Notes to Poem: Science & Poetry

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: This poem was written in response to ornothologist Hans Peeters' Stanford lecture "Discovering Raptors" (2-10-2016) saying "J.A. Baker's The Peregrine is poetic and good writing, but it's all wrong." My friend and I were both upset when he said that. I like Werner Herzog telling his film students that Baker's book is not about bird watching but "seeing". Since I've done both scientific research and have written poetry, having studied with renowned masters in both fields, this poem came easily. However it took seven hours to find 16 postage stamps illustrating this poem. While scientific achievements are well known (1st line of couplet), their mystical poetic sides (2nd line of couplet) are less known.

Commentary on Poem "Science & Poetry":

Newton's law of gravitation is science.
His search for pretty seashells is poetry.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726)
Discoverer of Gravitational Laws
Germany 1771 (issued 1-14-1993)
Newton's Principia (1687) formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation, which dominated scientists' view of the physical universe for three centuries. He shares credit with Gottfried Wihelm Leibniz for the development of calculus. He developed a theory of colour based on a prism decomposing white light into a rainbow of colors in the visible spectrum. He studied and experimented with alchemy and wrote commentaries on the Book of Daniel (1733). Near the end of his life, he said: "I don not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." Lecture "Newton on the Beach" by Simon Schaffer. Image Source: Germany 1771 (

Maxwell's electromagnetism is science.
His expanding universe dream is poetry.

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)
Discoverer of Electromagnetism
San Marino (issued 9-24-1991)
James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) was a Scottish scientist in mathematical physics. His most notable achievement was formulating classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, bringing together for the first time electricity, magnetism, and light as manifestations of the same phenomenone (Maxwell's Equations). Einstein described Maxwell's work as the "most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton." In a 1999 poll among physicists, Maxwell ranked third behind Einstein & Newton. Maxwell developed Maxwelll-Boltzmann distribution, a statistical means of describing aspects of the kinetic theory of gases. When teaching Chemical Statistical Mechanics at WPI (1978-1979), I read Life of James Clerk Maxwell (1884) and found Maxwell's mystical poems. His 1853 poem "Student's Evening Hymn""Past the far horizon's rim. / Earth's low sky to heaven extending... / Setting in thy darkened skies / Signs of infinite creation..." suggest an expanding universe 74 years before Edwin Hubble (1927).
Image Source: San Marino 1991 (

Einstein's E = mc2 is science.
His wisdom mudra pose is poetry.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Discover of Relativity
Israel 117 (issued 1-3-1956)
Einstein developed general theory of relativity (1905). His mass-energy equivalence formula E = mc2 is considered "world's most famous equation". Awarded 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics. Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1979) shows his sage-like qualities responding to questioners with his wisdom advice. In "Albert Einstein & Wisdom Mudra" (2015), 36 photos of Einstein in this pose were compiled with his writings showing that he has cosmic consciousness, balancing wisdom with compassion.
Image Source: Israel 117 (; Einstein's Wisdom Mudra Pose (wisdomportal)

Albert Einstein
in Wisdom Mudra pose (1942)
Albert Einstein & Wisdom Mudra

The Pythagorean Theorem is science.
Golden Verses of Pythagoras is poetry.

Pythagorean Theorem
Greece #583
(issued 8-20-1955)
Pythagorean Theorem is known to all students who've studied geometry— the square of the hypotenuse (side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. The theorem can be written as an equation relating the lengths of the sides a, b and c, called the "Pythagorean equation": a2 + b2 = c2, where c represents the hypotenuse's length and a and b the lengths of the other two sides. Upon discovering Thomas Taylor's translation of Iamblichus biography Life of Pythagoras (1818) in the Cornell LIbrary stacks, I realized that Pythagoras was also a great philosopher. He was humble, telling his students that he does not possess wisdom, but is a lover of wisdom, coining the word "philosopher" (philo
to love; sophia wisdom). His Golden Verses aimed to awaken his students to enlightenment. He taught them meditation to listen to music of the spheres. Also review events of the day before sleeping to improve one's character. Image Sources: Greece 583 & 584 (

(570 BC-495 BC)
Greece #584

Dyson's Feynman diagrams is science.
His "Enlightenment at Age 15" is poetry.

Freeman Dyson
(born 12-15-1923)
Freeman Dyson is an English-born American theoretical physicist, known for his work in quantum electrodynamics. Dyson was the first (beside Feynman) to appreciate the power of Feynman diagrams (1949). Dyson writes about his experience "Enlightenment at Age 15"— "Enlightenment came to me suddenly and unexpectedly one afternoon in March [1939] when I was walking up to the school notice board to see whether my name was on the list for tomorrow's football game. I was not on the list. And in a blinding flash of inner light I saw the answer to both my problems, the problem of war and the problem of injustice. The answer was amazingly simple. I call it Cosmic Unity which said: "There is only one of us. We are all the same person. There is no problem of injustice because your sufferings are also mine. There will be no problem of war as soon as you understand that in killing me you are only killing yourself." (Disturbingh the Universe, 1979, p. 17). Image Sources: Freeman Dyson (; Disturbing the Universe (
Disturbing the Universe
by Freeman Dyson (1979)

Inspiring Columbia physicists is science.
Izzy Rabi asking questions is poetry.

Isidor Isaac Rabi (1898-1988)
Physics Nobelist (1944)

Rabi between Kurt Gödel & Albert Einstein
at Einstein's 70th birthday (March 14, 1949)

Pupin Hall, Physics Dept.
Columbia University
Isidor Isaac Rabi was an American physicist, recognized for his discovery of nuclear magnetic resonance that won him the 1944 Physics Nobel Prize. He taught at Columbia University (1929-1967). Rabi chaired Columbia's Physics Department (1945-1949), during which time it was home to two Nobel Laureates (Rabi & Enrico Fermi) and eleven future laureates, including seven faculty (Polukarp Kusch, Willis Lamb, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, James Rainwater, Norman Ramsey, Charles Townes, and Hideki Yukawa), a research scientist (Aage Bohr), a visiting professor (Hans Bethe), a doctoral student (Leon Lederman), and an undergraduate (Leon Cooper). Martin L. Perl, a doctoral student of Rabi's, won the Nobel Prize in 1995. Rabi was once asked why he became a scientist. He replied: "My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it. Every other child would come back from school and be asked'What did you learn today?' But my mother used to say, 'Izzy, did you ask a good question today?' That made the difference. Asking good questions made me into a scientist." Poem: "Ask Questions". When Chen Ning Yang (1957 Nobel Physics) gave a 5 pm lecture on "Global Symmetry" (February 17, 1961) in 301 Pupin Hall, I got a front row seat before the room was packed. My roommate Huai-Han Kung and his physics major friends laughed afterwards that I was sitting between Polykarp Kusch1955 Nobel Physics) and Isidor Rabi (1944 Nobel Physics). I didn't know that the first row was reserved for physics professors. I took notes and obtained Yang's autograph on my yellow pad. Had I known Rai was sitting next to me, I would have requested his autograph too. The three photos on Rabi's wikipedia web page show him surrounded by 8 Nobel physicists. Just as birds of the same feathers gather together, so do minds of the same nature find themselves in one another's company. Image Sources: Isidor Isaac Rabi (; Rabi between Godel & Einstein (; Pupin Hall (

— Peter Y. Chou
    Mountain View, 5-3-2016
    reconstructed 12-15-2016

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