Arrival in Bethlehem

Thanks to my darling wife, Jane

Jane Harries' Blog

The driver of the ‘sherut’ (shared taxi) drops me opposite the Damsacus Gate in Jerusalem and motions towards where I can catch the bus to Bethlehem.  Early in the morning as it is, the heat is already rising.  Tired from the overnight journey, I’m still relieved to have escaped the gleaming angular airport of Ben Gurion and the long queues at the passport booths.

To enter the Bethlehem bus is to enter another, parallel world.  Perhaps not meticulously clean and a bit ramshackle around the edges but warm and welcoming, like a well-worn blanket.  People greet one another and exchange news.  A young girl comes to sit beside me and gives me a broad smile. As we drive out of the city an elderly gentleman opposite with deep lines in his face where he has smiled often looks out of the bus window where an elderly Jewish gentleman is being…

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Carlo Rovelli: ‘Reality Is Not What It Seems’ (Penguin, 2017)

Professor Rovelli is a notable physicist.

The book represents leaps across the history of science – and quantum leaps too.

This book is well written but dense, especially as it progresses.  Relevant mathematical equations are quoted but remain impenetrable to most readers.  (This is a book for the general reader.)

Note that critics with background knowledge take issue with some of his statements and claims.

As indicated, Professor Rovelli “leaps” from the science and philosophy of Ancient Greece.  He takes the opportunity to praise the thinking of Democritus, the first writer reported to have put forward an atomic theory.

Moving on to the Romans, Rovelli singles out for praise the poet and philosopher Lucretius and his long poem – De Rerum Naturâ, On The Nature of the Universe:

Lucretius sings of atoms, the sea, the sky, of nature.  He expresses in luminous verse philosophical questions, scientific ideas, refined arguments.  [Page 20]

This is an example of the writer combining mathematical and scientific argument with with enthusiastic references to poetry.

Professor Rovelli builds on the work of a succession of great mathematicians and physicists (too numerous to mention here), in order to discuss ways of reconciling two great theories – relativity and quantum mechanics.  At the same time, he contemplates a finite rather than an infinite concept of the universe.  One of the models he delineates is that of the “3-sphere” (a technical concept).

Professor Rovelli writes:

Einstein’s idea is that space could be a 3-sphere: something with a finite volume (….) but without borders. The 3-sphere is the solution which Einstein proposes in his work of 1917 to the problem of the border of the border of the universe.  This article initiates modern cosmology….From it will arise the discovery of the expansion of the universe; the theory of the Big Bang; the problem of the birth of the universe, and much else besides.  [Pages 79f]

Professor Rovelli goes on to turn to the “classic” poet of his native Italy, namely Dante Alighieri, making a link between his Paradiso (Cantos XXVII and XXVIII) and the 3-sphere concept.  (He is not the first to suggest this.)  In brief, the more or less Ptolemaic concept of the universe adopted by Dante (but modified) has (i) the solar system embracing God and the celestial choir and (ii) vice versa!

Professor Rovelli states:

[Dante] ascends [the celestial] spheres….up to the outermost sphere.  When he reaches it, he contemplates the universe below him….But then he looks even higher – and what does he see?  He sees a point of light surrounded by immense spheres of angels, that is to say, by another immense ball, which, in his words ‘surrounds and is at the same time surrounded by’ the sphere of our universe!….The point of light and the sphere of angels are surrounding the universe, and at the same time they are surrounded by the universe!  It is an exact description of a 3-sphere!

This is intriguing for me and it will spur me to revisit this part of the Commedia.  (More to follow, from me, on this point, perhaps.)

Worth reading.  To be taken with a pinch of salt.  At the “cutting edge” of science, there is room for disagreement among scientists.

Alys Fowler’s ‘Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery’ (Hodden & Stoughton, 2017)

Tthe title of the book contains a double-entendre.  First, the writer discusses the nature of canals – the botanical, zoological and geological aspects, and the history of their building and uses.  This nature is largely hidden from view – hidden from those who don’t venture on to the towpath or indeed on to the water (as the writer does).  Ms Fowler evokes this nature enthusiastically and in detail – in a blend of objectivity and subjectivity.  She conveys the impact upon her that both the wildlife and the detritus of industry and our throwaway society create.

Secondly, the accounts of her exploration of the canals of the West Midlands (and London too, a bit) are blended with her personal history – her midlife crisis, indeed.   (Well, she is in her late thirties.)  The canal trips provide a way for the writer to re-assess her life and to make life-changing decisions.  (She is a gardener who temporarily abandons her garden.)

In brief, Ms Fowler changes partners.  She is torn, about this.  Her re-orientation takes time and trouble and involves painful feelings.  But she sticks to her decision, once made, and accepts the implications and costs.

Ms Fowler writes about sexuality but not sex.  She writes about herself rather than about her partners – they remain somewhat shadowy, little described.  (This preserves a degree of privacy for them.)  Her account is openly subjective.  The “significant others” would have said something different (of course).

This book is not for everyone.  (I like it.)  Not all will enjoy the canal and nature descriptions.  Not all will accompany the writer on her emotional journey sympathetically.  Some may not go along with her decision to leave one partner and to take up with another.

Worth a look.  Thought-provoking.


Did I mention that Alys leaves her husband for a woman?  No!?

From what I can gather, Alys is not alone in her transition from a relationship with a man to one with a woman.  And the writer is at some pains to say that the former relationship was genuine and fond – implying that it was the right thing at the time (at its time).

I guess we don’t yet know much about what has been termed “sexual fluidity”.