by Richard L. Coren (CORENR@DUVM.bitnet)
Einstein Meets Magritte: An interdisciplinary reflection on science, nature, human action and society..
This international conference was held from May 29 to June 3, 1995 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Free University of Brussels (VUB). And it was, indeed, interdisciplinary, having papers from scientists with theoretical, academic reference, as well as those who practiced all the arts and humanities. The sessions ranged from theoretical physics to poetry, dance, and music. From Tuesday to Friday the mornings were organized into five parallel sessions dealing with Science and Art University and Society World Views Nature of Life and Death/A world in Transition Meta-Debates From Wed. to Friday mornings there were, in addition, two satellite symposia dealing with Quantum Structures Evolution of Complexity This last, which I primarily attended, was organized by Francis Heylighen, of VUB, and his associates., under the auspices of The Principia Cybernetica Project (an electronic and WWW approach to its subject), of which he is a director. Each afternoon had a single series of Plenary sessions, and each evening there was a workshop. The conference was very finely planned, with a 9 color program book, full video filming of the plenary and workshop sessions, roving and fixed microphones for their Q an A periods, relevant artistic and poster displays by university students and representatives. The overall theme was the attempt to merge the attitudes, methods and understandings of Science and humanism, as represented by the works of Albert Einstein and Rene Magritte, the noted Belgian, modern artist. In particular, the workshops seemed to focus on the supposed differences between the "scientific world view" (if there is one) and the views of various religions and primitive cultures. Perhaps in keeping with the idea that the entropy of a system must reach a maximum before it can be reduced, some details of the meeting were chaotic: first and last names were usually mixed on the printed name tags; the organizers and chairman were amazingly relaxed, with the result that sessions usually started late, and, particularly with the plenary sessions and workshops, schedule changes had to compensate for speakers who ran overtime. The afternoon plenary sessions might, in some instances, have been considered punishment, with four successive , one hour presentations. These speakers were among the world leaders in their technical areas. They described their own research and histories and frequently seemed to be forcibly stretching their discussions to fill the allotted time. On the other hand, some of them were dynamic and even spellbinding. Though I primarily attended the Symposium on The evolution of complexity, I got the impression, also from others, that the presented papers were nearly uniformly of high quality. The generally expressed sentiment was that more time should have been planned for these speakers, probably by reducing the plenary and workshop sessions, which often ran until 11:30 in the evening. This perspective of these shortcomings is probably overdone, coming form one who for many years made part of his income by managing the details of technical conferences. Despite the shortcomings, the entropy eventually declined and one was left with a feeling of a successful blending of the two approaches to understanding the world, that of Einstein and that of Magritte. Just meeting with disparate attitudes and discussing the differences and similarities could not help but open new avenues of thought and understanding Concerning the Symposium on complexity, Prof Heylighen and Cliff Joslyn get plaudits for organizing excellent sessions. The three mornings were divided according to: conceptual foundations mathematical and physical models applications to knowledge and society Each session ended with a summarizing panel discussion and Q/A session. The papers were of the highest quality (though some authors seemed unprepared for the demands of only a 15-20 minute presentation) and the discussions were penetrating and perceptive. The specific topics ranged widely enough that there was something for each attender. I came away with a half dozen reprint requests and two pages of topics I must surely study in the immediate future. For those interested in the detailed contents of the Symposium on Complexity, all the abstracts (except for the few add-ons), and some of lthe complete papers, will be found on the WWW page set up by Francis Heylighen. the URL is http://cleamc11.vub.ac.be/Einmagsy.html And finally, the weather cooperated, with temperatures in the upper 60's and partial sun; the heavy rains fell while we were indoors. _____________________________ Brief background statement: Dick Coren is a physicist masquerading as a Prof. of Elec. Eng. at Drexel Univ. His REAL research is in electromagnetism and material properties but he's been dabbling in evolutionary systems analysis for a number of years. Since these musings reached a useful stage he's been trying to disseminate the truly amazing results he's found, primarily by going to and speaking at meetings like this one.