Abbie Dewhurst

He waited in silence, staring at me.I had heard anecdotes about his intense power of concentration, but to be in its presence was unnerving.It felt like I had stumbled into a biological experiment involving an overgrown peregrine falcon who was extremely hungry.After a brief pause, he nodded and I was encouraged to say more.Which misses the whole amazing truth we’ve discovered.Would you agree?His eyes twinkled.What do you suggest instead? he asked.I was hoping you had the answer!Dyson shrugged his shoulders.It’s early, he said.Eventually we’ll get a deeper mathematical understanding, and that’s when we’ll get the English right.Such phrases are inadequate.That’s what needs explanation.In a scientific way, not just poetic conceit.To dig into the situation and to determine exactly what it means to say ‘the universe knew’ is our challenge.Is this what you’re working on? he asked.I sidestepped his question.In his presence I was too shy to admit to such an ambition.I tried to make up for this evasion by speaking rapidly of a related issue that might enable me to ask the question I was desperate to ask.The problem is we think of ourselves sitting here while talking about objects over there, I said.I mean, now we know something.One of the physicists at the conference was leaning his great domed head down to speak into Dyson’s ear.Dyson’s face relaxed as he listened.I had noticed lines in Dyson’s forehead deepening as I was speaking with him, and I couldn’t tell if this was a reflection of his thinking process or an indication that he was irritated with my questions and felt trapped and frustrated.Dyson’s face brightened with a radiant smile when the other physicist finished his story.Dyson turned back to me.Sorry, you were saying?I’m sure I’ve gone on too long, I said.I had a sinking feeling.When assigning credit to this whole process, I said weakly.I mean when trying to assess who is responsible for the calculation, we tend to forget the Sun, because after all, the Sun ..His smile stopped me.A big happy clown smile transformed all his facial creases into pure mirth.The Sun is just a big ball of gas!He was enjoying a laugh with this naïf sitting beside him on the couch.I had so butchered the presentation of my idea that Dyson was left thinking it was nothing more than jest.But even as I churned with misgivings about what had just transpired, I knew it was not entirely my fault.I had not explained myself well.But Dyson seemed to have backed away from his cosmological insight that the universe must have known we were coming.It was all murky with emotion.I was too flustered and embarrassed to know what to think or what to say.I stood up to make room for others who were waiting to speak with him.I muttered my gratitude for his time and edged out of the crowded room.Making it especially tense was a lifetime of traveling back and forth across the border with Dad.Something irregular happened concerning his paperwork, I never learned what.Every time we approached the border to visit our relatives or, in the other direction, to return home to Lakewood, he froze with a quiet panic.Once in my teen years I asked him why he became silent when we approached the border.He told me in staccato half sentences that he was working out which story to tell them.I stayed on Marine Drive, which soon paralleled the Fraser River.When I spied the river, the dark face of my grandmother, Amy Fraser, came to mind.She had taken the river for her last name.When she told me, I never thought to ask her what her real name was.I was just so impressed that she had done this daring act.When I was four years old, the Fraser was the most powerful force in the world.More powerful than thunder or lightning.I was terrified and fascinated by it.Maybe I could take Fraser as my name too.If Dad were here, we would shoot up 91 to visit her in her cramped apartment in New Westminster.I thought briefly of doing the same, but I told myself it was so early in the morning and she might still be sleeping.So with this rationalization I stayed on 99, zipping past Surrey and White Rock to get to the border.Once through the border, I drove south along Semiahmoo Bay as it absorbed the incoming tide from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and followed the freeway east as it headed inland.By Ferndale it was farmlands on both sides as far as the eye could see.But I could see how he had contradicted himself.He had laughed at my idea, but it was laughter that could be turned back on him.But, Dyson, the early universe is nothing but a bunch of quarks and leptons! Such has been the view of mainstream science for over a century.If any other scientist had made the statement about the Sun being nothing but a ball of gas, I would have regarded it as nothing other than a trite rehearsal of how modern scientists view the world.Dyson, who had intuited that both knowledge and mind were dimensions of the universe, even the early universe, billions of years before humans emerged.It was clear evidence of the way in which old theories hold us in their grip even after we have seen more deeply into the universe.He had laughed out of force of habit, dropping into conventional terms to squeeze some humor out of the moment.Anyway, such a backing away was to be expected when a great scientist breaks through the known structures of the universe and arrives at a more comprehensive understanding.Dyson had, through natural talent and long study, arrived at an original relation with the universe.He had achieved both a way of thinking and a way of seeing that went boldly beyond the contemporary limits of scientific understanding.

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