Einstein at the Bat

the story of Cosmology: America's true pastime

"Build it and they will come" were the mysterious words heard by Stephen Hawking twenty years ago today in his summer home in rural Kansas. Not having ever heard of slow pitch softball, he plowed under all of his crops and built an enormous croquet course. Not until years later after having seen Field of Dreams did he finally build a softball field, and since then the annual softball game has been a tradition. There is always a lot of of conversation, and often quite a bit of bickering, but despite all, this is always the highlight of everybody's year.

This year is like any other. After everyone arrives, they go through the usual routine and pick the teams. Einstein always goes first, both a hitter and a pitcher, with his legendary "atomic swing" and vicious curve ball. Galileo is a gem because of the wormhole pitch Hawking had taught him (it's a nasty pitch - you can't even see it until it's past you). And of course, Newton always gets picked last, for he always lets the ball just drop on his forehead, falls down, and minutes later gets up mumbling about gravity. But overall the picking goes quickly, and the players begin to warm up.

Aristarchus and Shoeless Johannes Kepler end up together in right field and sit down - Newton is up.

"Good to see you, old buddy!" exclaims Kepler.

"Hey, how are you, y'old dog!"

"I'm fine. Hey have you seen how goofy Aristotle looks in that Jose Canseco get up of his?"

"Yeah, I ran into him earlier. He was still talking all that jive about common sense. Ptolemy's UniverseIts always describe, describe, describe and looking for the deeper meaning behind things. They never want to explain anything. He and Claudius Ptolemy were over there discussing their loopy ideas on how all motion in the universe can be attributed to the Prime Mover. It's like every other thing you hear out of them is 'God is the Orderer this' or 'uniform circular motion that.' I've never really gotten along with Ptolemy ever since he gave me a copy of his most famous work, Almagest, with the inside cover reading, "Nice try. Love, C. Ptolemy."

"They've always been quite obsessive about perfection and immutability. They've come quite close to convincing me that all celestial bodies move at constant speed and in perfect circular paths! And, Oh, Hey Pythagoras! Catch!"

Pythogaras looks up, gracefully catches the ball and then whirls it over to Aristarchus.

"Off to the music room, Pythagoras?"

"Of course. Good luck today, guys!"

"Oh, don't worry, you know, just hit it to Newton!"

Pythagoras trots off and Kepler starts in with interest, inquiring about the music room.

Pythagoras' Universe

"Oh yes," states a proud Aristarchus - a member of the Pythagorean school himself, "He continues to do his research on the notion of musical harmony in the cosmos. He's quite married to the idea of a relationship between musical scales, mathematical laws and the motions of planets. In fact, he recently teamed up with Public Enemy for a little ditty called "Don't Believe the Hypotenuse."

"Yeah, I really like Pythagoras. Copernicus never would have ushered in modern astrology if not for the Pythagorean notion of underlying mathematical harmony . . . Uh-oh, Einstein's warming up, better move back."

"I tell you never get credit for anything I do, Shoeless. The heliocentric conception of the universe, for example. Copernicus seems to be on everyone's lips these days, when it was really me who originally had the idea, and whoa boy, here he comes now."

"Hey fellas!" yelps Copernicus in his habitually goofy way.

"Hi Copernicus." says Aristarchus matter-of-factly, letting his voice trail off.

"Heyhey old buddy!" blurts Kepler with alacrity. (Kepler's always been so fond and admiring of Copernicus, regarding him as the father of modern astrology, though he doesn't like to admit it when Aristarchus is around).

"How are you two? I got a little tired of listening to Leibnitz and Newton go at it, they'll really talk your ear off. Ah Aristarchus, it's always so nice to see somebody of the Pythagorean school. I really owe you guys a lot. Although your idea of the earth revolving around a central fire, and shielded by a counter earth didn't quite pan out, your efforts to explain rather than describe really encouraged me."

Copernicus' Universe

"Well, I didn't see a 'thank you' in your famous De Revolutionibus in 1543."

"I have to say, it was nothing personal, Aristarchus. I did do most of my own research, and it was quite a difficult break with the Ptolemaic understanding which I was so immersed in at the time. Smack in the face of the Spanish Inquisition, why don't you try saying that there is no difference between the heavens and the earth, and replace it all with the modern conception of "space". Why don't you try telling them that the earth is spinning on an axis and through space, yet we don't perceive any motion because we are upon it."

"Oh, don't flatter yourself, nerdicus. When it was published you not only withheld your name as the author but specifically stated that you were trying to describe what happens rather than explain it. Perhaps the Pythagorean school was an inspiration, but that's it."

"Well, maybe that is so, but my contributions don't end with the heliocentric universe. My work was momentous in the development of theories on gravity. If the earth was no longer at the center of the universe, then objects had to fall towards some other force. Therefore all heavenly objects must have their own center of gravity, and attract each other. If this was so easy, then why had nobody challenged Ptolemy for fourteen centuries?"

"Whatever, nerdicus."

It was time to play ball. The guest umpire, Thomas Banchoff, rounded up team captains and old hitter pitcher rivalry, Shoeless Joe Kepler and Flamin' Galileo to discuss the rules.

"Well gents, I'm thrilled to be here, you know how we play. Five innings of honest softball, and reactions to the game are due on the internet by midnight tonight. So let's play ball!"

The players take the field while Kepler and Galileo linger around the plate for a moment. Galileo notices that Banchoff gives Kepler a little wink as he walks away.

"What was that all about?" says Galileo half laughing, with a tone of incredulity.

"Oh, Tom's always taken a particular liking for me. You see, convinced of God as a geometer, I explained the six planetary orbits as, from outside in, cube, tetrahedron, dodecahedron, icosahedron, octahedron and sphere. "

Aristarchus is on his way over to first base and he tips has hat to Kepler and Galileo. Kepler remarks that he had an interesting conversation with him earlier that day.

"Oh yeah?" says a curious Galileo.`

"He's a really interesting guy, though a little bitter about how Copernicus still gets all the glory for the heliocentric universe. However, in my time there were still many adjustments that needed to be made on the Aristarchan system. With the inspiration of Pythagoras and Copernicus as well as my conviction in the physical causality of all things, I made them. For instance, I formulated the elliptical orbits and threw out the idea of uniform circular motion, as well as putting the planetary orbits on six separate planes all passing thorough the sun rather than having them all rest upon one single plane."

"With all due respect to your friend, you really did a number on some of Copernicus' ideas as well, didn't you?"

"Yeah, Tycho Brahe's supernova of 1572 along with mine in 1604 finally put an end to the idea of the immutability of the heavens. I don't know where I would have been with out Tycho's meticulous measurements. I think Tycho's here today, ummm, yep there he is, as usual keeping the score books."

"Well good luck today, I hope you can get a Pisa my wormhole pitch."

"I don't think I'll need luck with my mathematically harmonious swing."

Galileo's Telescope

"Yeah right, maybe you could use the help of the first modern telescope of 30 power which I built in 1610!"

"Oh, come now, why are we fighting? We supported each other back in the seventeenth century. Together with Copernicus, we accomplished so much. I mean that was brilliant how you demonstrated with the tides that the earth could not be stationary, as well as proposing that there is a universal physics."

"Well, you're not so bad yourself. Anyway, best of luck!"

The two shake hands as Galileo strolls confidently over to the mound, and Kepler digs into the batter's box. Three pitches later, Kepler is skulking back to the dug out, and another classic is under way.

By the third inning (out of five), the game is slow moving as usual, zero-zero. Everyone had their gripes with Hawking's black hole glove, whose event-horizon this year covers all of left and center field. The game is now being played without an umpire, for Banchoff had wandered off mysteriously when Edwin Abbott Abbott showed up.

Well, somehow, Newton had gotten to second. Einstein, who has a tender spot for him had intentionally walked him, and then Aristarchus sacrifice bunted him to second. Unfortunately, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz is playing shortstop. This always means trouble. Liebnitz and Newton is much worse than Aristarchus and Copernicus any day of the week.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't the great Sir Isaac Newton. Why don't you steal third? That seems to be your specialty."

"Oh put a sock in it Liebnitz, regardless of the fact that we simultaneously developed calculus, you know it was I who first pieced together formally in my Principia Mathematica of 1687 the modern notion gravity. And it was I who finally unified the universe as stable and infinite with a single set of mathematical laws. But you and I, we really came together on a lot of issues."

"Don't think I don't know it, Ize the Wise. It was I who suggested that 'space and time are orders of things, an not things.' We both knew that space and time were concepts humans need to organize and arrange their environments, but it was your idea of 'absolute space' which dominated for almost three hundred years."

"Absolute space was the best explanation for it at the time, Gottfried. There was need of something at rest which everything in motion was relative to."

Overhearing he conversation were Karl Freidrich Gauss, who happened to be playing third, and Ernst Mach, who was in the on deck circle.

"Oh, I wish they'd just drop it," says Mach with exasperation, "Cosmologically those two had quite a bit of influence, but it was you who finally pushed onto center stage non-Euclidean geometry."

"After me, curved space really became a reality which pervaded society at many levels."

"Well, being one of the most influential theorists on the nature of modern science, I would have to agree with Copernicus and Aristotle here, in that it wasn't really a 'reality' , as you call it. Scietific theories do not explain physical phenomena, but rather describe- HEY! Heads up!"

Gauss makes a magnificent diving catch on a stinger by Bernhard Riemann. Gauss tosses it around the horn and resumes his conversation.

"It was really Baseball Bernie," says Gauss pointing to Riemann, "a student of mine, who set things up for Atomic Albert's theory of special relativity."

"Um-hm. In that famous lecture he gave in 1854 called, 'On the Hypotheses That Lie at the Foundations of Geometry', he suggested the irregularity of space at both very small distances and extremely large distances. Even so much that the universe may curve back on itself into a gigantic ball."

"Yeah, but even so physicists were still treading water, thinking space was rigid an homogeneous. They were still so very far removed from baseball Bernie's radical new conception of the universe."

Einstein's Curved Space

"Oh yes, and even as advanced as Baseball Bernie was, Einstein's geometric explanation of the gravity was quite elusive. Instead of dealing with the curvature of spacetime, he was still talking about the curvature of mere space."

"And, oh welp, see you later." The inning had just ended. Newton had gotten picked off second base. He's a bad base-runner, always being absolutely spaced out.

And so the game moves on, deadlocked at zero-zero in the bottom of the fifth inning. Leibnitz and Aristarchus are both complaining as usual, each thinking they aren't get enough recognition on their teams. Galileo is on the mound, bases empty, Einstein at the plate. This is it. Both have been here before. Edwin Hubble is catching.

"Hey there, Atomic." says Edwin nonchalantly as he spits a huge wad of black tobacco on home plate.

Strike One.

"Don't try to throw me a curve, acting like this doesn't matter relative to the other games."

Strike two.

"Lots of luck, atomic. You torus apart last time, lets see it again." Galileo peers in at Hubble, gets the sign for the wormhole and goes into the windup.

"Don't worry, I'm about to return this ball to its natural state of free-float."

CRASH! Einstein belts the ball far over the center field fence. The players are silent with awe at the mighty wallop for a moment before charging the field and carrying Einstein around the bases on their shoulders.

As they drop him off at home plate and the celebration adjourns to the music room for a dance party with Pythagoras, Hubble and Einstein exchange knowing smiles.

"I knew you'd do it."

"Well, it was fun. It's just so great for Stephen to have us all over like this."

"Well", starts Hubble, "I know I wouldn't be here if it weren't for your publishing of the theory of special relativity in 1905. It revolutionized the world of physics by deducing from the relative motions of objects the necessity of joining the concepts of space and time into four dimensional spacetime."

"Well, you know, a scientist is an unscrupulous opportunist, its ten percent inspiration, and ninety percent perspiration. Newton's concept of absolute space had always puzzled me: you can't solve problems with the same kind of thinking which created them."

"Oh, cut the modesty! And then general relativity ten years later? How we all are in a natural state of free float and 'gravity' is a mere product of the geometry of the spacetime surrounding us?! And on top of that, the idea that matter grips spacetime time telling it how curve and spacetime grips matter, telling it how to move! That was unbelievable! You refuted the Newtonian universe with an entire set of mathematical laws of your own! You are the founder of twentieth century theoretical physics!"

"Well, it wasn't all me. In my rejection of the infinite and stable Newtonian universe, I proposed that it was finite but unbounded. Without you, the current model of the universe could not exist. It was your discovery of the red shift which offered proof of an expanding universe. It was your work, Edwin Hubble, that allowed us to estimate distances to remote galaxies, and discover our Milky Way's existence in local and super clusters of other galaxies."

"Yes, I guess we both did our share. And now it is up to men such as Stephen Hawking to discover the truth of the shape of our universe, be it flat, open, or closed; to tell us about black holes and baby universes; to tell us of the beginning and the end of the universe, the 'big bang' and 'big crunch'; to tell us of this mysterious and ubiquitous dark matter; to tell us of white dwarfs and neutrinos. Yes, Albert, I guess we all do our share."

And so, Aristotle, Ptolemy, Aristarchus, Pythagoras, Copernicus, Kepler, Brahe, Galileo, Leibnitz, Newton, Gauss, Reimann, Hubble and Einstein all bid farewell to Hawking, and this rough and ready slew of geniuses marched heroically off into the sunset, hands slapping dusty backs, bats slung carelessly over shoulders, chuckling heartily, sharing a youthful, fraternal bondage, and all the while with the ironic sparkle in each of their eyes: the unspoken understanding that slow pitch softball was the closest they may ever come to a unified field theorem.