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The Physics of Jabberwocky

Written by: Adrian Gilbert on Wednesday, February 21, 2018

One of the complaints about post-Einsteinian Physics, which you will hear from Wal Thornhill and other proponents of the Electric Universe paradigm, is that it based on mathematical models that ignore reality. Now what do they mean by this and why is this a problem? After all nobody else in Physics seems to mind and these days it is accepted that Physics is just Mathematics made manifest. Should we not just accept this and get on with looking for the next Higgs Boson, whatever this might be? Well I for one think not and the best example I can think of to illustrate this is Jabberwocky, a famous poem by Lewis Carroll.

Lewis Carroll, the pen-name of Charles Dodgson (1832-98), is most famous for writing 'Alice in Wonderland' and its sequel 'Alice through the Looking Glass'. However he also wrote Jabberwocky, which to my mind shows what a deep understanding he had for the limitations of Mathematics as a language with which to explain the natural world. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this work, I present it to you here.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

We read this and at first sight it seems to make sense. A young man, a Beowulf figure, slays a dragon. However when we look at it more closely, we realise that it is all nonsense. Half of the words written do not actually exist in the English language. For example we have no idea what time of day 'brillig' is. Does it mean noon, when heat is rising? Or is it tea time when the kettle is broiled? What are slithy toves? We know what slimy toads are but these are clearly something different. And what does it mean that they 'gyre and gimble in the wabe'? Gyre could mean rotate as in gyration but a gimble is something only recently invented and unknown in Dodgson's day. As for 'wabe', there is no such word at all.

And so it goes on as we read the poem with discernment. In reality we have no real idea what a 'jabberwock' might be, even when our imagination makes it out to be a dragon. It has 'jaws that bite' and 'claws that catch 'but this could be a description of dog or a tiger as much as a dragon. In reality the Jabberwock is as mysterious as a 'frumious bandersnatch'. These names, so easily written on the page, are really just invented words. While they convey a half meaning that we think we should understand, they in fact have no definition. The poem is deliberate nonsense.

Curiously, Dodgson earned a First Class Degree in Mathematics at Oxford and stayed on there as a lecturer in this subject until his death. Indeed he wrote a dozen books on Mathematics, far more than his Alice books. He would therefore have been only too aware that Maths, like English, can be used to produce nonsense if terminology is not clearly defined and understood.

My own Maths and Physics teacher, Fr. Bernard Lagrue, (I took 'A' Level Maths, Physics and Chemistry at school) made this clear to all his pupils. He told us: 'Just because something can be proven mathematically, does not mean it has a physical reality. You can construct a Mathematics based on 10 dimensions if you like but always remember that physically speaking there are only three.' He was required to teach us the fundamentals of Einstein's Physics too but in retrospect I can tell he was not all that happy about this. He too would have been all too aware that there is is logical contradiction in the idea that light can be a wave without a medium or that two trains, each travelling in opposite directions at the speed of light (c) cannot have a relative speed greater than c.

It might seem possible to bend space and time to fit Einstein's equations but when you look more closely you realise it is all 'mimsy borogroves' and 'Tumtum trees'. Einstein's Universe is a fabulous creation. It may be fun to speculate on what happend in a mythological 'Big Bang' billions of years ago, but it has no reality in Physics. Nor is it going to bring about a better world or inter-stellar space travel. Thank God, therefore, for the new, enlightened paradigm of the Electric Universe. Let us hope it can slay the wicked Jabberwock of standard cosmology and send it back to Looking Glass land where it belongs.



Adrian Gilbert

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