Category: The Matter of Origins (5)
As I sat onstage in the Alexander Kasser Theater, drinking tea during act two of Liz Lerman’s The Matter of Origins, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Is this really dance?”
I know this is dance—it must be dance—because it’s been scheduled as a dance performance as part of Peak Performances’ spring season. So why am I questioning it? Read more »
On March 23, Olivia Fermi, granddaughter of physicist Enrico Fermi, gave the keynote address for the Department of Mathematical Sciences’s Second Annual Physics and Art Exhibition. Fermi’s talk was part of Peak Performances’ season-long exploration of collaborations between art and science and was held in conjunction with performances of The Matter of Origins by the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. Sara Wintz gives her impressions of this special event cosponsored by Montclair State’s Office of Arts & Cultural Programming, College of Science and Math, and College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
In her talk, “On the Neutron Trail: Seeing Fulcrums and Frames,” Olivia Fermi discussed sociological, cultural, and historical details surrounding the creation of the atom bomb. Like the participants in Montclair State’s Physics and Art Exhibition, who were invited to create images that illustrate a scientific concept, Fermi illustrated the context that surrounded the creation of this landmark scientific event.
“Part of the philosophy of ‘The Neutron Trail’ is to embrace the disconnects,” Fermi said in an interview following her presentation. “I grew up feeling a mixture of pride and guilt, but the people that would meet our family, they were always very respectful and, well, beyond that, there’s just tremendous gratitude for my grandfather’s work…in general…but when it comes to our nuclear legacy, it comes with more conflict than that.” Read more »
This brief guide to some of the sights, sounds, and speculations that helped to inspire The Matter of Origins was compiled by Sarah Gubbins, Production Dramaturg, and John Borstel, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange Humanities Director.
“When heaven and earth were still one, the entire universe was contained in an egg-shaped cloud. Deep within its swirling chaos slept the giant Pan Gu. One day after 18,000 years, he awoke and stretched, cracking the egg to release the matter of the universe.”
—The Classic of Mountains and Seas (Classical Chinese text)
Every culture has its tradition of how the world and its contents came to be. Over the course of history, the question of the origins of the universe was taken up by philosophy and then by science, where it has become the domain of modern physics. Cosmology, which employs instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope, allows us to track evidence of past events in the universe’s currently observable activity. Particle physics, using such tools as the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) Large Hadron Collider, studies the scatter and decay of subatomic particles, observing their behavior for what it can tell us about the early formation of the universe and matter. With regard to both space and time, these two branches of physics observe phenomena at vastly contrasting extremes of scale. Read more »
The earthquake, resulting tsunami, and subsequent overheating of nuclear power rods is often commented on as Japan’s greatest disaster since World War II. And what was that? Does everyone know? Why is there no mention of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when framing the magnitude of the Japanese disaster?
In her poignant new dance work, The Matter of Origins, the American choreographer Liz Lerman cultivates the beginnings of an idea and connects the proverbial dots between physics and poetry to celebrate the creative purpose in all people.
To make The Matter of Origins, Lerman pursued the thinking and actions of contemporary physicists seeking answers to enduring questions: Where do we come from? How did it all start? Why do we care? She traveled to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) to see the incredible tunnel where particles collide and create conditions mirroring those of the big bang. She talked to Hubble scientists and came to understand that they are studying parts of the universe that are billions of light-years old. And intimately linked to their quest for this supreme knowledge was the shadow of Los Alamos. Read more »
In recent decades, age-old questions about the origins of our universe and the matter from which we are made have become research areas for physicists rather than just topics of speculative discussion. Reaching out to the edges of the observable universe and back to its beginning, we have made great progress in learning about the stages of development of our universe, and scientific theories about the beginning are being formulated.
Many people, perhaps most, want to gain insights into questions about the meaning of life and our place in the universe. As we have understood our universe better, we have recognized that it apparently does not provide a basis of meaning for our lives. It is not that physics does not tell us anything about meaning, but that the answer is not what we thought we wanted to hear. What we learn is that the meaning should arise from our relations to other people rather than from outside.
Once scientists understand something, they can generally explain it in words that are comprehensible to lots of people, but many people think and interpret the world differently—for example, more visually than verbally. Those people could learn more about what we understand about our world if it could be communicated via forms of art, including dance—if those forms could convey, in a rigorous way, the questions scientists have asked and the understandings gained. Science and art are similar, in that they strive to understand the world and require creative thinking. Their criteria for success are not the same, since science has to describe the actual natural world, while successful art must communicate to people. If art seeks to communicate about the implications of our understanding of our natural world, it has a constraint that art addressing other topics does not have: to represent the science correctly.
For me, that people can understand the origins and workings of the universe even though it does not have intrinsic meaning provides an immense source of dignity and delight. I hope that dignity and delight can be communicated to many people. When a mutual friend brought Liz Lerman and me together, knowing of our common interest in communicating science, we soon agreed that such an effort might be worth a try, and I think it was. The outcome is the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange program, The Matter of Origins.
Liz and I admitted to each other, over a glass of wine at the end of the first afternoon’s discussion, that each of us had originally thought it probably would not be fruitful to meet but that the time lost would be small. I’m happy our initial doubts were wrong.
Gordon Kane is the director of the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics.