Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Quark, Strangeness, and Charm

I gave a link yesterday to a collection of quotes garnered from fundamentalist Christian chatrooms. It's hilarious, horrifying and ultimately rather depressing.

However this quote:
The other day while installing some new fiber optics cables for a satellite array I overheard some coworkers talking about quarks. Quarks are supposedly tiny particles that nobody can see and nobody has any use for. So why do we know about them? What good does it possibly do us to know what a quark is?
got me thinking about quarks, and about the Hawkwind song released as a single in the late 70s. And also the fact that the etymology of "quark" is an example of the interrelation between Art and Science, the word being an invented dreamlike one from Finnegans Wake, coined by the American Physicist Murray Gell-Mann. The original context is:
Three quarks for Muster Mark! Sure he hasn't got much of a bark And sure any he has it's all beside the mark... That song sang seaswans. The winging ones. Seahawk, seagull, curlew and plover, kestrel and capercallzie. All the birds of the sea they trolled out rightbold when they smacked the big kuss of Trustan with Usolde

Joyce loved music of course - I'm showing the music here from the Ballad of Persse O'Reilly, also in Finnegans Wake. I expect he would have loved the chain of causation: the cry of a seagull in his literary dream to the name of a theoretical sub-atomic particle, to the title of a prog-rock/post punk song. And then it gets referenced in a fundamentalist chat room and tied up, for now, here.