An Engineer's Literary Notebook

Exploring the real and surreal connections between poetry and engineering

Archive for the ‘Biology’ Category

Surprising The Senses

Posted by xbanguyen on July 10, 2016

dragonfly1If you were able to touch the wings of a dragonfly in flight one summer afternoon, would you be able to replicate the sensation of flying? Icarus not withstanding, intentionally directional weightlessness would be a welcome addition to our other senses.  Am I terribly greedy? Is it not enough already to be able to hear the seagulls, to see, feel, smell and taste the first berries of summer? Is having each of the five senses heightened sufficient, or is it a blessing to have them metamorphosed when the senses invoked by one stimulus is unexpected, such as experiencing a sharp crunchiness when seeing the letter A or, perhaps more commonly, seeing a particular color where hearing a musical scale. Rhapsody in blue could literally be blue, in the realm of synesthesia.

Removing religion from the word blessing, it is more satisfying to argue that a synesthete is blessed because biologically, synesthesia is conjectured to be the results from an excess of neural connections between associated sensory modalities, and having an abundance of neural connections increases the complexity in the permutation of sensory perception Grapheme_color_synesthetesupon receiving a particular stimulus, enriching the experience of living.  I like to think that a grapheme-color synesthete sees rainbows when others see strings of numbers. So by not such a long leap, an engineer can also see poetry in logic equations. After all, Omar Khayyam, he who wrote these immortal lines Rubaiyat



also wrote Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra in which he provided a geometric method for solving cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle. The Rubáiyát, gilded and bound in leather, was among the high school graduation presents I received many years ago. The melancholy pleasure afforded when I read those lines for the first time still resonates; the neurons that make up this experience feel immortal and ephemeral at the same time.


It was still early summer in Seattle. A walk with the sea on one side and lush gardens full of delphiniums on the other side heightened all senses just like this poem does.


Tangles of seaweed enhanced the fecund smell of the sea. The receding tide was to reach -2.5 soon.   Following her mama, a  baby eagle took wings, screeching excitedly. For a moment, the gratitude of being was almost overwhelming, making superfluous the knowledge that  synesthesia can be selectively augmented with cathodal stimulation of the primary visual cortex.

Thank you for the topic, dear Muse.



  1. Many thanks to the poet Jay Wright for writing Light’s Interrupted Amplitude.
  2. All scientific information on synesthesia is from
  3. The dragonfly photo is from
  4. A brief biography of Omar Kayyam is from
  5. The image of Omar Kayyam is from
  6. The mathematical manuscript image is from



Posted in Biology, brain, Jay Wright, neurons, synesthesia, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

In the Presence of Light

Posted by xbanguyen on April 28, 2013

What part of speech is your most favorite word? Is it something you reveal to amost anybody who cares to ask, or only to a selected few, or would you reveal nothing even to the most intimate, hugging the word all the while? Let’s say that your favorite word is an adverb that brings to mind the sea, as in


What does that reveal about you?

The coming of May brings to mind the fragility of the himalayan poppy. The blue of this flower holds hints of promise from the bluepoppysummer sky to come.  The almost translucent petals have a daintiness that belies the rocky terrain of their native land. They look ethereal, perhaps because their color is not an intrinsic property of theirs.


Rather they give off light that enters the eye,  striking photo receptors, the rods and the cones, on the retina. As you know, light is a form of electromagnetic energy, comprising of photons  characterized by wave-particle duality.  The photo receptors in the retina convert photons into eletro-chemical signals that are then processed by ganglion cells, a type of neurons, then sent to the brain [1] to be perceived as blue, azure, cerulean, but perhaps not indigo, sapphire nor cobalt.  What about the colors we see in dreams? What about remembered colors? How can my memory still recall with minute details the green of the leaves one summer I spent in Minneapolis and the coral of my dress bathed in light one morning as I found that my ASIC worked first time? Perhaps memory delineated with colors lasts longer, but whether it can be done intentionally I do not know. I do know that I am drawn to this poem, almost helplessly, inspite of the bright blue outside my window this morning.


The emphatic  negations pulsing with resigned affirmation pull me inward with a longing to arrive at the source of this turbulence. The different shades of blue appear to blend into a blackness, paradoxically because black is the absence of light. The despair imparted by the poem lies heavily but not unpleasantly on my mind. Then logic prevails. There must be some light to perceive colors.  The short-lived plants of years past notwithstanding, I will again try to coax the meconopsis betonicifolia to grow far from home.

Happy birthday, dear muse.



[2] The poppy photo is from
[3] The retina diagram is from
[4] The electromagnetic spectrum is from


Posted in Biology, Colors, Gardening, Lynn Powell, Physics | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

%d bloggers like this: