Shakespeare’s The Tempest is featured beautifully by theoretical physicist Chiara Marletto in her essay, “Our Little Life Is Rounded with Possibility,” in the new issue of Nautilus. Marletto writes that Prospero’s famous lament, “Our revels are now ended,” is a magisterial example of the disappointment that poets express when they realize that transcendence is ephemeral.
Marletto’s analogy is to scientists who argue the physical laws of nature ultimately clamp down on what’s humanly possible. Marletto has no argument with the hard-and-fast rules of nature. She wants us to think about counterfactual ways to understand them. And when we do, we find resilience and progress are not doomed by elementary forces, as the poets have it, but made possible by them.
Marletto’s essay conjures another famous Shakespeare line that offers an overview of this issue’s theme. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Hamlet is evoking the supernatural to justify the ghostly presence of his father. But there are more things in our heavens and Earth than we imagine. In this issue, our writers in the fields of cosmology, paleontology, anatomy, and more, peel back the surfaces of reality to reveal the universal truths beneath.
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