World Wide Web

The Internet is so pervasive in our lives, but do you ever stop to wonder about a greater, more magical network, one that is created entirely Nature?

My parents are both passionate biologists, and they created that wonder in me that never dims. Their particular passion is fungi. Mushrooms to you and I. But what we see above ground are just the sex organs of these small but amazing organisms. Beneath these fungus are roots that nurture the whole forest through a beautiful mutualistic symbiotic relationship. A complexity far beyond the comprehension of the mere human brain exists below ground, connecting all living things. Indeed, the forest is far more than you can see.

So here’s a little practice in mindfulness: the next time to log on to the Internet, think about the magical network beneath your feet.

Working on my next book, inspired by my parents, of course ❤

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Understanding the physical world

In conversations with my daughter, I became interested in how we learn maths (because Catching Infinity is maths/physics-based). She has many friends who does not understand maths, cannot do maths and are scared of maths. Unfortunately that fear and dislike persists till adulthood, possibly for the rest of someone’s lifetime. I hope  Catching Infinity will change that.

There are sociological theories about why maths holds terror for many students: thinking in abstract and in symbols is not ‘normal’ in the world we live in, and also the fact that it is a subject that a student is either right or wrong. Fear of failure often impedes progress in the subject. You have to be relaxed to be good at maths.

Yet maths is the foundations of so many things. Like physics.

Here’s something that came to my attention recently:

One thing that never fails to awe me is the fact that so much of the human brain is unknown despite the billions we have invested into its research. For example, do you know that there is a special part of the human brain that is responsible for comprehension of physics/physics-like subjects? Take away the maths and the scary equations, physics is just an inner intuitive sense for how things will bounce, wobble, or fall. We use it all the time unconsciously in our heads. So, my message to adults and children alike, learn to love physics.

To test the physics centre of your brain, go to:

Whenever it happens

  • Wherever we are in
  • the World
  • the Universe
  • Whenever you hold me
  • Whenever our bodies
  • Come together
  • The joining of us
  • A sacred architecture
  • The bosons, quarks and leptons
  • Pause
  • In abeyance
  • Your heart and mine
  • Are the +/- reservoirs of
  • Kelvin’s Carnot
  • And whenever this happens

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  • Entropy stills
  • Absolute Zero
  • Is happening
  • When you stop moving inside me
  • When you hold me tight in your arms
  • In stillness and in silence
  • Your fingers finding mine
  • Never let me go
  • “Jac,” you whisper
  • Your eyes
  • Holds my entire
  • Existence
  • For that one moment
  • Of infinite time

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Love is the only reason we’re alive

 

“Whenever we can’t sleep, we listen to the ocean floor…”

I remember a time in the halcyon days of October 2015 when I lay there in bed listening to the sea of outside the window. In Bembridge and in Old Portsmouth, where my early life started.  I love laying in a man’s arms and listening to the sea. Even without the desire it was beautiful. It just makes me grateful to be alive, to have lived well and to have known Love.

 

 

The child who asks difficult questions

I have a child who never stops asking why. She is my fifth child and she asks more whys than the other four combined. As she got older, the whys became more complex. She often gets stroppy when she perceives her father and I are trying to fob her off. Thus, I constantly bemoan the fact that I have a proverbial pain in the backside for a fifth child. But when I reached a stagnant point writing  Catching Infinity, fifteen year old Georgina provided the answers. On Einstein’s Theories of Relativity, despite never having studied the subject in school.

In the story, the protagonist Alice Liddell mused, “Because what are we, but the sum of our conscious thoughts?”

There are some very complex, mind-boggling theories out there about consciousness.  It is a complex and mind-boggling area as it overlaps esoteric and the neurosciences, two very heavy subjects for mere mortals like myself. Like Physics, like the story of Catching Infinity, there is no single unified theory that explains what consciousness is and how it works.

It sends me straight to the whisky bottle whenever conversations veer in this direction. Do you think and therefore exist, or do you exist and therefore think? The simple yet iconic Double Slit experiment shows that conscious observation is required for the photon to assume either one form or another, or in layman’s words, ‘to become real'(please stay posted, I will write an article about this shortly, I promise!).

Funnily enough, my fifth child Georgina (who is wired very differently from regular folks) asked me the very same question albeit in child-speak when she was four years old. She has always been a feisty sort of girl on a good day; on a bad day, she’s a spitting ball of fury. She regularly falls out with her ‘friends’ from a very young age due to her Global Domination Agenda. Once, she asked her father, “Daaad, can I come to your office for lunch, because I have no more friends?” Yes, she had fallen out with everybody in her year group. On the eve of her fourth birthday, when we were preparing the party bags, the finger food, the hats and the balloons, she asked,  “If nobody comes to my birthday party, will it still be a party?”

Here is a very interesting graphics of the life of Albert Einstein (please click on this link). Like Georgina, Einstein was wired differently. He struggled through higher education, worked as a clerk, developed his theories of relativity in his spare time, discovered the most important theories of our time, won the Nobel Prize, tried to find the greatest theory of all time, failed and died wishing he knew more maths.

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Though Georgina excels within the conventional school framework including maths (she attends the British International School Phuket), her education does not stay within the confines of the British National Curriculum. Indeed, she finds great delight in pointing out where textbook authors went wrong. School after all is not about rote-learning but nurturing fertile young minds.

Thus, we allow her to go down the many alleys of the mind that her childish – and then later her youthful – curiosity takes her. She asks endless questions on car journeys, she muses aloud on these car journeys, and sometimes, you can almost hear the cogs of her mind clicking away in the backseat of the car.

Her questions are not confined merely to school work or the world around her. She asks deep questions about the future, about mutual intelligibility of languages, about the meaningless purpose of life. She often challenges us. We have to read more, think more, contemplate more, formulate more, to meet her halfway on her vibrant journey of discovery.

As we journeyed deeper and further with her on her own brand of Einsteinian journey, we realised that the framework in which she is subconsciously seeking to establish is the ancient teachings of Trivium and Quadrivium, taught in the Middle Ages and Classical Age. In a nutshell, Trivium is a three-in-one tool composed of the study and use of grammar, logic and rhetoric. These three subjects were taught in tandem with the Quadrivium, or the subjects of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. With a knowledge of these seven, you can deduce whatever you put your mind to and make things happen. The future that she often ponders over? It can be designed. Or can it? If so, where does that take humanity?

The protagonist of Catching Infinity, PW Vanderleyden, commented:  “Human beings are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.”

And as Einstein himself once said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

So do try to feel privileged the next time your child asks you “But why?”. You are embarking on a very exciting journey.

Excerpt from Chapter 1: Alice’s Story

How physics can change your life…

I am in the process of selling Catching Infinity.  I am absolutely passionate about the 75,000 words that I have agonised over, contemplated, slept on, deleted and yes, inspired by, and finally sent off to an agent. Why is this novel so important to me, not the least I spent a good ten years (at least!) writing it?

Quite simply, I am passionate about Catching Infinity because it is a book that changes lives. I didn’t want to write an airport novel or a chicklit or a bonkbuster. I didn’t want to write a highbrow academic textbook either. I wanted to write a book that millions of men and women pick up out of curiosity and through the pages, get to know a bit about the Universe they live in and why things happened as they did in their lives.

In November 2015, my life started unravelling. My very foundations – the principles of kindness, compassion and decency – have been challenged when I fell sick. Up till the age of 46, I have always only known good things by and large. Even the bad things when they happened to me were couched in the basic principles of human goodness. I, the firm believer of the law of karma, simply could not believe why my good deeds had sowed such bitter harvest.

Why oh why oh why! I railed against God as the protagonist Karin Van Achterberg did. Why had this supposedly inviolate law been broken and why did I get the shit I did not deserve?

Watch this clip. You will understand just how small you, your problems, your beliefs, are in the grand scheme of things. Your place in the Universe is like a nanoscopic speck of dust. Wait, your Universe is like a nanoscopic spec of dust. But you are part of something huge. HUGE. And that huge thing is alive and moving on its own momentum irrespective of what you think, feel or do. This big tide is sweeping you along. What creates it? What drives it? What’s its purpose?

I believe it’s love. I believe love is the great universal law that all other physical laws obey, one that brought all into existence in the first place. And it is alive and breathing, growing. Be part of it ❤

 

 

Inspired by a magic moment

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Much as we like to, we cannot be inspired 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 30-31 days a month and 12 months a year. The realities of everyday living often batters us.

But find that one moment that inspires you. Seize it. Cherish it. Preserve it.

My moment was a cold January night in 2016 where we went for an impromptu (and illegal) ice-skating session on the skating rink outside the Science Museum London.  It was after closing time but heck, we only live once, right? And thus, we skated in our winter boots instead of ice-skates at 10pm at night, amongst the trees bedecked with fairy lights and the carousel lit up like it is ablaze.

From that one moment, I wrote a short science fiction about global warming.  Here’s the except:

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The most exciting love of all

I know someone who has had eight relationships in the last twenty years. The person thinks it is all very normal for couples without children to not stay together for long periods.  There is not much point in being together once the excitement is gone or if things become difficult, is there? Move on, there are other opportunities out there. Why stay on to try to fix a relationship? Far easier to cut loose and try with someone else on a clean slate.

Yes, it is easier to opt out. After all, we live in a disposable society so why work on something?

In Catching Infinity, I purposely made the Vanderleyden family old-fashioned Boers who live in an isolated farming community. The live in a freezing homestead called Die Uitkyk. They are used to hard work. They are used to accepting unquestioningly the hardships that Life hands them without running away or moaning.  They just stoically worked on the challenges until the sun rose for another day, and life looks better again. “This is how humanity is won,” The Wife, Karin, said. When her flawed husband had an affair with his postgraduate student in Oxford and fathered a child out of wedlock, The Wife simply put one foot in front of the other, walked each day with her eyes focused on the path, until normality returned to their lives again, instead of destroying their marriage on a whim.  Of course it was difficult, painful, but for The Wife, there was no option: when you start something, you stay on course instead of bailing out.

In time,  after the hurt and the betrayal had passed, their lives did return to normal and PW and his wife went on to have a fourth son. They lived out the rest of their days just as they had set out to do when they married each other, surrounded by their children and grandchildren, the hard times but a distant memory.

Bad times are just hiccups on our timeline.  Because in this life, there are no smooth timelines. Thus is it down to us and the choices we make: to weather the hiccups together or option two,  enter a new game of a long list of meaningless relationships, until we are too old to go out hooking, and then look back and realise that we have not built anything of value at all to last us to the end of our days.

Yes, I think the love built for a lifetime is the most exciting one of all.

Here’s a beautiful story about lifelong love: Love for Life

Albert Einstein

My younger daughter is blessed with a very good spatial ability, which I am sadly lacking in. I just couldn’t see things in three-dimensional space, much as I trained myself to in the past. This child of mine, from a very young age, always had to explain things to her dim mum.

We knew that there is something extraordinary going on in her brain when our family friend, who is a Maths teacher, showed her how to make a tetrahexaflaxagon. Here is an explanation of the simpler flaxagon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flexagon

Not only did she cotton on how to fold one instantly, we could see that her understanding of 3-D space was almost intuitive. We layered on the complexity by adding in time, and again, the challenge was easy for her.  As I tutor her in Physics, Chemistry and Maths, I realised that at the tender age of 14, she had outgrown me. She would often pick up errors in her school textbooks which her teachers and I fail to notice – probably because we never look beyond the immediate, whilst she is always ten steps ahead.

I cheekily sneaked Einstein’s relativity into our tutorials without actually telling her the significance of what I was teaching her.

“Not sure about that,” she said in her direct manner, “But I know it is this.” And deftly squiggled and using childish language, clarified geometry. It took Einstein eight years to find the relationship between the geometry of space-time and physics; it took this child the context of IGCSE Physics to see the beginnings of this profound relationship.

Though I was delighted for her to be blessed with such a brain, I was slightly deflated for myself, I must admit. Here, in the form of simple graphics, is Einstein’s special relativity explained.

And my child’s question to you is this:

Your friend Roger is travelling at just a fraction below the speed of light and he is holding a mirror. Since nothing can travel faster than the speed of light (in normal conditions), can Roger see his own reflection? Can you see Roger’s reflection, if you are standing on earth?

Note: Don’t email me the answers! Just buy Catching Infinity when it comes out!