Based at the University of Michigan, Gordon Kane is a professor of physics and in the School of Art & Design and is Director of the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics. He collaborated with Liz Lerman on "The Matter of Origins." In addition to our co-presentation of "The Matter of Origins" with the MCA, CHF presents Kane and Lerman in conversation discussing the intersection of art and science.
In recent decades age-old questions such as the origin of our universe, and of the matter from which we are made, have become research areas for physicists rather than speculative discussion topics. There has been great progress in learning about the stages of development of our universe out to the edges of the observable universe and back to its beginning, 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 seen it apparently does not provide a base for 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 outside.
Once scientists understand something they can explain it in words pretty well to some people, but many more people think and interpret the world differently from the standard scientific approach. Many people could learn more about what we have understood about our world if communication could be via forms of art and dance that convey the questions scientists have asked and the understandings gained, in a rigorous way. Science and art are similar in that they strive for understanding 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 and dance have to communicate to people. If art and dance want to communicate about implications of our understanding of our natural world they have a constraint that not all forms of art 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 can be communicated to many people. When a mutual friend brought Liz Lerman and me together, knowing of our interests in communicating science, we quickly felt it might be worth it to try, and I think it was – the outcome is the Dance Exchange program The Matter of Origins. Liz and I admitted to each other at the end of the first day that each of us had thought it probably would not be fruitful to meet, but the time lost would be small. I’m happy our initial doubts were wrong.
Museum of Contemporary Art: Nov. 10-13, 7:30 PM
Tags: Liz Lerman, Dance Exchange, Gordon Kane, Oppenheimer, Los Alamos, physics, communication