Panel 4C | Science in literature and opera

Running out of Time: Einstein on the Beach beyond the Limits of Motion
Tyler Lutz (Universität Magdeburg)

A four-and-a-half hour monument of aesthetic minimalism, Einstein on the Beach vividly puts to test the proposition that conventional logics of space and time break down at sufficiently high velocities. For brief, evanescent moments, the opera’s inosculated strands of dance, music, and theater seem to collectively effervesce into lavish mosaics of time and space, only to slosh back down into manic concoctions of sound and fury. Where is Einstein off to in such haste? Following Heidegger’s conception of time as fundamentally gestural in nature—its horizons of past, present, and future constituting disparate modes of Dasein’s reaching out into the world—I ask what it might mean to read Einstein as a similarly gestural account of space, time, and their joint reification in the space-time of movement. A product of the late 1960’s, Einstein both draws upon and participates in an environment of shifting ideas about the humanistic import and imaginative potential of otherwise abstruse scientific concepts, a historical matrix in which I situate the work. While considering what Einstein articulates in the coordinated articulation of its limbs, I pay careful attention to the ways its formal employment of figures of repetition and juxtaposition trace out the work’s meaning-making.

Charming Money from the NIH: Capitalism and Competition in Contemporary US Science Novels
Cora Övermann (Bremen University)

Scientists today are only too aware that the success of their next project largely depends on whether their research will get funded. While there are many scientists, and many projects that would be worth investigating, there is an extremely limited amount of funding available. The struggle for grants, which adds to the intense sense of competition especially within the natural sciences, has been taken up by both scholars as well as popular fiction authors (often themselves former scientists) in recent decades. The newly emergent genre of so­called “science novels“ (cf. Farzin, Gaines and Haynes 11) aims to accurately portray realistic science (as opposed to science fiction) and the people who perform it. Thus, recent novels painstakingly outline the personal as well as professional pressures that beset scientists in the West. Three novels in particular present the challenges of gaining funding at US research institutes, which are: Susan Gaines’s Carbon Dreams (2000), Allegra Goodman’s Intuition (2006), and Anne Patchett’s State of Wonder (2011). Each of these novels present the considerations and alterations of research projects with regards to funding. Research is published prematurely or adjusted to better fit corporate aims. The possibility of scientific misconduct, too, is addressed in Intuition. The overall principle of publish or perish is ever present. Additionally, by choosing novels with largely female protagonists, aspects of gender discrimination in science may also be considered. In contrast to popular belief (largely perpetuated by science itself), science is not and never has been an impersonal, value ­free enterprise. I propose to explore the aspects of capitalism and competition from a critical point of view.

Philosophy & Humanities vs. STEM, A Perfect Match and Much Needed Revamp via Sci-fi?
Sarah Shiffman-Ackerman (Hunter College)

There can be no doubt that science and sci-fi influence each other, when Martin Cooper created the first cell phone, he cited one of Dick Tracy’s many gadgets as his inspiration; the things we make shape us in turn. And while this is true for many things other than sci-fi, it takes a special meaning when we apply it to today’s technology. Many people are worried that some of the things tech companies have made are shaping us too much, there are concerns particularly regarding how children and teens use technology and how it could alter them during such impressionable times. I would like to take a look at sci-fi’s many uses (thought experiment, prediction/inspiration for future technology, replacement for/more accessible and enjoyable to read kind of philosophy, and more). From there I would like to take a look at some of the areas of particular interest for sci-fi and science today (such as biotech/gene manipulation, AI, VR/AR, bodily worn devices or implants, and space) and explore how these have been portrayed in sci-fi and how the various use of sci-fi apply to them. When we look at the early days of western civilization, before science and math were even distinct categories, the pursuit of knowledge and the art of reason–philosophy, encompassed intellectual culture. The pre-socratics, with their interest in rational thought over simply following the doctrines of religion to explain the natural world, paved the way not only for the great patriarchs of western philosophy, but later, in particular Pythagoras and his followers, influenced scientists and mathematicians. Philosophy and science, the humanities and STEM, all have areas which prioritize analyzation, and that utilize thought experiments, a famous one in philosophy is of course Plato’s allegory of the cave, and Einstein was known for his thought experiments and use of imagery in explain his ideas. As Einstein famously said “the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination,” he understood the value of creativity as well as information.