“No, quarks with an ‘r’.”
“Yeah, because quacks would be pretty crazy…ha ha, get it dad? Quacks…crazy?”
I write ‘ha ha‘, but Noah’s laugh is more a chortle, when it’s not a guffaw, or a tee-hee, or a snort or a sparkling bubbly outright full-bodied blast.
“So what is it dad, a quark?”
We’re watching Stephen Hawking on TV, exploring the meaning of life.
“Quarks are the smallest unit of the universe, takes four of them to make a proton which is the smallest observable thing.”
“Yeah, so what, dad?”
“No, I mean what don’t you get?”
“Why are, uh, quarks, like so important?”
Stephen Hawking is droning away on the screen. He’s already light years away, literally, from the explanation of quarks.
“Lots of reasons. But one of the coolest is that nobody has ever observed a quark for real.”
“It’s been posited, imagined by deduction, calculation. Never seen.”
Kids are such subtle critics at times.
“It’s too easy dad, like pretending…oh look dad, my imaginary friend, you know.”
“Except that when scientists observe the universe and how it works, it makes more sense when they include quarks…it’s the best fit model, which means that it’s the model that fits best the way the universe works.”
“But there’s no real, real proof?”
“No, not really.”
“I think it’s pretty exciting.”
“Yeah, it means that the world we can invent through science and imagination can be as real as the real world.”
“It means that if I imagine that zombies run the world it’s like, true?”
“Well what evidence you have? Is there zombie slime? Are there things that happen that only the existence of zombies can explain?”
“No, not really.”
I like the ‘not really’… keeping his options open.
“Then it’s not a best fit model. Something other than zombies explains the universe better. Just got to find it or imagine it.”
“He’s weird, dad.”
He points to the mangled form of Stephen Hawking, sitting in his wheelchair in an Oxford library.
“And his voice is, like, he was, you know, a defective Transformer.”
“Yeah, it’s a synthesized voice from his computer. He can’t move enough to speak.”
“But he’s traveled far into the universe and back, through his mind.”
“Dad, listen to me. It’s not as exciting to like travel in your head than like if you went into a spaceship and really traveled.”
“But look at the fun you have in your life. A lot of the most exciting things are imagined. You play games that are not real, watch films or read books about invented people and worlds.”
“Yeah, but those are just like stories.”
“Stories are the most important things, Noah. They’re what give meaning to history, to the world, to your life. They’re what connect you to me, to your family.”
“My head is always like telling me stories. Sometimes they’re really cool. Do you think I should write them down, dad?”
‘This way I can like have a best fit model of my own.”
“And maybe you can figure out who you are and what your life means.”
“Or I can teleport myself to another planet.”