Monday, September 13, 2004

The Raveler

It used to unnerve me that the Universe is made up of mostly nothing.

I remember a feeling of incredulity when I first realised the implications of what my physics teacher taught me - that everything is made up of atoms, and that there's a lot of empty space between atoms. If you haven't figured out what that means, basically, we're all made up of little bits of matter with lots of empty space in between. What we think of as solid is really as fluffy as the cotton wool we use to simulate gunsmoke in battlefield dioramas.

What brought this on? I was feeling bored invigilating as usual, so I turned to the familiarly reassuring act of taking apart cotton thread - the kind used to tie answer scripts together.

If you haven't taken thread apart before, then you should know that that kind of thread is made up of 3 interwoven thinner threads. In turn, each thinner string can be separated (with great care) into 2 more even thinner threads. After that, any attempt to take it apart yields the most beautiful wisps of fibre which, if properly spread, can form an enchanting veil over one spectacle lens (though I am sure a skilled craftsman could make it cover two lenses).

So I spent my time ravelling, which means
To separate the fibers or threads of (cloth, for example)
according to Webster (the dictionary, though I'm sure it's someone's online nick, amongst other things).

I first came across that wonderful word in The Scottish Play by Shakespeare, when M talks about "Sleep, that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care," and since then have seldom come across it in similar contexts (the sleeve of a CD doesn't count, and I'm not that much into Ravel's music anyway). It originates from an Old Dutch word meaning "loose thread".

So here I am in the Age of Computers and Gadgets Too Advanced To Be Named, ravelling thread, and through the ravelling of thread rediscovering an old truth - that we are actually made up of very little physical matter, but ah! the wonders we have done with so little!

And still there is so much left to do. And so much more thread to ravel.

4 Comments:

Blogger Ondine said...

Just wanted to welcome you to the world of blogging and thank you for the ECOLOGIC tea. I'm tempted to print out the label and get my kids to pick out the mistakes but I'm scared to. :)

8:50 am  
Blogger wahj said...

Ravelling is one of those strange words that means the same with a negative prefix in front of it - to "unravel" is the same as to "ravel
", given the current usage and definition (like "flammable" and "inflammable").

11:19 am  
Blogger BoKo said...

'tis true wahj. makes it all the more loveable :)

9:36 pm  
Blogger Neil said...

Funnily enough though the universe most probably isn't big empty spaces. Dark matter is pervasive, and dimensions may exist way beyond the four that we know about. Empty space is intrinsically a menifestation of the second and third dimensions and as recently shown, instantaneous transfer of particle properties shows that in higher dimensions space, or at least empty space, may not exist at all!

Caveat - That is if I understand the implications of the physics corectly!

10:09 am  

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