Chasing reality (and beauty) at the Copernicus Festival

Yes, reality must have accelerated too much to keep up with it – leaving this blog in a slow lane. But nothing was lost. Records of the past have been kept – and will be revealed in subsequent posts.

First – Cracow and the 3rd edition of Copernicus Festival. Three of “my” real life Pioneers were invited by the organizers (Jacek Ślusarczyk from Tygodnik Powszechny was behind it) of this intellectual multithreaded May feast. 

Greg and Virginia Chaitin flew straight from Brazil, Julian Barbour came from a pre-Brexit England – all of them in order to discuss the meaning and role of the notion of beauty… no, no, I should say Beauty – in science. And in this thing we call life too, of course.

Having a spare morning we hiked with Julian in Kraków-Częstochowa Upland – guided by Piotr Seweryn, and chased by the rain which made it even more fun, considering the absolute lack of tread on the noble physicist’s shoes. We shot this short promotional video by the Prądnik river (of time).

Yes, yes, you’ve guessed it right: Julian Barbour’s Bottom’s Dream had its DVD premiere – this July! And Against the Method a month later! Things are happening, don’t they?

Both movies can be purchased here: VOD premieres soon.

Here’s an Against the Method DVD trailer. Watch and check for yourselves why wearing a hat in a right way is wrong.

Below you’ll find Julian’s and Greg’s lectures, and the discussion they took part in, joined by Michał Heller, an astrophysicist, cosmologists, philosopher, the head of the Copernicus Center, and also the spiritus movens of the festival.

Those three hour long events are definitely worth watching in full extent.

Both Bottom’s Dream and Against the Method had their screenings (followed by solid discussions) at Mikro, a cuddly shabby cinema that somehow manages to stand the wave of commercialization and gentrification.

Here are some great photos – courtesy of Kamila Zarembska-Szatan.

In order to prove that Pioneers are real people enjoying both intellectual and more visceral, night pleasures I dare to attach photos taken at a retro bar (which location I can’t reveal without killing you all). It’s a place which you can be exposed to by a local only.

No soft drinks there.

Ah, yes – and there was a sunny coda in Warsaw: Greg and Virginia embarked a pendolino train to pay a sentimental visit to Mokotów, the place where Virginia spent some of the best years of her childhood. Come more often! 

To Virginia, Greg, Julian, and the whole Cracow embodied by the people too numerous (Jacek Ślusarczyk, Bartosz Brożek, Diana Sałacka, Bartosz Janik, Piotr Krasnowolski, Marta then Czubajewska, Piotr Seweryn and many others) to be listed here: that was a splendid May week – and a proof that something as ethereal as a movie can have such a wonderful and memorable side effects.

Thank you.


On the ambiguity of the past, Zen, and mathematical ethics

It’s high time to reveal the next pioneer – the charming and playful genius of Charles H. Bennett. By the way – he hates being described as a genius, so the deepest apologies for that, Charles.

As you might already suspect, it’ll be the second episode of the second season of my documentary series.

The final cut should be ready in two, three months, then the movie will be queued for distribution (I’ll keep you posted on the progress), but I’ve just prepared an early alpha teaser v 1.0 – to be, hopefully, enjoyed right now (above).

Charles H. Bennett is widely known for his research in quantum information field. If fact he is one of the very creators of it. He was involved in the milestone discoveries of quantum cryptography and quantum teleportation, both theory and experiment wise. In 1984, with Gilles Brassard, he developed the first quantum cryptography protocol. Then, in 1993, he went even further, proposing a scheme of transmitting quantum information from one location to another (in collaboration with Gilles Brassard, Claude Crépeau, Richard Jozsa, Asher Peres, and William Wootters). But the movie will focus on something completely different – on Charles Bennett’s recent, more philosophical musings.

In this sixth episode of Pioneers Charles will tell a story of the past. More precisely – on the ambiguity of the past, and the complexity of the present. We’ll look for the answer for the question of the ontological status of the past. In other words: we’ll try to explain what facts of the past can be truly and entirely recovered from their physical traces in the present.

We’ll follow some of those tiny events, like water droplets evaporating in the desert heat, waves shaping surface of a forest lake, asking whether they’re doomed to be entirely forgotten – or not.

We spent three crazy days filming the episode in the autumn woods of Massachusetts and Upstate New York. That was a fabulous intellectual ride!

And here’s more – some time ago Charles, a physics trained natural born humanist, introduced a provocative idea of mathematical ethics. Here’s is a conversation on the topic.

It’s a part of jam session with Vlatko Vedral, quantum mechanics maverick from Centre for Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore, and University of Oxford (many thanks, Vlatko), that I arranged and filmed two years ago, when Charles Bennett was visiting Singapore.

At some point, when time allows, I’ll try to properly edit the rest (slightly more specialistic) of the footage. But even whose eight minutes of discussion between two gentlemen is something truly worth your attention.

And if you’re intrigued by the persona of Vlatko Vedral (you definitely should), I’ve got yet something else.  In this short film that I also shot in Singapore Vlatko presents his intriguing views on the fabric of reality. Have fun!

Oh yes – I would almost forget: Charles Bennett is one of the key protagonists of Reality Lost, a documentary that presents paradoxical outcomes of two quantum revolutions – the movie made in anticipation of the third one.

Reality Lost was produced by Centre for Quantum Technologies at National University of Singapore, written, directed and shot by me – with a huge and lasting support of Artur Ekert and Dag Kaszlikowski.

Below you’ll find an excerpt on quantum cryptography (the BB84 protocol, to be precise).  All the excerpts are collected here.

And a bonus scene: Artur Ekert, Gilles Brassard, and Charles H. Bennet reminisce about the beginnings of quantum information theory and foundations of quantum mechanics research. There’s more of bonus scenes, of course.


The eternal problem with b-rolls

The eternal problem with b-rolls is as follows: either you have too much of an additional footage, or too little. Usually the latter is the case, of course.

To collect a proper amount of illustrative footage that would constitute a visual context and, sometimes, provide a subtext to the story told by Freeman Dyson, I drove to Sandy Hook, NJ, I spent a day filming in Queens, NY, and one hectic autumn evening at Coney Island, NY. And not a second of that footage, taken not without an effort, made it to the movie. After days of considering various options I decided to stick to the solid Aristotelian unities of action, time, and space, limiting visual chaos to the absolute minimum.

The space is provided by the surroundings of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, by changing color of the foliage, by changing weather, altering humidity, shifting ambience. You’ll see how it works, if it works, when this episode of Pioneers has its premiere.

I decided to utilize that Coney Island footage, though, in a more or less creative way, by preparing a meditative teaser of the movie. For your enjoyment, of course.

Freeman Dyson explains what his notion of god is, what role the mind might play in the universe – and what the world-soul is.


Space Dreamer has landed

Freeman Dyson (born in 1923, England) is a legendary science figure who has influenced countless fields of knowledge. Without his talent of seeing things in their innermost nature science would be way different today (to mention quantum electrodynamics).

His subversively optimistic views on numerous topics stirred a lot of controversy. As Dyson likes to explain his stance: The world needs heretics to challenge orthodoxies. It is better to be wrong than to be vague.

Freeman Dyson is also a lone proponent of the idea of long term deep space colonization. I’m obsessed with the future, he says.

For the last 70 years Dyson has been involved in numerous nuclear disarmament and peace initiatives. His actions during the Cold War made the planet a lot safer place than it had been expected to be.

And here is a trailer of the movie that we shot together in October and November 2015, in Princeton, New Jersey. I can’t express how grateful I am for all the time (and patience) that Freeman Dyson granted me. Many, many thanks!

Although conversations covered many aspects of Freeman Dyson’s rich fabric of life, the movie itself focuses on one thread only, the one associated with space exploration – the one that has something to do with another space dreamer, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and one of many unfulfilled dreams of the Atomic Age.

Although I’d love to, I can’t reveal more at the moment, since the movie will have its premiere soon. It will open the second season of my Pioneers doc series. What I can reveal is that music was written by cétieu, a highly talented Polish artist who tames drones like nobody else.


Space Dreamer is almost here

Here are a few semi secret freeze frames taken from my latest project – Space Dreamer. I’ve almost reached the milestone of the final cut, although there is still a lot of sound fine tuning work to do.

As you might have guessed, this is the fifth installment of my documentary series titled Pioneers. A trailer is coming soon.


On the road

Cracow is one of those cities every single kid in Poland was obliged to see, and I was no exception. Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, it’s nicely preserved. Yes, since it was not bombed during the WWII, it’s whole original, there are no postwar architectural substitutes within the old town district. Yes, it used to be the hub of the republic, before it was moved to Warsaw. But it’s also constantly hazed and crowded with tourists, so there seemed to be no reason to go there again…

It has changed rapidly this year when Docs+Science, a science section of the Cracow Film Festival, launched the series of Pioneers screenings. The series is presented episode by episode, one per month, and every screening is accompanied by a discussion with an expert.  The atmosphere is great, people flock to the welcoming halls of AGH University of Science and Technology by dozens –  thanks to wonderful job of Marta Czubajewska, Piotr Seweryn, Olga Lany and many others Cracovian friends.

Oh, yes – and going back to Cracow: There won’t be a picture from Cracow. It has been photographed to death. Here are shots taken on the way though, from a train window.



Winter wetlands

I’ve been around for forty years or so, but I’ve noticed that fact only recently: Wetlands are gorgeous in winter!

By the way, I decided to check if those famous gravitational waves are there. Yes – they are.


Life and death at Rochor Centre, Singapore

Built in the late 1970’s Rochor Center was recently listed as a landmark, and was supposed to be protected by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. But it will be demolished soon anyway, making way for yet another new multilane highway, one of those that make life in Singapore easier and more difficult at the same time.

Easier – because getting from one end of the city state to another will get smoother. More difficult – because it will make life noisier, towns more detached, and walking across the island even more infuriating, if not impossible. Cars will rule it to the fullest.

Rochor Centre, with its 180 busy shophouses, countless tiny offices, family lives staged across all 17 floors and void decks, something typically Singaporean –  all that will join countless spots and regions of the Singapore I love, that have been ground down by gentrification, the tendency of making things that have evolved naturally into something supposedly cozier and nicer. And lets not forget the cars – they will rule the place. It does not imply that Rochor Center was pretty in a regular kind of way, though…

In 2013 and 2014, while being an Outreach Fellow of Centre for Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore, filming Reality Lost, I spent couple of days wandering at Rochor. I indulged my sentiment for things that are shabby and scruffy but, at the same time, displaying the full spectrum of life. The fact that I myself was brought up in a block of flats similar to Rochor might have something to do with it too.

Here are some pictures of the place I took then.


Julian Barbour’s arrows of time

“Many different phenomena in the Universe are time asymmetric and define an arrow of time that points in the same direction everywhere at all times. Attempts to explain how this arrow could arise from time-symmetric laws often invoke a ‘past hypothesis’: the initial condition with which the Universe came into existence must have been very special” – this is how Julian Barbour, Tim Koslowski, and Flavio Mercati open their paper titled “Identification of a gravitational arrow of time”.

In other words: for some funny reason once you make an omelette, you can’t go much backwards in terms of eggs used recreation. Time flows ruthlessly in one direction. Arrow of time stubbornly points into future. And the most common explanations of the phenomena focus on this very special moment of the beginning of the Universe. There must have been something unique, singular there that gave rise to time’s arrow over there/then, physicists say. They are not able say much more… At least at the moment.

Last year Julian Barbour, Tim Koslowski, and Flavio Mercati came across a completely different sort of explanation. They conclude that “the origin of time’s arrow is not necessarily to be sought in initial conditions but rather in the structure of the law which governs the Universe”.

I won’t tell you much more at the moment, because this is the very issue that “Bottom’s Dreams” is about. As you might have noticed Julian Barbour is one of the protagonists of Pioneers (trailer below), the documentary series committed by me, produced by POLITYKA weekly, and supported by Centre for Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore. The movie will be released on DVD and VOD soon. It will explain everything you wanted to know about time. Well, almost everything.

Julian Barbour is a truly exceptional thinker, someone who for the last forty years has been following his own, independent scientific path. He is also the author of two groundbreaking books, “The Discovery of Dynamics: A Study from a Machian Point of View of the Discovery and the Structure of Dynamical Theories” and “The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics” – and a charming, friendly person, who always welcomes crude laymen like me.

Why am I writing this? Julian with his colleagues have been just awarded the Buchalter Cosmology Prize – for the very publication I mentioned above. It would be terribly patronizing for me to say: “I knew it!” So I will just say: Congratulations!

What’s interesting, we filmed “Bottom’s Dream” (trailer above) right after the paper was scheduled for publication in Physical Review Letters. It seems we pictured science in the making!

And here are some pictures that I took five or so years ago, during my first visit to South Newington in Oxfordshire, the Medieval origin village Julian spent happily most of his life in – a somewhat timeless piece of spacetime he has been drawing inspiration from.


This is a personal website of Karol Jalochowski, a science journalist, reporter, and documentary film maker of POLITYKA weekly (supported by CQT/NUS).