An Engineer's Literary Notebook

Exploring the real and surreal connections between poetry and engineering

Posts Tagged ‘Physics’

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 »

Romancing the Light

Posted by xbanguyen on September 24, 2011

Would you rather know that there is less than one ounce of astatine in the earth crust at anytime, and that the speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second, or would you rather know that the chemist Archie Randolph Ammon wrote poetry, as did James Clerk Maxwell the physicist?[1] In this late summer evening I would rather watch the gradual departure of daylight softens

the demarcation between the mountains and sky beyond. Of course the lingering light does not go from the Olympic Peninsula to my retina instantaneously. Many years ago, Galileo attempted to measure the speed of light using two lanterns on a windy night atop those Florentine hills – I imagine the windy bit as you already guessed. Even though the experiment failed to yield a measurement, some years later it spurred the Danish astronomer Ole Roemer to note the time it took for the moon Io to revolve around Jupiter to come up with a measurement for the speed of light that was not too far off.[2] Preoccupied  with nostalgia, tonight I have succumbed again to the longing for permanence and felt comforted in knowing that there is such a cosmic limit as the speed of light that is constant for all frames of reference.  That equation E= mc2/sqrt(1-v2/c2) describing the energy of a particle with rest mass m moving with speed v can be used to show that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light because  infinite energy would be needed to accelerate v to approach c.[3] This limit makes it impossible for us to travel back into the past nor to see into the future.  Would you want to see the future, or just be content observing the light of September and be reconciled to the changing of seasons?

Paradoxically, the broken shadows illuminate for me the beauty of having four seasons, made possible only because of time. The lyrical uncertainty that light is neither before or after reminds me of  the dual nature of light as particles and waves. Akin to D.H. Lawrence’s torch of blue gentians, the cheerful yellow mullein can also be torch-like.  Phonetically, the mullein brought to mind the mullioned windows of a certain cathedral in Emily Dickinson’s mind when she felt the weight of that slanted light. The weight she felt is not only metaphorical but also physical because its particulate nature enables scientists to hold light captive in chambers containing a specific mixture of gas. The captured light can be released by flashing a second light through the gas.[4] I wonder if the newly freed light, when departing from the holding chamber, left something like regrets in its wake.

Thank you for the book filled with light, dear muse






[5] The Gaileo’s lantern picture is from

[6] Jupiter and its moons picture is from

[8] A swatch of the universe photo is from


Posted in Ammon, Galileo, Merwin, Physics, Time, Visual | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

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