Symmetries

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Symmetries

if I think too much about it, I can start to doubt myself. What if I’m having some kind of hallucination? What if there’s no café there, but it’s really some kind of mirage? What if actually, I’m not looking out the window at all, but am really just in a dream? The more I reflect on these increasingly extravagant scenarios, the less knowledge I really seem to have.

Henry Taylor

The observer of the human soul passes on the three rings of intuition, sensibility, and self-awareness. It may be that my words wish to relay to others the relentless flow of things, the moving set of situations and circumstances that engulf life and matter, myself including. Every once in a while we all need a change of scenery and forget for a brief moment that something deeply rooted inside us never really goes away regardless of the latitude of the place we live in. 

 

Thousands of miles away from home, we are held by the puppet strings of our emotional responses and homegrown biases. Like little probes swung by turbulence drifting 12 billion miles away from Earth hooked by a timeless connection with other space missions and observatories as if they coud listen to each other faint whispers, we swing back and forth in the web of social relationships between standing up for what we believe and the influence of others, hoping to strike the right balance. Interstellar objects under the gravitational pull from the Sun, Jupiter, and on jump into the interstellar medium, beyond the solar wind, where they will be slowly pulled away by the magnetic field from another neighboring star (1).


 

Glenstone and Contour by Richard Serra
Glenstone and Contour by Richard Serra

Glenstone and Contour by Richard Serra

I departed from my beloved surroundings— the luxuriant native garden and the straight architectural lines and steel sculptures rising out of Glenstone landscape — to dive into the unknown. After a two-leg-flight and 21 hours later, I crossed the Gulf of Aden to reach Africa. From above I could already discern smoke rising from burning land and wildlife gathering in the water as the plane descended. I traded a murder of crows and a pair of vultures feasting on neighborhood trash for black and white pied crows — evocative of the smaller London magpies. One was perched on a wall along Leopards Hill Road; others were flying above Latitude 15, and a pair hopped on the front lawn of the Cathedral.


 

Symmetries
Symmetries


On the plane over the clouds at sunset, I was convinced that free will dominates the Universe. But when I reached the Mambwe District in Zambia’s Eastern Province, I felt the resurgence of a long-forgotten bond with my ancestral lineage the way I imagine space probes keep forever in their structural design the memory of those who engineered them, carrying the imprint of their souls and that of humanity. The great force of history, James Baldwin wrote, comes from the fact that each one of us carries it inside us and is unconsciously controlled by it. I still struggle with that idea, but felt on this journey into rural Zambia the weight of history, through intense dreams and emotional turmoil.

 

Mambwe's solitary baobab along the road leading to the South Luangwa National Park

Mambwe's solitary baobab along the road leading to the South Luangwa National Park

What stayed with me, though, is the unsolvable mystery of event symmetry, the mirror reflection of universal events. It is less about whether the throw of the dice could ever abolish chance than its occurrence while the ship sinks during a storm — the odd synchronicity in sceneries and landscapes, individual and collective actions. I jumped in the unknown, my hardwired brain resembling a gravity-assist interstellar probe on the edge of the heliosphere touching the far-flung corners of the galaxy, torn between the urge to resist and falling prey to the raging cosmic rays.

 

At Glenstone, a quotation by the late William Weiner tells the story of matter so shaken to its core that it leads to a change in inherent form to the extent of bringing about a change in the destiny of the material.  Bits of matter form and grow, fragment, and reform the way I see physical bodies and human,  if not cosmic, consciousness do. I have stalled where the intervals have disappeared, my living essence dripping into the shadows of Nothingness. Neutrinos, I feel, stand at its gateway. Once produced, they annihilate each other, leaving none behind.

 

The quantum state of the Universe like a topology of breaking and reconstruction of boundaries in interparticle interactions brings images to my mind of spatiotemporal chasms, crests and troughs of wave-particles the same way I see unfold social interactions when we clash and embrace each other time after time. Gap closing occurs with the popping up of surface states (2), leading to surface quantum criticality. If global and local symmetries emerge in the process, do they apply as well to spatial divisions and disappearing time intervals? Do they rule over phase transitions? The changing topology across the quantum critical state may be the sign that change itself is information encoded in the quantum field.

 

The observable manifestation of a particle is the result of an excited state of the quantum field. The question then I raise pertains to the behavior of particles. In their quantum walk as they propagate — going down multiple paths at once — do they ignore each other, stick to one another and try to get as far away as possible from each other all in the same breath? The Universe tingles at every point of contact and sinks back in disappearing intervals. 

 

If particles were words, the excited state would amount to the tingle we feel with the sense of closeness before the inspiration sinks back again. The Universe in its evolutive form bears a resemblance with a present thought, although not ignorant of the time-gap, which still regards itself as continuous with certain chosen portions of the past. Particles, likened to specks of metaphysical dust acting as a proto-will, trigger the awareness of information. 

 

While global symmetries may refer to the symmetry of charge conservation and time-reversal, supersymmetry if supported by evidence may involve the emergent symmetry of fermions — particles that form matter — and bosons — which mediate the interactions between them. In Nature, fermions transmute into bosons and vice versa while gravity may be obtained when supersymmetry is local in space and time (3). 

 

impalas next to rain trees (also named apple-leaf trees)

impalas next to rain trees (also named apple-leaf trees)

Zebras, impalas, monkeys and a waterbuck
Zebras, impalas, monkeys and a waterbuck
Zebras, impalas, monkeys and a waterbuck

Zebras, impalas, monkeys and a waterbuck

In the South Luangwa National Park strewn with ebony, apple-leaf, tamarind, and sausage trees, zebras, impalas, giraffes, waterbucks, monkeys, and others appear to live in peace side by side — except for the predatory lions, leopards, and wild dogs. We crossed the dry and sandy Luangwa riverbed in search of the iconic African baobab beyond the pristine mopane forest far from the reach of elephants. We dwelt upon the hidden life of trees and wondered if baobabs are falling prey to the changing climate the way white oaks back home seem to be. Symmetries in my head refer to those parallel events across spatiotemporal boundaries.


 

Luangwa riverbed

Luangwa riverbed

Baobabs beyond the pristine mopane forest
Baobabs beyond the pristine mopane forest

Baobabs beyond the pristine mopane forest

Badly hurt mopane trunk

Badly hurt mopane trunk

Symmetries


As if they perceived the presence of a threat, I watched animals within a 500-meter perimeter stand still, their head turned in the direction of a nearby field of tall grass, in a posture that incidentally reminded me of museum-goers gazing with perplexity at Serra’s latest installation. On other occasions, there appears to be, in a herd or a smaller group, the most curious one, the explorer ceaselessly staring while others carry on. 


 

Four rounds by Richard Serra (Glenstone)
Four rounds by Richard Serra (Glenstone)

Four rounds by Richard Serra (Glenstone)

Symmetries

The observing giraffe keeps an inquisitive eye on me. She feels the bond that ties her to the whole Universe. She has no doubt that any life form would know the coldness of the breeze, the brightness of the full moon over the Luangwa River and the thickness of the dust haze the way she experiences it. She has no doubt that the one whom she observes knows, too well, how it feels to walk, run and fall. 


 

Symmetries
Symmetries

Living beings feel the touch of gravity, the mounting tingling during intervals before collapse, the heart murmur of the Universe. The jointing and separateness among parts of the stream of consciousness may reflect a time-gap. Such a gap is intensely active, bringing every point of contact and every surface state toward a specific direction. A game of hide-and-seek plays out in the vast expansiveness of the Universe. The other end of the Janus point hides in gaps, spatiotemporal chasms, and disappearing intervals, which sculptors hopelessly want to transpose in their work as the negative space. 

 

William James spoke of the resting places of the 'substantive parts,' and the places of flight of the 'transitive parts'.  Do a pair of pigeons or pied crows signal to each other when it is time to fly? Upon their landing on the ground, I observed their resting places — the cement fences around houses and compounds, the squeaky sound of the left-hand drive cars, the pool players, the young students walking and the flowering trees along Leopards Hill Road. 


 

Buffalos

Buffalos

(1) Scientific American, July 2022, p.40

(2) Topological Quantum Critical Points in Strong Coupling limits: Global Symmetries and Strongly Interacting Majorana Fermions

(3) Absence of emergent supersymmetry at superconducting quantum critical points in Dirac and Weyl semimetals

Symmetries
To be informed of the latest articles, subscribe:
Comment on this post