Friday, February 04, 2011

Waves are not made of water

The Secret Life of Waves, broadcast on BBC4 this week, featured an interesting combination of the scientific, the philosophical, and the poetical.

Narrator and writer David Malone points out that water is simply the medium for ocean waves, that waves are actually patterns of energy transport. This prompts Malone to ask a more fundamental question, whether the ontology of the world consists of processes rather than objects. What we think of as the more enduring objects in the world can, when viewed over longer timescales, be re-cast as patterns of mass and energy flow.

One could add that even elementary particles are, according to modern physics, merely excitations of underlying quantum fields, their identity conditions more akin to those of waves or vibrations in a continuous medium, than the classical notion of immutable, permanent, miniature billiard balls.

Malone concludes with some reflections on human mortality, proposing that we are, not just metaphorically, but quite literally, mass-energy waves of finite duration. A seismologist might have taken the ironic opportunity here to introduce love waves into the exposition, although sadly these disturbances are poetic misnomers, being destructive waves of Earthquake-driven surface shear, rather than the ripples of dopamine sweeping across the cerebral cortices of youthful inamoratas.

Malone's programme is imbued with an undercurrent of reflective melancholy which will resonate with all quadragenarians, catching sight for the first time of the final shoreline, jutting ominously over the horizon.

No comments: