Friday, August 02, 2013

What It Is Like To Steal Newton's Apple.

When I am old, and gray(er), I will remember this, I hope: "There's an apple!"

The tree has a placque and the placque has an inscription and the inscription says that the tree which we stand in front of was, is, could have been, more or less, the same tree that Isaac Newton once sat under, once had an apple fall from, once used to inadvertently realize the truth of all things, which truth is: all things attract each other.

Not fall.

Not have weight.

All things are drawn towards all other things, is what Isaac Newton learned sitting under his apple tree, what he learned when the apple from that apple tree was attracted to his head, and without thinking, really, I am reaching for the small apple hanging from the branch on this tree, my hand attracted to it but it also attracted to me, each drawing towards the other almost as if the tree has drawn our little trio here this afternoon.

We are walking around the campus, this afternoon, and it is seventy-five degrees and we have no real aims or goals.  "Where is the campus?" my youngest son asks me, and I struggle to explain to him what a campus is.

"It's everything around you," I finally tell him, "Everything you see is the campus," but he appears skeptical: the pond, with lily pads? The building? The path? The road? These are the campus?

We had no reason for being here other than to be here.

We had it in mind to walk to this garden, and then to another, and to amble around the campus and see what could be seen and touch what could be touched, and we had already crossed a high pedestrian bridge above the street, we had seen the capital "W" spelled out in flowers -- "Roses!" said the son who talks in words, incorrectly but happily -- and now we had walked past the dorms and past the School of Business and past the sprinklers where we could not play they are just for looking, and in moments we would head further up the stairs, to a building that would turn out to house the Astronomy Department but more importantly to two-thirds of us would also house the way to walk across a skywalk with old-fashioned windows that lean in, open to the breeze, which is absent today and will not come through those windows.

But for now, we are standing beside a tree that was grown from a cutting from the tree under which Isaac Newton sat, centuries ago, and pondered the mysteries of the universe and its universal attractions, everything leaning towards everything else and wanting to get closer always closer, and we have drawn ourselves underneath the tree, very close, and are looking at it, one-third of us in wonder, one-third of us because there are apples, and one-third of us because that is where everybody else is looking, I think.

It feels as though you are time-traveling, to stare at this tree and the apples, hanging from the branches and yes! on the ground, too!

We take a picture, standing before the tree.

The apple, taken from the tree, will rest in my pocket, the remainder of the afternoon, riding in darkness as we walk through hallways in buildings I have never entered before and maybe ought not be in now.

It is smooth, light, small, not ripe, almost spherical but not, quite.

I wonder if it will grow if planted.

I wonder what I will do with it. Can it be preserved? It felt like something I couldn't not take, but having taken it, what can I do with it, now?

The lesson of the day: "There's an apple!" spoken just after I explain that this is Newton's apple tree, really, his still in the same way Theseus' ship can remain the ship of Theseus.

Sometimes the point of things is just that they exist, and we are there to see them, and later to remember that we have seen these things.


Pat Dilloway said...

That's a pretty famous apple tree. Is that your wedding picture on the desk? You used to be pretty skinny there.

Briane P said...

I WAS skinny. Those were great days.

Andrew Leon said...

Which all makes me think of, for whatever reason, the great redwoods that have been alive for more than 2000 years. Not that we've left most of those alive.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's an old tree. And yet young considering the six thousand years of earth's history.
The playground is quiet today...

Briane P said...


I saw some of those redwoods when we came to California. They're impressive, and I loved looking at them.


Your last comment has a very philosophical, and yet somewhat sad, ring to it.

Rusty Webb said...

I'm glad you got to take an apple from there, but I would have tried to position myself so one could fall on me (maybe with a little help), then see what insights into the universe I might come up with. I mean, everyone knows Newton was a smart guy, so I don't want to discount his contribution to understanding of Gravity, but maybe the tree was trying to tell him something too and the only way it can communicate is by dropping apples.

Briane P said...

Well, now I have to head back there.