Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Two Cultures

Thom Garvey reviews Einstein's Dreams, and talks a bit about why artists often fall short when creating works that try to push into scientific realms:

The trouble with its larger ambitions, of course, is the same problem that has always dogged the "two cultures" debate: the scientific illiteracy of most humanists. True, many scientists, engineers, and techies in general can seem culturally, or at least socially, retarded; still, a lot of them have read Shakespeare, many more dabble in conceptual or technological art, and most are avid, and sometimes even superb, musicians. They're more than halfway over the "bridge" to the humanities. But try to think of an actor or painter or writer who could hold his or her own at a particle accelerator. You see the problem? The vast majority of our "intellectuals" can rattle on ad infinitum about the mind/body problem or Cartesian dualism, but ask them about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and you'll almost certainly get a blank stare.

Quick autobiographical note:

My theatre company, Essayons, began as a collaborative ensemble, (actors, directors, writers, tech people,) where we would take issues and ideas, discuss and research them, build characters and events around them and then pull them together into a play form.

In 2000 we created Live Hostage Crisis!, a multimedia meditation on isolation, technology addiction, growing corporate power and the business of nostalgia. It sounds horribly pretentious, but it really wasn't. It was a lot of fun, but very disjointed. Here is a review of our first performance of the piece.

That performance took place on the campus of Harvard University, and opening night, a blizzard hit. We were a little relieved, thinking, "Well, nobody will really come to see it, so we can work out some kinks."

Little beknownst to us, the news of this multimedia show that dealt with technology had circulated onto the MIT campus, and we played to standing room only audiences all weekend. And what happened after that first performance took me back a little bit.

As creators of the show, some us were backed into a corner, literally, by MIT students who were fascinated with the ideas we were presenting. However, I have to admit, their conversations and questions were soaring over our heads. I remember the director and I being surrounded by five or six men and women who were asking us about artificial intelligence, etc.

I looked over at the director and we smiled helplessly as we tried to bluff our way through it.

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