Quantum Mechanics

1.

The First Law of Thermodynamics, also known as the Law of Conservation of Energy, states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another.

The light filters through the window earlier each day. Mornings are cold but spring is here and it hasn’t been a bad winter. Not like last year when we lit a fire every evening and the cat melted in front of it, becoming liquid. There has been little rain and very few frosts. The ground is hard. Dry. Bushfire season will be dangerous, according to the news.

I stand at the kitchen counter and pop a coffee pod into the Nespresso, slide my Tinker Bell mug under the spout and wait for the thick, black liquid to pour from the nozzle. Outside, the daffodils stand tall declaring winter is at its end. Buds are sprouting on the bare trees and some of the magnolias have dared to bloom. A kookaburra laughs in the gum tree at the front of the house. The whir of the machine stops and the pod clunk-clunks down into the receptacle, breaking my reverie on the garden. I grab my coffee and sit down at the table with my computer. It’s been months since I’ve written, months since I’ve thought about writing.

Years ago I blogged regularly, an almost daily habit of recording my life, of making meaning out of madness. But my storyline changed and I didn’t know how to segue into the next scene. I was leading a new life so divergent from the previous incarnation you’d suspect I wasn’t the same person. And I wasn’t. Which had kind of been the plan all along. ‘If I’m not different at the end of this,’ I wrote early on, ‘I won’t be better.’

We all have two lives, a dubiously attributed quote begins (really? Confucius? I think not), the second starts when we realise we only have one. (Tom Hiddleston? Perhaps.)

I’ve already lived more than twice in this current span of time. And yet, my handwritten journals would suggest that little has changed. Things look different now, sure; daily tasks and duties, responsibilities reshuffled and realigned. So much chaos from the past has settled out but my desires have not changed. My humanness – my energy, although transformed – is the same.

2.

Heat is a form of energy. It always flows from the hotter body to the colder body. Heat can be transferred via conduction, convection or radiation.

In bed, my partner snuggles behind me. Dialogue from my old Bikram hot yoga class pops into my head. ‘From the side you should look like a Japanese ham sandwich,’ the instructor shouts during Pada-Hasthasana, the forward fold, ‘no gap anywhere’.

‘I’m very tactile,’ I tell him when we first meet, ‘you’ll probably get sick of it after a while.’ He laughs, eyes sparkling. Every night, going on four years, our bodies touch from head to toe. His chest against my back, breath on my neck, legs pressed against mine, feet tangled. No gap anywhere. The heat radiates between us and eventually drives us to roll over and reverse the position. We dance like this for most of the night.

3.

Pauli’s Exclusion Principle says that every electron must be in its own unique state. In other words, no electrons in an atom are permitted to have an identical set of quantum numbers.

You might be reading this on your phone, holding it in your hand. Or on your computer. You pressed some keys to access it. You touched them.

Didn’t you?

Atoms are made up of three particles. A nucleus that contains most of the mass, protons, and electrons. Electrons are negatively charged and can exhibit characteristics of both particles and waves. Particles are attracted to particles with the opposite charge and repel similarly charged particles. So electrostatic repulsion prevents electrons coming into direct contact with each other in both an atomic and literal sense.

This, and Pauli’s Exclusion Principle, also prevents you, me, us…from touching anything. Instead, we hover above things at a microscopically small distance. Gaps everywhere. The sensation of touch is simply our brain’s interpretation of our electrons’ interaction with other electrons in the electromagnetic field, the medium through which electron waves propagate.

4.

Electromagnetic fields are physical fields produced by electrically charged objects. They affect the behaviour of charged objects within the vicinity of the field. Electromagnetic radiation refers to the waves of the electromagnetic field which radiate through space-time, carrying electromagnetic radiant energy.

The human heart is the first organ to function during fetal development at approximately 20 days. The brain doesn’t begin to function until about 90 days. First the heart, then the head.

The heart generates an electrical field of up to 60 times greater in amplitude than that created by the brain and the electromagnetic field of the heart can be measured up to several feet away from the body. When individuals are in close proximity, their electromagnetic fields interact.

5.

Perhaps, in the end, all we can touch is hearts.

Science Sunday | The Fire Triangle

img_1903The fire triangle is a simple model for understanding the three key requirements for a fire; a fuel source, oxygen and heat (an ignition source). A fire will occur naturally when these three conditions are present. To extinguish a fire, remove one of these elements.

 

 

Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable. ~Bruce Lee

Likewise, a relationship needs the same conditions; fuel, air and a spark. Remove any one of these and it cannot survive.

 

Today I Met A Lighthouse

birch-2The silver birches, white trunks gleaming against the blue grey sky, stand in a sea of daffodils. They are early this year, the daffodils. But everything is. Our winter has been unseasonably warm. The magnolias have bloomed. The irises are unfolding. We are barely in August and already it feels like Spring. I noticed them today because I was out walking. I was out walking because an earlier accident had rendered my car undriveable.

I’d been leaving to meet a friend for coffee when perfect alignment occurred. Somehow, while reversing down the driveway, a garden light became lodged between my front wheel and the bumper. I did not realise this at first, subsequently dismantling the front bumper, the fog light, parking sensor and associated electricals. But the incident did not negate my requirement for coffee, only increased it, so after making the necessary arrangements for repair, I set out on foot.

park-2Our acreage is several kilometers out of town and in order to shorten the journey, I took a path through the park. A shirtless, tattooed man was playing a didgeridoo. Two teens were skateboarding in the amphitheater. Four youths were swaggering towards me, scowling. I could have created narratives about all these people. Imagined who they might be, how they might hurt me. It would have been easy, particularly considering I had already had “something go wrong”. A self-destructive, anxiety-inducing spiral could have eventuated. And in the past, would have.

sky-2

Instead, I noticed that the sky above the bare trees was a thick blanket of grey. But parts of it were glowing, lit from behind, where the cloud cover was thinner. The air was cool and still, a perfect walking temperature. The water in the creek was flowing gently, rippling as leaves fell to become little boats, floating to a new port of call.

trees and sky-2

I arrived for coffee with Crystal. We ate, drank. Wandered around. I bought some tops I had spotted earlier in the week, and vowed not to purchase until I finished the book. We parted, heading for home in opposite directions. At the corner of the highway, a woman wheeling a walking frame stopped me.

“Excuse me,” she said, “do you know where Pat’s Sewing and Alterations is? I’m sure it used to be around here somewhere.”

“Oh, um. I’m not sure, do they sell sewing machines as well? I think there is a sewing store on the next block over.”

“Yes,” she said, “they do.”

“Ah, ok. I think it’s on Post Office Place around the corner.”

“Thank you,” she said and went to walk away. She turned back towards me and said “you know, I was out walking the other day and a lady approached me. She pointed at my walking frame and said ‘I’m supposed to use one of those. But I don’t, I don’t like the look of them, even though when I was walking a while ago, I rolled my ankle and broke it.'”

She paused for a moment, leaned closer, then said “She wanted sympathy from me. But I said ‘Oh, well. That’s your problem.'” She laughed. “It’s not my problem. And I didn’t need to make it my problem.”

“It sure isn’t your problem!” I chuckled as she shifted her walking frame forward and went back to her day. Here was a woman who was not creating narratives around other people or their problems. In all likelihood, she wasn’t creating them around herself, either. It was a much-needed reminder that other people’s problems are not mine and I do not need to make them mine. I don’t even need to make my problems “problems.”

A long-time favourite web comic Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand recently posted this:

my-problems

A debunked urban legend does the rounds occasionally, billed as an ACTUAL transcript of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995.

Americans: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

Canadians: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”

Americans: “This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”

Canadians: “No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.”

Americans: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES’ ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.”

Canadians: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”

The thing is, lighthouses can only shine the way, they cannot make you follow the course.

He’ll light your way but that is all
Steer your own ship back to shore

Humans love to create stories. We are masters of narrative. But who would we be without our stories?

Without your story, you’re perfectly fine.

Byron Katie has a process called The Work which teaches us how to question the stressful thoughts that cause suffering. I won’t pretend it’s easy. We are often far too into our own stories to want to give them up. But it is simple, and anyone with an open mind can do it.

It consists of four questions and what she calls a turnaround which is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. You put these questions up against a stressful thought, such as “I’m too fat” or “My husband should listen to me” or “Life is unfair.” The questions are:

1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?

I could have created a story about my accident. About the money it will cost me for the repair. About the inconvenience it will be to have my car off the road. About how I’m going to get to work for the next few weeks. But would those thoughts be true? How would I react if I believed them? And who am I, without those thoughts?

An invented narrative is not worth my energy or my sanity.

lit from within-2

Because without the accident today, I’d not have met my lighthouse. And without my story, I am perfectly fine.

The End: What To Do When You Finish Writing A Book

Today I wrote two little words I wasn’t expecting to write until tomorrow. And yet, here we are. At this point.

My feet are tingling like they do when you have pins and needles, numb, as if you’ve been sitting awkwardly cutting off your circulation, but in that sweet spot, before the blood rushes back into the capillaries and it starts to sting.

The cells, the atoms in my cells, are vibrating with energy. The energy of having finished. It is a gentle excitement. Soft. Like the way you realise you are recovered. After the fact. You do not notice it at first because recovery, like writing, feels like a slog. Every step is an effort. You wade through concrete. You make progress. And you don’t. There is resistance. The task seems overwhelming and you pause at various points to take a breath. To rest. There is no ticker-tape parade upon success. No party. There might have been, if you’d noticed it at the time. But even as you were thinking your last disordered thought, even as you were writing your final sentence, you didn’t know. And then you did.

So what do you do when you finish writing a book?

  1. You write the end
  2. You drink cider in the sunshine with a friend
  3. You buy yourself some flowers
  4. You go for a run
  5. You make dinner for the family
  6. You water your plants
  7. You hug your partner
  8. You feed the cat
  9. You write a blog post
  10. You begin again, a new story

I have been finished with the story I’ve written for longer than I’ve been writing it. Soon, lovely readers, I will hand it over to you.

Music Monday | Still Fighting It – Ben Folds

Everybody knows
It hurts to grow up
And everybody does
It’s so weird to be back here
Let me tell you what
The years go on and
We’re still fighting it, we’re still fighting it

This week, I am finalising my manuscript. Progress paused last year when I commenced an intensive work training program but that was completed last Friday. Now I have a few chapters left to write and have set a daily target of 3,000 words which will get me to the end by the weekend. Looking back, writing scenes from years ago, it’s all so obvious. There are visible patterns to behaviour and the underlying beliefs that drove it.

This month, I’ve been separated from my ex-husband for longer than we were married. Time bends and stretches. The last eight years have flown. The last eight years, I’ve grown. It hasn’t always been easy. At times it’s been incredibly painful. But that was what I wanted when I started this new life. I wanted to feel. I wanted to love. I wanted to know myself. I wanted to grow up.

Science Sunday | Hypothesis

A scientific hypothesis is a question and suggested solution, that has no pre-determined outcome, for an occurrence that cannot be explained within current scientific theory. The only condition is that it must be testable/falsifiable. This means that it must be something that can be supported or refuted by carefully crafted experimentation and observations.

In other words…

scientists

Music Monday | Hunger – Florence + The Machine

“At seventeen, I started to starve myself
I thought that love was a kind of emptiness
And at least I understood then the hunger I felt
And I didn’t have to call it loneliness”

Songwriters: Tobias Jesso / Thomas Wayland Bartlett / Emile Haynie / Florence Welch

I was fourteen. But felt the same. So for the next 20 years, I filled the loneliness with many things. Hunger, food, marriage, alcohol, sex.

One day, I filled the emptiness with myself, and found I’d been whole all along.

Science Sunday | Chemistry 101

Chemists joke about the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide. Depending on its form – solid, liquid, or gas – direct contact with it can burn you, or freeze the tissues and fluids in your skin. If you ingest significant quantities it can kill you. Of course, not ingesting enough will kill you too. According to these consequences, dihydrogen monoxide sounds like a nasty chemical. But it is just the humble water molecule. (I never said chemists make good jokes.) All of the dangers are true, though. Dihydrogen monoxide – H2O – water – is a chemical which can burn you, cause frostbite, or dilute the salts in your blood so much that you die from water intoxication (hyponatremia). And just like water, chemicals are everywhere. Everything that you can see, smell, touch, and taste is made of chemicals. And everything you can’t.

It is impossible to see a single atom, even with the most powerful microscope. Although, scientists have managed to photograph an atom’s shadow. How few atoms does it take to cast a shadow? Just one. But while one atom alone cannot be seen, when many are joined together we see them everywhere. Or, we see the things they make up. Water. Trees. Cars. Houses. Hearts.

The Periodic Table of the Elements lists the species of atoms that have been discovered. There are one hundred and eighteen in total but only ninety-four occur naturally. The rest are synthetic and must be made in laboratories. Everything around us is a combination of these ninety-four elements.

At room temperature, some elements exist as liquids, some as solids and some as gases. They can be volatile like the metal sodium: soft, silvery white, and highly reactive. If you’ve ever seen a tiny piece of sodium dropped into water, you would remember it. The violent reaction breaks the bonds between the hydrogen atoms and the oxygen atom in the water molecule. Enough heat will be given off that the newly formed hydrogen gas explodes.

Some elements may be toxic like the gas chlorine. Like sodium, it’s too reactive to occur on its own in nature. When it is isolated, it is a yellow-greenish gas that is heavier than air. It smells a lot like bleach because it is just one of the elements that creates bleach. If you breathe in chlorine gas, you will feel like you’re choking and it can cause damage to your respiratory tract and lungs which is why it has been used as a chemical weapon.

But when sodium and chlorine join together into one substance, they become something necessary for life. Something we need every day to keep our hearts beating. They become sodium chloride – or salt.

Chemistry happens around us all the time. It is the change from rubbery dough to fluffy bread when heat is applied. It is how shampoo gets sudsy when you scrub it into your hair. It is why metals rust, or they don’t. Chemistry isn’t a secret or some sort of dark magic. It’s the explanation for everything that occurs around you and inside you – your heart pumping, or hurting.

Chemists study the composition, structure, properties, and relationships formed between substances, and how these substances can change. Reactions that are measurable. Changes that can be quantified. Attraction or the way elements and atoms bond. Why some bonds are hard to break apart and why others disintegrate, dissolve or separate easily. Chemistry is the understanding of matter.

Or maybe, it’s the understanding of things that matter. Relationships. Emotions. Attraction. Hearts racing. Body temperature rising. Stomach churning. It’s the properties of love and how it can change.

But love can’t be measured with a litmus test.

Music Monday | Someone You’d Admire – Fleet Foxes

“If the heart is a muscle,” I said to my psychologist, “and it atrophies without use, can it be built back up again, like any other muscle, with exercise?”

“Yes,” she replied. “I believe it can. Is that something you want to do?”

I nodded.

Although I had experienced physical heart problems as a consequence of anorexia, that wasn’t what I was worried about. As I had become weight restored, I’d started to notice that people around me felt things. And not just sad things but a whole range of emotions. They felt joy. And grief. And anger. And heartbreak. They felt gratitude. Amusement. Disappointment. And hope.

But the thing they felt that I coveted most was love. Love was not something I had a lot of experience with. Marriage, well, I had experience with that. But that was different to love.

Those early days of recovery were hard. My heart was a mess. I had no idea how to use it. Sometimes, I’d spill it everywhere. Sometimes, it would jam shut and I’d be unable to prise it open.

But slowly, and with practice, my heart became stronger. More resilient. And softer.

And it was in that softness, the same softness I’d always believed to be weakness, that I found strength. Courage. Compassion. And love.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written publicly about my struggle with anorexia. But then again, it’s been a long time since I’ve been ill. And while occasionally there are still days where I feel a bit unhappy with how I look, there are no days where I feel so worthless that anorexia has any hold over me.

Years ago, on the edges of recovery and still nostalgic about my eating disorder, I wrote the below poem and posted it here with the song “Someone You’d Admire” by Fleet Foxes. Today, I’m remembering my old self. This is today’s Music Monday.

 

Nostalgia

And in the distance
As barren hills are touched by black-tipped fingers
The fading light reminisces about the days it lingered
Over pots of tea with toast
Whispering sweet nothings to its only ghost
Then the moon rolls across the inky sky
With a gut full of ache and his upside down smile
And he stops to rest in the furthest corner
Heaves in gasps as the solitary mourner
Closes his eyes just for a minute and
Imagines the days when he was thinner.

 

After all is said and done I feel the same
All that I hoped would change within me stayed
Like a huddled moonlit exile on the shore
Warming his hands, a thousand years ago
I walk with others in the yearning to get out
Claw at my skin and gnash their teeth and shout
One of them wants only to be someone you’d admire
One would as soon just throw you on the fire
After all is said and after all is done
God only knows which of them I’ll become
Songwriter: Robin Pecknold