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Imaginative engagement with multiverse through poetry


Being a Poem in the Making (Part #4)


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For example, the biologist/anthropologist Gregory Bateson, in explaining why "we are our own metaphor", pointed out to a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation that:

One reason why poetry is important for finding out about the world is because in poetry a set of relationships get mapped onto a level of diversity in us that we don't ordinarily have access to. We bring it out in poetry. We can give to each other in poetry the access to a set of relationships in the other person and in the world that we are not usually conscious of in ourselves. So we need poetry as knowledge about the world and about ourselves, because of this mapping from complexity to complexity. (Cited by Mary Catherine Bateson, 1972, pp. 288-9)

Any scientific hypothesis regarding the organization of the universe can readily be understood as a form of "fiction" and questionably distinct from such. Thus Wikipedia presents a "A fictional universe is a self-consistent fictional setting with elements that differ from the real world. It may also be called an imagined, constructed or fictional realm (or world)." -- a fictional universe as being a self-consistent fictional setting with elements that differ from the real world. The challenge from many perspectives lies in understanding of what is the "real world" in contrast with an imagined, constructed or fictional realm (Roberts Avens, Imagination is Reality: western nirvana in Jung, Hillman, Barfield and Cassirer, 1980). This has elicited an appropriately provocative entry on Multiverse in the Uncyclopedia: the content-free Encyclopedia -- including the purported quotation from Oscar Wilde: In traditional verse, you have two televisions in your house; in multiverse, you have two houses in your television.

The incorporation of "verse" in "multiverse" clearly constitutes a temptation to the imagination of the poetically inclined. There is also the sense in which those of poetic inclination are inspied by the imagination of physicists. For the purposes of this argument it is useful to distinguish tentatively between the following.

Complex multiversal narrative: A complex web of narratives (with which multiverse was originally associated) may well be understood to some degree by appropriation of implications of "multiverse" as understood by physics (cf. Gary Edward Schnittjerf, The Narrative Multiverse within the Universe of the Bible: the question of "borderlines" and "intertextuality", 2002; K. Faith Lawrence, Wherefore Art Thou? Crowdsourcing linked data from Shakespeare to Dr Who, Proceedings of the ACM WebSci'11, 2011; Karin Kukkonen, Navigating Infinite Earths: readers, mental models, and the multiverse of superhero comics, StoryWorlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies, 2, 2010, pp. 39-58; Jo Carrillo, Getting to Survivance: an essay about the role of mythologies in law, PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 25, 2002, 1, pp. 37-47). Contrasting narrative "lines" and "stories" are then to be understood as constituting different "versions" of the truth.

Collection of verses: A poem may be readily understood as a collection of verses -- making of the poem a "multiverse" in its own right. Collections of poems can also be so framed.

Inspired allusions: Poems and collections of poems may be explicitly inspired by "multiverse" through allusions to a radically different mode of organization and engagement with the associated reality, but without fundamentally reframing that organization or its experiential implications. Examples include:

Experimental exploration of the organization and content of poems: Poems technically inspired by alternative modes of organization of multiplicity, diversity and complementarity -- in the tradition of experimental poetry: Experiential implication in poetry: Poetry inspired by the complexities highlighted by the imagination of physics -- possibly framed as quantum poetics (cf. Nick Laird Quantum Poetics, The Guardian, 19 July 2008). Notable examples include the work of:
  • Amy Catanzano (iEpiphany, 2008; Multiversal, 2009; Quantum Poetics: Writing the Speed of Light, Poems and Poetics, Part 1, July 2009; Part 2 August 2009; Part 3, December 2011):

    The more I think about theoretical physics and the implications of its principles on poetry and prose, the more I question the spacetime of my own poems. I also have new questions of the poems I am reading: How does gravity behave? Where does the poem's universe warp? Broader questions surface: Is poetry a form of space/time travel? What is the result of using a causality-based language in a universe where, through the use of telescopes, the farther we look into space the farther we are looking back into time?...

    Shlain [Art and Physics: parallel visions in space, time, and light, 2001], argues that breakthroughs in science often happen near the same time as similar breakthroughs in art. The development of perspective through a single vanishing point gave visual art the third realistic dimension of depth and rejected years of flat depictions of space and time....

    One of the most well known of these unified field theories of quantum gravity is string theory, or superstring theory. In proposals such as string theory, spacetime is an ambiguous ecology, and the known universe is thought to be part of a larger wilderness, a multiverse comprised of multiple and perhaps infinite dimensions of space and time that are created by collisions between subatomic, vibrating membranes of energy. String theory attempts to define the evolution of space and matter from the connections between these vibrating membranes of energy. The multiverse, a concept rooted in science fiction, is now an accepted theory of physical reality in theoretical physics. Poems and other innovative languages also seem to be multiversal, invoking invisible ecosystems outside eye-level, molecular and astronomical scales, ambiguous spacetimes, and collisions between membranes or borders....

    Astrophysicists propose that ninety-six percent of the known universe is comprised of dark matter and dark energy. Yet we often participate in reality as if the invisible is revealed, as if the universe is seen. Perhaps consciousness, operating in quantum, relative, and multiple states at the same time, and as part of the multiverse's ecology, unbound by the linearity of space and time, is evolving toward novelty through art such as poetry, which is an innovative language of the imagination, and which might equip the invisible universe to see us, so we might, in turn, see it....

    To be in any form, what is that? In my sense of quantum poetics, to be in any form is not only a question of the poet and of the poem, but of spacetime. ... Quantum poetics does not stop at semiotics or politics or procedure.... By applying principles in theoretical physics to poetry, quantum poetics investigates how physical reality is assumed, imagined, and tested through language at discernible and indiscernible scales of spacetime.... Developments in theoretical physics illustrate that uncertainty and ambiguity are expressed in physical reality, suggesting that uncertainty and ambiguity are not just modes of aesthetics but also forces within spacetime... Isn't the poem always something else? ... The poem might be a shifting-eye picture keeping watch on an ideology or an un/framed protest against convention.

  • Cheryl Snell (Multiverse, 2008)
  • Margarita Ovalle (Intimacy and Multiverse: notebooks of poems, myths and world visions, 2008)
Commentary and interpretation of the preceding experiential explorations, potentially creative in their own right, by instigators, reviewers and critics. Examples (notably because of their accessibility over the web) include:
  • John Hawk, as founding editor of the literary journal Multiverses, writes:

    Each moment of our lives is a haiku waiting to happen. The unique way in which we experience these moments creates an authentic and personal reality known only to ourselves -- our own little universe, so to speak. Yet we are all part of the same sum. By sharing our individual experiences and observations, we gain perspective and insight into the world of others, therefore becoming better attuned and more intimate with our own. It is with this idea in mind that Multiverses happened into existence, and it is with great reverence and humility that I share these moments with each and all of you.

  • Amy Catanzano, as reviewed by Tina Brown Celona (The Post-Romantic "I": reading the multiverse in Amy Catanzano's iEpiphany and Multiversal, Denver Quarterly, 44, 3):

    Multiversal [is] a detailed account of the phenomenal world, starting with subatomic particles and extending to the furthest reaches of the cosmos, filtered through an imaginative consciousness.... Political arguments for an aesthetic that privileges multiplicity over unity, the indeterminate over the predetermined, "the encyclopedic impulse" over the "impulse to boundedness," the "open" text over the closed, which rejects the authority of the writer over the reader and favors process over product, are familiar to anyone who reads much contemporary poetry.... The action of these poems [in iEpiphany] is phenomenological and ontological: seeing, thinking, dreaming, deciphering, locating, learning, imagining, and ultimately, at the limits of knowledge, inventing. But the "iEpiphany" occurs long before the closing lines: consciousness and existence are contiguous, dimensions which extend one another, overlapping in zones of imagination and invention and "reproduction.".... A close reading of Multiversal reveals an almost obsessive concern with perceiving, measuring, interpreting, apprehending "reality" and transmuting that experience into descriptive or constitutive language. Mapping, measuring, calculating, charting the dimensions of perimeters, boundaries, territories, borders, peripheries is the work Catanzano proposes and pursues.... In Catanzano's poems, a human subject encounters the multiverse. This subject is permeable to the "outside."

    Michael Palmer introduces Multiversal (2009) with:

    Amy Catanzano offers us a poetic vision of multiple orders and multiple forms, of a fluid time set loose from linearity and an open space that is motile and multidimensional. The work exists at once in a future-past and in a variety of temporal modes... In a time of displacement such as ours, she seems to say, in place of 'universals' we must imagine 'multiversals," in place of the fixed, the metamorphic....

  • Margarita Ovalle (Intimacy and Multiverse. Notebooks of poems, myths and world visions, 2008) as reviewed by Luis Weinstein:

    The intimacy seems to refer to the small, calls to feel proximity, brings associations of confidences, of complicity between silences, subtle touches, moist eyes, remembers the exclusion of the forest, the galaxy, the crowd, evokes the delicacy and care. The multiversal impresses as extensive, perhaps rollingly unreachable perhaps full of the neglect of a colossal wave not prepared to distinguish between algaes, fish and navigators. This book, this project, almost irreverent, puts the accent on the correspondence, the conjunction, the integration, the synergy of the depth of the interior, the intimate, the individualized, the local... and the vast, universal, the "multiversal", the diverse. It points to a multiverse in the intimacy, in an intimacy of the encounter, of the groups in the networks, in the universal visions, in the community action, in the common sense. The intimacy is the dream, invisible of small, germ of a project of life, of vision of the human being influencing in society, culture, history, in evolution. The multiverse is the torrent of time, the giddiness of the space. The unembraceable diversity of every human, each link, each creation. Each world.

  • Cheryl Snell (Multiverse, 2008) as variously reviewed [review] [review]. This is a short collection of poignant poems that edge the idea of a MULTIple universe replacing the concept of a simple UNIverse:

    But lest the reader be afraid that the scientific aspect of this premise is prevalent in this collection, it must be pointed out that despite the original 'idea' of the title, the poems in this collection are immediately accessible, very beautiful works indeed. The flow and meaningful content of this book of poems by a seasoned writer is made even more seductive by the addition of expressionistic paintings by Janet Snell. Rarely have poems been so well 'illustrated' or at least so integrated as they are by the two Snells working in tandem. At the heart of these poems and art is a sense of home, of the sounds of and sense of night, and the radiant meanderings of on seasonal strokes. And yet Snell knows how to bring all of nature together, to include humans, in a touching manner. This is a collection of poems to be lingered over, like reminders of first views or experiences we usually keep to ourselves for fear that speaking of them will make them lost to us. Snell has captured these moments and we can only hope she will continue to write such tender thoughts as well as in MULTIVERSE.

Irrespective of such commentary, others have given thought to the implications of "multiverse" from a poetic perspective, including:

  • Ian Irvine (Gods and the Quantum Muse: Creativity and the Multiverse, 2012)
  • Gary C. Gibson (Ostensive Objects of Multiverse Philosophy and Forces Delimiting Extra Dimensions, AllPoetry, 2011).
  • David M. Baulch (Time, Narrative, and the Multiverse: Post-Newtonian Narrative in Borges's "The Garden of the Forking Paths" and Blake's Vala or The Four Zoas, The Comparatist, 27, May 2003)
  • Karin Kukkonen (Navigating Infinite Earths: Readers, Mental Models, and the Multiverse of Superhero Comics, StoryWorlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies, 2, 2010, pp. 39-58):

    In a recent study of multiple worlds in physics, philosophy, and narrative, Marie-Laure Ryan argues that our "private encyclopedia" is deeply rooted in the classical notion that there is one world in which we live and through which we think-rather than many such worlds. As Ryan puts it, "[f]ormost of us, the idea of parallel realities is not yet solidly established in our private encyclopedias and the text must give strong cues for us to suspend momentarily our intuitive belief in classical cosmology" (Ryan 2006: 671). Cognitive-psychological research on mental models, that is, scenarios we mentally develop in order to reason, also stresses that situations triggering the creation of multiple mental models are difficult to process (see Jarvella, Lundquist, and Hyönä 1995), and that we construct mental models in order to eliminate alternatives and create coherence (Johnson-Laird 1983;Garnham and Oakhill 1994). Thus, when reading fiction, interpreters construct "a three-dimensional model akin to an actual model of the scene" (Johnson-Laird 2006: 37) in order to locate the characters in a story, monitor the events and project the narrative's progress (seeHerman 2002). In such contexts readers' mental model is called a "storyworld," and it relies on the same one-world ontology that Ryan associates with "our intuitive belief in classical cosmology."

Hypotheses of consciousness and spacetime Statemaster Encyclopedia:

Space-time theories of consciousness relate the geometrical features of conscious experience, such as viewing things in space-time at a point, to the geometrical properties of the universe itself. These theories should properly be called hypotheses and sometimes make specific predictions, and so their proponents assert that they should be considered as protoscience rather than pseudoscience....

These space-time theories of consciousness are highly speculative but have features that their proponents consider attractive: every individual would be unique because they are a space-time path rather than an instantaneous object (i.e., the theories are non-fungible), and also because consciousness is a material thing so direct supervenience would apply. The possibility that conscious experience occupies a short period of time (the specious present) would mean that it can include movements and short words; these would not seem to be possible in a presentist interpretation of experience. Theories of this type are also suggested by cosmology. The Wheeler-De Witt equation describes the quantum wave function of the universe (or more correctly, the multiverse). This equation does not involve time. Time was explained by Bryce De Witt by dividing the multiverse into an observer with measuring devices and the rest of the universe. The rest of the universe then changes relative to the observer. This introduction of time results in the occurrence of space-time, gravity and the rest of the observed material world.

Marco Lucchesi (Poesia e Ciencia: quase cronica / Poetry and science: almost a short-short story,História, Ciencias, Saude - Manguinhos, 13, 2006, pp. 257-67):

Relation between science and poetry. The possible dialogue between verse and universe (or multiverse). Testimony from Ilya Prigogine and Carlo Rubbia, in Rio de Janeiro, personal acquaintances of the author. Poetry discovers the quantum horizon. And its implications vis-à-vis the notion of particle physics, from simple to complex. The old paradigm and the new paradigm. The beautiful, unexpected face of complexity. Beauty and intelligence, as interfaces of one same process.

Jenn MacCormack, as editor of Written River: A Journal of Eco-Poetics, offers valuable insights into the Psychology of a Poem, suggesting that almost all creative writing has some element of self-exploration or self-understanding involved, whether the writers realize it or not. She discusses the "poem as a person", noting with respect to the "poem as psyche":

Poetry as a psyche (or body-mind) acts as a bridge, a channel between our own psyches (body-minds) and the more-than-conscious psyche, that is, the body-mind of the earth itself. Heraclitus, perhaps one of the first Western psychologists, said that the psyche was boundless, with depths beyond our searching: "You could not find the ends of soul (psyche) though you traveled every way, so deep is its knowing (logos).

With respect to "putting poetry as people into practice", MacCormack argues:

And then there is Feral Poetry ... poetry that has broken free and allowed to follow its own way. Truly wild and untamed poetry is as endangered as any of our other ancient species, and it is just as important to our well being as humans and a planet as any other member of this planetary ecosystem. With such an inundation of "words" around us all the time, poetry must learn how to be feral, how to ask the uncomfortable questions, how to shed its skin and be at home in its body, in essence -- how to be a poem again.


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