Physics for the unwary student

Physics for the unwary student
  1. Imagine that you are trying to balance on the surface of an expanding balloon. List all the different ways in which this resembles reality.
  2. Thousands of sub-atomic particles stream through you night and day. Does this account for those peculiar flashes of light you sometimes see?
  3. You are trapped in a lift which is plummeting to the ground. Describe what you feel.
  4. You are in a spaceship travelling towards a black hole. As you pass the event horizon and become cut off from the rest of the Universe, what do you observe?
  5. What happens if you stop believing in gravity? Will you slide off the Earth?
  6. What happens if you stop believing?
Pippa Goldschmidt

From House of Three: Logie Fielding, Pippa Goldschmidt, Nalini Paul, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: House of Three, 2016). Reproduced by permission of the author.

Pippa Goldschmidt

Pippa Goldschmidt combines a background in astronomy with creative writing as a novelist and poet.

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About Physics for the unwary student

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2016. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2016 was Catherine Lockerbie.

Editor's comment:

Science and poetry have always been natural bedfellows, whatever the perceived distance between them. You can’t beat a good bit of physics rendered into poetry – or indeed vice versa. The great, late Edwin Morgan knew all about that. The format of the poem asking thought-provoking questions is very old, and this is a lovely, witty contemporary example of the genre. What, indeed, does happen if we stop believing?

Author's note:

This poem was inspired by thought experiments in physics which ask you to consider what happens in various extreme situations. Because these experiments are solely concerned with the physical and materialist aspects of the situation, they can’t take into account the feelings of the subjects being experimented on. And because these are thought experiments I’m not sure if it’s possible to separate the hypothetical subjects of those experiments from the real-life people thinking through the experiment – perhaps the experimentees and the experimenters merge somewhere in this poem.