Reading Poetry: Einstein’s Relativity

Relativity numbersOne of the multiple ways of bridging poetry and STEM is to read science texts as if they were poetry. I am reading Albert Einstein’s 1916 book Relativity: The Special and General Theory  , which lays out the argument for the famous Equation E = Mc2 . More generally it is using words to poke at the nature of reality, truth, existence, perception, time, space, and relationships. In other words, a poem.220px-The_original_1920_English_publication_of_the_paper.

How do I read a poem?   I generally start with the first lines or stanza, and then nibble around the rest, like a fish at a hook, seeing if it is worth my time. Flip through it, then if a crack in a door in the poem is left open to me, I will try to squeeze in, read the whole thing, visualize, hear, imagine, take the leaps of thought and emotion the poem provides. Or I kind have tip it on its side, shake it, turn it upside down as Seamus Heaney writes in The Rain Stick,

Up end the rain stick and what happens next
Is music you never would have known

-Seamus Heaney from The Rain Stick

rainstickto see what it has to offer, and where, once I gather it up in my hands, I can take it to place that even the poet might not have imagined.

Reading Relativity like a poem has taken the fear out of approaching the work: fear that it is far beyond my interest of attention, or that I will somehow fail if I don’t end up understanding the correct meaning. I may get lost! But that is never a fear in poetry- wanderers never get lost- getting lost only happens if there is a place you are supposed to arrive.  And Einstein actually writes, I am finding, like a poet, with simple imagery (train, raven, lightning, clocks) that opens up through metaphor and math and play to profound ideas.  Most importantly, he writes with the deepest of questions at hand, bravely moves on to to hear a music he would have never known if he had not taken the chance to explore- to shake the stick of reality and listen.

In the meantime, I will have experienced his poetry, and maybe picked up on some of the science.