Kepler Essay On The Six Cornered Snowflake

Kepler Essay On The Six Cornered Snowflake-24
Imagine: the tired astronomer, eyes bloodshot, fingers ink-stained (Kepler did all his own calculations), walks out on a Prague bridge and notices the snowflakes landing on him, his celestial mind quickened by this symmetry on his sleeve.

Imagine: the tired astronomer, eyes bloodshot, fingers ink-stained (Kepler did all his own calculations), walks out on a Prague bridge and notices the snowflakes landing on him, his celestial mind quickened by this symmetry on his sleeve.

It’s a small book, just bigger than the Apple Magic Trackpad by my wrist.

The cover is glossy, done in winter colors: blue, white, gray; the paper is thick and high quality, the font is an easy-to-read variant of Garamond, and there are several pages of line drawings: necessary, in my opinion, to follow some of the geometry digressions.

And the pleasure I took in that, while living through the early-twenty-first-century rise of the e-book, is important to document. Galileo’s books are taught in Italian high schools as masterpieces of style.

I suspect that thinking so much about snowflakes made me think of books themselves as snowflakes—physically beautiful, melting away. We know Aristotle from his students’ lecture notes; that is why he’s no good for pleasure reading.

It’s precisely these poetically charged connections—snowflake, pomegranate, beehive—that Kepler hits on in his found poem. You can find notes of court poetry, and of Donne’s love of paradox: he presents the treatise as a “New Year’s Gift,” then with a wink says he gives a mere snowflake, a nothing, a (“nicht”) in German.

Kepler’s Snowflake, like Donne’s Flea, becomes something much bigger than itself by the time he’s done talking.Masterfully unexpected juxtapositions, these: two warm-weather comparisons for an ice crystal!Neruda would have done it purely by sensory intuition.(His works of astronomy are harder to follow: too much math.) What works in our favor is that he’s writing, not to a fellow scientist, but to his patron at court, the delightfully named Lord Wacker von Wackenfels.Metaphor, Mother of Science Late in the treatise, Kepler ponders snowflakes by pondering the frosty window above a hot bath.In fact, at one point in his speculations, he actually concedes that he may be building his next few ideas on poppycock. After, that is, Kepler had calculated the elliptical orbits of the solar system.This “New Year’s Gift” marks a turning—a “volta,” to use poetry lingo—from the heavenly to the earthly, a poetic transition if ever there was one.This use of the asterisk is a masterstroke of ingenuity— takes shape very seriously, too.He was fond of geometry—he is known for discovering two solids, to this day called “Kepler’s polyhedra,” whose sides are made entirely of equilateral triangles.Books of popular science avoid literary flourishes; they are after clarity, not beauty.No gratuitous puns on Nothing, no quotes from Vergil’s.

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