Uncertainty

Below (nearer the end of this post) is the description of the “Uncertainty” event (Thursday 31st August, 7:00pm, USC’s Annenberg auditorium; much more here) part of USC’s Visions and Voices program I told you about in the previous post.

These are, as I said, events that build upon the Categorically Not! series held at Santa Monica arts studios on Sundays, and about which I have blogged extensively on Cosmic Variance (see some recent descriptions here and here). The old Categorically Not! series will not stop. The Santa Monica series will continue, but there will be some gaps to accommodate the USC events. We hope that the regular Santa Monica crowd will make the short trip across the city to USC on those nights. For more information on all Categorically Not! – type events, visit the Categorically Not! website.

We will start on the USC campus -in the Visions and Voices program- with Uncertainty, and we will do this theme twice this semester. We did this theme before, actually (we had K.C. Cole, Jonathan Kirsch, and Julia Sweeney) and it was very successful. We were planning to redo this first event with the same presenters, but at the time of planning, Julia (who did extracts from her monologue/show “Letting Go of God” (which you must see if it comes to a theatre anywhere near you)) was thinking of leaving LA for a bit -nooooo!- to go away for a year to New York to do her show there. So we modified things and added a different component – from actress Chloe Webb instead (which will no doubt also be thought-provoking, entertaining, and funny …see below). (I’ve since heard from Julia that her plans have changed and she’ll be staying in LA -hurrah!- and so I’m already thinking of some ways of collaborating with her on arts-meets-science related projects in the near future, which I’ll probably tell you about – as soon as there is something to tell.)

Why redo the theme? Why twice? What other themes will we do there? Have a read of the Science and Serendipity blurb at this link to get an idea of what we had in mind. An extract:

Science, Serendipity and the Search for Truth puts science on stage in an informal series of conversations and performances alongside music, theater, journalism, religion, film, dance and other disciplines to see what serendipitous connections might bubble up. The informality of the presentations and discussions will encourage intellectual risk-taking–both on the part of the presenters and the audience. People will feel free to “play” with ideas in any way they like–falling on their faces if need be, rather than bending over backwards to please some arbitrary convention. Nothing will be rigged, staged, hyped or in any way polished and sanitized or overly practiced. Because of this, we have reason to believe that real discoveries can be made.

“Uncertainty” is just an excellent theme for this, and we’ll use it this Fall semester. “Point of View” is also an excellent theme, and we’ll use that in the Spring Semester. We did that latter theme before too. We’ll get a chance to revisit both with performances and presentations similar to the ones done before, and then we and the participants will look at themes all over again with a fresh set of performances and presentations, having had time to discuss everything over the intervening weeks (maybe on this blog if you’re game?). It should be fun and instructive, I hope you agree.

Here is the blurb for the first Uncertainty event:

uncertainty poster The first pair of programs will focus on Uncertainty–the heart of quantum mechanics as well as matters of the heart. It’s a natural human tendency to want to know for sure. We like to pin things down: Is it Yes or No? Are you with us or against us? He loves me, he loves me not. Alas, uncertainty is woven into the very fabric of our universe. Every bit of certain knowledge comes at the price of ignorance. The answers we get depend on the questions we ask. At the fundamental scale of subatomic particles, it becomes all too clear that the building blocks of the cosmos are unfocused, elusive, slippery. Truth can only be glimpsed as a kaleidoscope, presenting many faces.

Perhaps ironically, the people most at home with uncertainty are physicists, who’ve had to deal with it since the introduction of quantum mechanics in the 1920s. For the first program, science writer K.C. Cole of the Annenberg School will engage in a conversation with USC physicist Clifford Johnson on uncertainty as it is used, abused and misunderstood in journalism and physics. Having set the stage, we will add religion to the mix. Religion has been far less tolerant of uncertainty–thriving instead on unbending faith. Or has it? “The three great monotheistic religions are convinced that there is only One True God–even if they cannot quite agree on any of the particulars,” writes Jonathan Kirsch, author of five books on the history of religion. Kirsch will talk about the “war of God against the gods”–the centuries-old struggle between monotheism and polytheism–and the subject of one of his recent books. Finally, actress Chloe Webb, who starred in the film Sid and Nancy and appears on TV shows ranging from House to Medium to Two and ½ Men, will explore the part of uncertainty in drama and demonstrate how it can be used to both comic (Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First”) and tragic effect.

Additional series events:
Uncertainty, Part 2: Thursday, November 16 at 7 p.m., Annenberg Auditorium
Point of View, Part 1: Thursday, February 15 at 7 p.m., Gin Wong Conference Center
Point of View, Part 2: Thursday, April 12 at 7 p.m., Gin Wong Conference Center

I included an image of one of the splendidly designed publicity posters above right, and there’s be others appearing all around campus too. You can click on the picture for a larger image, and you can click here for a large pdf file of it. (I know, I know, an old fashioned image of what the atom is like is used in there…. I strive for the day when -perhaps as a result of events like this and other such efforts- poster artists won’t even think of reaching for that image… but we’re not there yet.)

Perhaps I’ll see you there?

-cvj

P.S. More on logistics: Please note that this program will take place at the Annenberg School at USC at 7PM, and is free. Some directions can be found on the USC website here. It is recommended that you enter at gate 6, and apparently, you can follow the yellow “Annenberg Event” signs to the Annenberg building. (I’d make sure to have an idea of where it is beforehand though. Look on the maps.)

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