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The Script of the Tiger

Just about exactly 15 years ago today I sat my last exam at the University of Nottingham. I was on fire by then – wired on talent and the self-belief of youth. I only took what I needed. 20 Marlboro, a lighter, a mechanical pencil and 35cl of pre-frozen Smirnoff.

It was a fluids exam. As I walked out of my last undergraduate examination I knew I’d aced it. Not only aced it but spotted an error on the paper and pointed it out. On the way out of the hall I bumped into a lad from my tutor-group. He was similarly prepared so, whilst we chatted about the exam and the flawed question, he took a slug of my voddy and I toked on his pre-rolled spliff. We were high as kites and that had nothing to do with the substances. We were high on our own skills. Trust me – there is no high like taking on the entire Universe with a pencil and winning. There is this feeling where you no longer see the mathematics and the physics just comes to you. It’s dangerous because it can lead to thinking faster than you can write but the power and the glory of it is amazing.

Well, why am I a libertarian? I was always going to be one for I always desired understanding rather than power. I have no interest in control over others. But being able to understand compressible flow or Quantum Mechanics or Josiah Willard Gibbs’ Grand Cannonical Ensemble is a feeling of deep power without power if you see what I mean. It’s almost spiritual rather than temporal. It’s about a profound humility and a truly Promethean moment of understanding. Render unto Mandelson what is Mandelson’s and we’ll take the rest!

What compares… Sex has the same rush and I guess flying a fighter jet does too (the RAF turned me down because of my eyesight). Actually sex is very similar to doing physics. I mean sex with someone when you cease to be two seperate beings. I don’t mean a three minute scuttling of some skank over the bonnet of a Vauxhall Astra in Oldham. That’s like doing chemistry or something equally dull. I mean it gets the job done but it doesn’t really touch the infinite does it? If it’s a slag in Oldham it probably doesn’t even touch the sides.

Only one writer I know of really got it…

Then there occurred what I cannot forget nor communicate. There occurred a union with the divinity, with the universe (I do not know whether these words differ in meaning). Ecstasy does not repeat its symbols; God has been seen in a blazing light, in a sword or in the circles of a rose. I saw an exceedingly high Wheel, which was not before my eyes, nor behind me, nor to the sides, but every place at one time. That Wheel was made of water, but also of fire, and it was (although the edge could be seen) infinite. Interlinked, all things that are, were and shall be formed it, and I was one of the fibres of that total fabric and Pedro de Alvarado who tortured me was another. There lay revealed the causes and effects and it sufficed me to see that Wheel in order to understand it all, without end. O bliss of understanding, greater than the bliss of imagining or feeling. I saw the universe and I saw the intimate designs of the universe. I saw the origins narrated in the Book of the Common. I saw the mountains that rose out of the water, I saw the first men of wood, the cisterns that turned against the men, the dogs that ravaged their face. I saw the faceless god concealed behind the other gods. I saw infinite processes that formed one single felicity and, understanding all, I was able also to understand the script of the tiger.

Borges almost nails it there. But then Borges being Borges is just starting. “The script of the tiger” is the secret formula of the Universe in the pattern of spots on a jaguar. If said aloud it makes you both God and nothing. Which is of course the same thing. (Argentinian Spanish calls all big cats “tigers”).

Now the hammer falls on the nail…

May the mystery lettered on the tigers die with me. Whoever has seen the universe, whoever has beheld the fiery designs of the universe, cannot think in terms of one man, of that man’s trivial fortunes or misfortunes, though he be that very man. That man has been he and now matters no more to him. What is the life of that other to him, the nation of that other to him, if he, now, is no one? This is why I do not pronounce the formula, why, lying here in darkness, I let the days obliterate me.

Precisely. Nobody who has seen the supreme majesty of this staggering Universe, nobody who has gone out in the wee small hours to watch meteor storms or who knows a bra from a ket gives a flying one about controling others. For to those who know the script of the tiger temporal power is merely quaint. When you have the power to understand the Universe with only a pencil then what need is there for any other power? When you can wield the secret fire with an HB what use is a mere empire of dirt?

I marked that day with a white stone for I saw my aleph that day and that aleph was not me (or you!) – it just was.

- Quotes from “The God’s Script” by Jorge Luis Borges. Translated by L A Murillo.

13 Comments

  1. Lynne says:

    Sounds a bit like giving birth…

  2. DeNihilist says:

    Thanx Nick.

  3. NickM says:

    Lynne,
    I thought I was being vaguely gnomic!

  4. Lynne says:

    It’s my non-scientific way of saying you don’t always need a pencil. :D

  5. NickM says:

    Well I guess giving birth is quite different to being a constipated mathematician. They can always work it out with a pencil.

  6. HSLD says:

    As you know Nick I’m an amateur student of physics – particularly quantum mechanics and cosmology.
    Unfortunately I don’t go much above the ‘popular science’ level because I gave up on school round about the age of 14. Obviously this means my maths aren’t so good, although I’ve always had an inbuilt talent for algebra and I have since taught myself most of what I missed while playing truant.

    As I read my popular science I do come across equations. Usually they are accompanied with a comment like ” you don’t really need to know this, but I’m including it anyway for completeness ”
    Just sometimes when I think about the equation I’ll start to understand a little part of it, and it’s wider implications. It’s only a very tiny insight, and probably one that would be very obvious to an A level student, but it’s a good feeling.

    And then I’ll wonder why I preferred playing Galaxians in a launderette ( in Nottingham funnily enough ) to going to school. If I had my time over again I wouldn’t be avoiding those subjects, I’d be begging for extra tuition….

  7. Rob F says:

    That’s much the way that I feel about physics, although I was always a middling student (my enthusiasm almost made up for my lack of natural mathematical ability, but not quite!).

    If anyone had ever asked me then I would have said that I’d probably heard of Borges somewhere, but that I didn’t have a clue who the bugger actually was.

    Typical…there I was just surfing the intartubes after a couple of beers before going to bed, and I ended up expanding my mind. Again. You bastard!

    Going off at a tangent a little, but one of my mates has a long-term girlfriend from Derker and I find her accent really sexy (technically I’m from Oldham too, but my accent is far less broad than hers). Do I need professional help or should I just go and buy a couple of pies, and stop worrying about it?

  8. CountingCats says:

    Rob,

    I’d go with the pies and just sit there enjoying the accent. Sources of pleasure in this world are way too rare to pass up.

    That others may or may not share your tastes is really of no importance.

  9. NickM says:

    Rob,
    I’m married to an (almost) Manc. I live in Cheshire and it’s just that whenever I watch the local news Oldham gets mentioned and not in a good way. Least said about Liverpool soonest mended as well. Anyway, I’m from Gateshead so I can hardly talk. I have seen things you people would not believe and I do not refer to attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. Suffice to say, “Viz” ought to be read as reportage – particularly Sid the Sexist and The Fat Slags. Especially The Fat Slags. I was once at a bus stop with my pals and this heffalump yells out, “Eee! come round the back lads! Me friend’s having a piss and you’re missing a right treat!”. Like it was Halle Berry pole-dancing and not a monstrance of a Geordie lass micturating in the bushes. I also have the South Manchester thing, alas. The morbid fear of anything North of Deansgate.

    Sexy accents though – that’s a discussion point.

  10. John B says:

    Wonderful that you were embraced by understanding.
    And you do write powerfully and prolifically. Which is a great talent.
    I am duty bound to ask, do you think, while getting the concept you might be missing the point?
    I have this morbid realisation that every crazy diamond that misses the point winds up like Syd Barret. And one does not have to.
    Shine on!

  11. Peter MacFarlane says:

    You understand compressible flow? AND quantum mechanics?

    I don’t know if I’ll ever dare comment again.

  12. NickM says:

    Well… I can work compressible flow and I think I understand QMech as well as anyone which is not blowing my own trumpet BTW. I mean no bugger really groks what’s going on down in the basement with the cask of Amontillado.

  13. mike says:

    Ha! Are you handy with a trowel Nick?!

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