Report on the "Einstein meets Magritte Conference"

prepared for the the Washington Evolutionary Systems Society

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

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

    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

    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

    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

    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.