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Intangible Beauty: Magic and Physics~The Thinnest of Veils

The mathematician (Pascal) who admires the beauty of a theorem in number theory; it’s as though he were admiring a beautiful natural phenomenon…admiring the regularities in a kind of crystal.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

Madness and the magic of perceiving what hasn’t yet come into existence are not entirely distinct states of mind. Nothing comes from nothing, but there are those somethings that are so rich in their elegant simplicity that nothing in the material world can justify them, not even what these somethings signify. E = mc2, Mass–energy equivalence, might be the relatively simple and most elegant formula yet discovered, but the hyper-complexity of these handful of signifiers is beyond description. Einstein related much of his thinking through visual examples, parables of physics, where a bird flying over a train could shake the very fabric of what we thought was our reality. Around the sixth century B.C., Heraclitus wrote that ‘all things change to fire and fire exhausted falls back into things’, an uncanny equivalence to E = mc2. Matter and energy are equivalent, intertwined, a testament to the seeming madness in this magical thinking. Rigorous testing and doubt followed Einstein’s theory, etching away at the patina of madness and casting away what seemed like magic — an alchemy of energy=matter/fire and things — before the minds of physics embraced it. What intangible discoveries such as this contain, beyond the dizzying complexity, is something simply put: Beauty.

Colors seem to present us with a riddle, a riddle that stimulates us — not one that disturbs us.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

A thousand and one people can watch the sunset from the same shore, but none of them sees the same one, neither visually nor metaphysically. My own grasp of physics is rather basic, but I can feel the beauty in certain formulas and theories, from the multiverse to string-theory, the vertiginous many worlds of fantastical imagery and the hidden music of the cosmos, that Song of songs. A beautiful rose can be smelled, or it can be painted as large as a room through the surrealism of Magritte, but the concept of what makes the rose as rose is hidden, not from the mind, not entirely, rather from the five senses. And yet…to think of what makes a rose a rose can evoke a phantom smell, not only of the rose, but of the roses growing along the fence of a backyard that no longer exists. Summer honeysuckles join, cut grass, a familial voice calling out, chirping finches… Perhaps the thought of the hidden workings of the rose gives rise to a particular circumstance, a time and a place with superimposed figures, both living and inanimate, a magical transformation of memories into imagined concepts, a fantastical past that feels far more real than the remembered one. A thin veil drifts carelessly between magic and physics, madness and imaginings, a veil so thin that it’s hard to believe that the realms could even exist without the other, since all share the same air.

Things keep their secrets.

— Heraclitus

This imagined world that springs from the conceptual contemplation of the rose might become a poem or a book, or it could pass like the wind, unseen, yet moving all the same. Neither the poem nor the book will ever equate to the beauty of the mind’s working in contemplation of that rose, or the multiverse. Through the book — a literary formula, sans brevity — the best the world-builder can do is point to the horizon, be it a storm or an indigo sunset there, murmurations of starlings or the shine of the dragon. Even if most of the ones standing on the shore look in that direction, not one of them will see what the other sees, only the projected phantom of what lies beneath the skull, that maddening and magical thing, builder of worlds and alchemist of the flux, the occulted brain.

Hayden Moore

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