truth.’
‘Wait,’ she said, with an exaggerated look of concern on her face, ‘you mean Newton was wrong?’
‘Well, okay,’ I raised up my eyebrows and looked up and to the right. We’d exited through the other side of the building and were now walking behind a restaurant with a harbor-view dining area. The kitchen exhaust was pumping out through a vent in the back of the building in a continuous, steamy plume that smelled like fryer grease. ‘It’s not that he was wrong, per se. For the most part, Newtonian mechanics can get you pretty far. It’s just, when you start to talk about things that are either really, really small or moving really, really fast, you start to realize that classical mechanics is really just a statistical approximation.’
‘Yep,’ if you really want to explain the motion of an object, you can’t do it without quantum mechanics or relativistic physics. Everything else is just an approximation. So, in a sense, these are our current truths about the universe. And, like religion, and Newtonian mechanics, I expect that these seemingly-indefinite truths will eventually be supplanted by an even greater truth; one that will make even quantum mechanics and relativity simple approximations.’
Amanda had a classic look of well what do you know on her face. ‘Hm,’ she grunted.
‘But, the thing about quantum mechanics and relativity is that they couldn’t have existed without Newtonian mechanics. Classical mechanics provided the underpinnings and the infrastructure needed in order for us to be able to ultimately move beyond it. And that’s the thing. That’s the crux of the idea of temporary truths; it’s that they’re necessary. Just like we couldn’t have discovered relativity without the language of calculus and classical mechanics, I believe that you could make the same argument for not being able to discover classical mechanics, or even the scientific method, without the societal infrastructure and civil stability that was the result of thousands of years of religious influence. So, in a way, to speak of any idea of The Truth, or The Ultimate Truth, is incorrect. All truths are temporary. We are destined to go down in history as being, at best, almost right. And that’s okay. The only thing that’s not okay, the only thing that fucks up this whole idea of temporary truths is when people cling on to these expired truths. Truths that have been supplanted by greater ones.’
‘Right. Like religion.’
‘Exactly like religion! There was a time in our past when God was just as valid and just as real of a truth as relativity is today. But, as is the fate of all truths, this truth was supplanted by an even greater truth, and now we need to let it go.’
‘So you don’t think that there’s an ultimate truth out there somewhere? Like one great truth that we’re working towards?’
‘I don’t know. I have my doubts, let’s just put it that way. I mean, I think that it is feasible that there is, indeed, some ultimate truth to things, but I don’t know if mankind will exist long enough to discover it. Actually, more accurately, I guess I should say that I think that we’ll get to a point where it doesn’t really matter. I mean, like, going back to classical mechanics, if you compare that to quantum mechanics, classical mechanics is the big picture of the thing; the grand idea. Whereas quantum mechanics is the fine-tuning and focusing of it. The systems that you study in quantum mechanics are on the order of electrons and atoms and the concepts and ideas are inherently abstract. But, if you study these atoms and you know the ways in which they operate then you can predict their movements or their reactions to stimuli. Then, if you put two of these atoms together, you can predict how the pair will move and interact. Then three, then four, and so on and so on, until you are accurately, and thoroughly predicting the motions and interactions of ten-to-the-twenty-three atoms at a time, at which point you are describing the state of a physical, tangible system. Right?’
‘So, if you’re describing a physical system, one big enough that it can be touched, and held and observed with the naked eye, and one that isn’t moving close to the speed of light, then you’re pretty safe to use classical mechanics to describe it’s motion and just account for a small plus-or-minus error. Because, the alternative would be to describe the motions of ten-to-the-twenty-three atoms moving and acting in an aggregate unit, which no one really wants to do. So, my point is, while quantum mechanics is technically a greater truth than classical mechanics, it’s so abstract that it is of little real use to most of us. Likewise with relativistic physics, most of the things that we work with from day to day don’t move anywhere close to the speed of light, so we can safely ignore relativity. I mean, just consider what’s after quantum mechanics. Look at string theory.’
‘Yeah,’ Amanda said as she furrowed her brow, ‘what is string theory anyway?’
‘Well,’ I said, as I exhaled quickly through my nose, ‘I only really have a very superficial, and certainly inaccurate understanding of string theory. But, from what I gather, it’s basically this idea that everything, every particle, every subatomic particle, electrons, photons, all of it, that everything is made up of these, well, strings, that, like, vibrate in different frequencies and different modes, and along different axes, and, basically, the way in which they vibrate determines fundamental properties of that particle.’
‘Yeah, and it get’s much, much more abstract than that. There’s this whole debate about how many dimensions there are, and along how many different axes these strings vibrate; some people say nine, some people say eleven, some say there are thirteen dimensions. All that’s way over my head,’ I said, as I fanned away the thought from in front of my face. ‘I’m not that kind of a physicist. Anyway, my point is… Wait,’ I said, as I squinted my eyes and look up and to the right, ‘what is my point?’
‘You were talking about truths and ultimate truths and…’
‘Right! Right right right. So my point is, all these truths; religion, science, Newtonian physics, quantum mechanics, all these are temporary. There is a time-component to their truthiness. But, and this is a big but, each advancement we make in truth, each new plateau of truth that we ascend to, is becoming less and less drastic. The truths that we’re seeking out and discovering are becoming more and more refined and abstract and, therefore, having less of an impact on our day-to-day lives. I mean, going from believing that an eclipse or a shooting star was an omen from the gods to being able to understand and chart the rotations of the planets and being able to accurately predict when and where asteroids will come zipping through our atmosphere was a pretty huge leap for us. Understanding that we’re actually seeing the light from the asteroid as it was a few seconds in the past, due to the finite speed of light and our relative distance to the object in motion; eh, well, this doesn’t really affect most of us. Likewise, further understanding the motions of the constituent strings that make up the asteroid and it’s tail; well, this is something that, um, quite frankly, most of us don’t really care about.’
‘So, are you saying that we’ve learned enough? That, like, science is done? That, like, people who are working on string theory, for example, should stop wasting their time?’
‘No, no I don’t think I’m saying that. In fact, just on principle, I don’t want to say that. I think that it’s just a game of diminishing returns. It’s like, yes, there is an ultimate truth out there and, yes, we’re getting closer and closer to discovering what that truth is. But, I think that if you were to plot our trajectory to said ultimate truth; like, if you were to plot the x-axis as time and the y-axis as, like, truthiness, or, like trueness, in arbitrary units, I think that you would see that our approach to this ultimate truth is an asymptotic one. As in, the further we move along the time axis, the closer we’re getting towards it, but we’re doomed to continue getting closer and closer for all eternity without ever actually coming in contact with it. But, the thing with asymptotes is, while we may never actually discover this ultimate truth, we’ll get close enough to it so that it doesn’t really matter. Close enough to feel it and to be warmed by its radiance.’
We’d followed the boardwalk around where it turned into sidewalk and then back into boardwalk. We were on a long, sparsely occupied stretch behind the Halifax Marriot and I could see a group of seagulls listlessly bobbing up and down in the water by the pier up ahead. I thought about how they interpreted time and I wondered if it was that much different than my own thoughts on the subject.