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October 8, 2006

A Venture Into The Unknown

Tom McLaughlin

Humor by Tom McLaughlin

What goes up must come down and that train with the whistle blowing as it comes toward you and then changes as it passes is the extent of my knowledge of physics.

I think the second one is the Doppler Effect made famous by the Johnny Cash song, "I Walk the Line" where the train is coming around the bend.

Reading that you must keep your mind stimulated to prevent loosing all your marbles, I decided to engage a physics essay in a science magazine. I subscribe to this publication for its articles and not the pictures.

Instead of solids, liquids, gasses or electrons revolving around a center, the universe is now made up of strings. These strings float around on a rubber sheet in the form of bagels and coffee cups with a handle. This isn't much different than the old theory of turtles holding up the earth in Eastern Mythology.

To explain all this, a dude named Poincare (described as slight, myopic, and notoriously absent minded who conceived his famous problem in 1904 tucked at the end of a (can you even imagine) 65 page math paper. I racked my brain for my geometry knowledge and the only things left were a hypotenuse, a triangle and a 90 degree angle. According to Poincare, there are mathematical relationships between the rubber sheet, the bagel and the turtles.

"Solving this conjecture, as it's called, will have important implications for mathematics and cosmology," although I really can't understand how this will affect my horoscope.

A reclusive Russian named Grigory Perelman has solved the problem; but he won't tell anyone how he did it. Instead of posting the whole solution on the Internet, he let it out in drips and drabs over an eight month period known as the Great Tease, which reminds me of some girls I dated.

The answer was written in shorthand and nobody, not even the big Nobels, could figure it out. He wouldn't answer e-mails for hints and, when people visited him, he took them for four or five hour walks around St. Petersburg showing them the sights not unlike a tour guide. As expected he was "slender, balding man with a curly beard, blue-green eyes who lived with his mother in a flat and refused to cut his fingernails."(Imagine those across a blackboard.)

Having enough of Perelman, Dr. Yau, the great Chinese mathematician, who arranged and wrote the guides to assemble toys over Christmas, entered the scene. He had studied under the great Dr. Richard Hamilton who firmly believed he saw cigars and necks in the rubber sheet. Dr. Hamilton of Cornell is the playboy of the math world who rode horses, windsurfed and had a succession of girlfriends. Dr. Yau stated during a string theory conference that he liked to visit Dr. Hamilton because of the girls.

So, we have three guys, one obsessed with cigars and necks on a rubber sheet, another ticked off at Perelman because he wouldn't help him cheat and who wanted to be the King of Geometry and Perelman. A fourth minor figure comes into play who was an expert on Mirror Symmetry, the study of the images in fun houses that make us look fat or thin. Then we have the many personalities of John Nash (A Beautiful Mind)

To wrap this story up, Dr. Yau writes a 300-page paper on solving the Poincare and received a million dollar grant from China to figure out something practical to do with the solution. He fails and the Beijing subways are wallpapered with "Sing Tung Yau is Slamming Academic Corruption in China."

Dr. Perelman has earned enough money to retire in St. Petersburg and acts as tour guide to visiting scholars.

Dr. Hamilton is still chasing girls at Cornell but the cigar is in his mouth and not on a rubber sheet.

Dr. Nash earned a Nobel Prize and shares an Academy Award with many, many others.

Dr. Steven Hawkings (the wheel chair guy) was given the solution in hopes he could find something useful to do with it.

So much for my venture into the new world of physics.

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