Desert, the Antithesis of Peace. Or Perhaps Not.

I always thought the desert was the antithesis of peace – something that attacks you. So you don’t go to the desert for peace. It’s Sam Shepard, in the interview for The Guardian. The Sam Shepard, Santa Fe Institute’s Miller Scholar, 2010-2011.

Was he right? Was he wrong? I’ll be testing both hyphotheses. A few photos taken in December 2017, during preliminary filming session for a documentary about SFI.

Stay tuned.

Stark Beauty of the Wild East

The stark winter beauty of Chełm Land, a historic region of eastern Poland and the adjacent areas of Ukraine and Belarus. A nomadic part of my family (the one with German roots) decided to settle down somewhere here on their return from the Volga River valleys.

The Next Revolution in Physics is coming

In 2014 I had a pleasure of collaborating with British physicist and mathematician Julian Barbour (also an acclaimed writer, author of the bestselling The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics) on Bottom’s Dream. This 45-minute movie became an episode of my documentary series Pioneers.

For half a century Julian Barbour (b. 1937) has been removing what he believes to be unnecessary terms from the physics toolbox, creating a cosmological theory he named Shape Dynamics. One of those spare elements is time, which, according to the physicist, is an illusion. In recent years he has been working on the Janus Point theory, explaining where our sense of the passage of time and its direction comes from.

I met Julian at his home, College Farm, in the tiny village of South Newington near Oxford, England. The trailer of the outcome can be viewed here.

This is something you already might be aware of. Today I’d like to present a series of short videos we shot more recently, in July 2017. Julian’s intention is to turn his family house into an independent science venue. We had fun filming those little bits in July 2017. I’ve just finished editing process.

The short movies, highlighting key concepts of his shape dynamics and Janus point theories, are supposed to attract the attention of future collaborators and, perhaps, open minded philanthropists interested in scientific endeavors.

Music was composed by Jacek Mazurkiewicz, a fantastic artist, also the man behind the “score” of Artur Ekert: A Model Kit and Roy Glauber: The Bomb That Shook the World.

Beautiful College Farm logo was designed by Piotr Piotrowski, an equally talented visual artist – and also a friend.

The Ideas Behind Shape Dynamics

An Invitation to Quantum Physicists

A Colony of Swifts and Kepler’s Planets

The Dominion of Law

One Big Thing Isaac Newton Did Get Wrong

The Mystery of the Arrow of Time


Desert singularity of Santa Fe Institute

In autumn 2017 I was honored by an invitation to collaborate with the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. We’ve been working on a documentary movie project depicting this unique non-profit science institution’s search for order in the complexity of evolving worlds. Documentation and the first filming sessions took place in December 2017.

The documentary will emphasize the interdisciplinary character of the research practiced at SFI and will feature:

  • SFI’s director David Krakauer, researching the evolutionary history of information processing mechanisms in biology and culture;
  • SFI’s vice president Jennifer Dunne, a researcher interested in analysis, modeling, and theory related to the organization, dynamics, and function of ecosystems;
  • Geoffrey West, a theoretical physicist fascinated by scaling phenomena, author of Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies (a great book, by the way);
  • legendary writer and SFI trustee Cormac McCarthy, known for novels such as Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men, and The Road;
  • other faculty members, fellows, and visitors of the SFI;
  • the desert.

Today I offer a freshly baked set of raw sample scenes from the project which is currently being developed.


Art, Science, and Value of Friendship

The art and science event we had fun participating in on 20 October 2017 constituted a grand opening of the series of events dedicated to Pioneers that took place this autumn and winter in Lublin, at the one and only Meeting of Cultures Centre.

We enjoyed six (in total) panel discussions about those rarely visited regions that span somewhere art and science, two worlds of individualism that struggle to find a common language, and, most importantly, full audience, and the warmest reception imaginable. We love you, Lublin!

And who is this “we”? A group of charming people you’d love to meet while stranded on a desert island.

Aneta Kyzioł – POLITYKA’s theatre critic and post modern media specialist (a blog of her, in Polish). Jerzy Kowalski-Glikman – a theoretical physicist of University of Wrocław, a specialist on quantum gravity. Paweł Passinia theatre director whose work bears very strong musical traits and frequent unobvious inspirations with the kabbalah tradition. Monika Pasiecznika music critic, curator, and author. Piotr Panek – a biologist of University of Warsaw (a blog run by Piotr, in Polish). Agnieszka Krzemińska and Marcin Rotkiewicz – science journalists of POLITYKA. Łukasz Lamża – a science journalist of Tygodnik Powszechny, and an author. Tomasz Kozakan artist of many talents. Justyna Sobolewska – a literary critic of POLITYKA (a blog of her, in Polish). And me. I’m not quite sure about that desert island in this last case, though.

The very special words of appreciation go to yet another good friends of mine, without whom nothing would have happened in Lublin: Monika Sawka of the Meeting of Cultures Centre, the Mother Organizer who took a gentle (yet firm) care of the whole series of events, Paweł Frelik of the American Studies at Maria Curie Sklodowska University, a smart guy with research interests in science fiction, video games, fantastic visualities, digital media, and transmedia storytelling (one of two irreplaceable hosts of events), and Marek Ścibior, a philosopher and story teller (the other host).

And here’re (below) photos of the final event, the one that accompanied screening of Artur Ekert’s episode of PioneersJacek Mazurkiewicz extracted bits of pure randomness from the cosmic radiation background and transformed them, with a little help from a befriended physicist, into music.

Does Dionaea Muscipula Have Free Will?

Daniel C. Dennett (b. 1942) from Tufts University is one of the key philosophers of mind today and a great reformer in the field of knowledge. For nearly half a century he has been searching for the answer to the questions: What is consciousness? What is free will? Is faith a natural phenomenon?

My film Do Lobsters Have Free Will? was a recording of a one-to-one meeting with Dennett at his home in northern New England. As you well know it became a part of Pioneers.

BTW Original music was composed by renowned American composer Scott Johnson. His excellent magnum opus Mind Out of Matter, based on Dennett’s lectures, is being released on CD right now. 

That meeting with the philosopher, in 2014, had joyful consequences that are definitely worth mentioning. One of them was the somewhat unique art-science event that took place on 20 October 2017 at the Meeting of Cultures in Lublin (Poland) – during the very first visit of the Dennetts in Poland (photos above and below). I’m happy to say I was involved in the process.

Panel discussion with Daniel C. Dennett was introduced and summarized by musical experiments designed in cooperation with experts from the UMCS Faculty of Biology and Biotechnology (commanded by Kazimierz Trębacz) and UMCS Faculty of Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science (Mieczysław Jałochowski, yes – the chap is my father). Photos below. 

Jacek Mazurkiewicz, a rising star of the European jazz and improvisational scene, cast a band of plants (Dionaea muscipula and a Marchantiophyta) generating electrical impulses that were fed live into a set of analogue synthesizers. The results should be described as hypnotic and nothing short of splendid (photos of the “afterparty” below).

One of the evening’s stars was Susan Bell Dennett, Daniel’s love, wife, muse, boss, editor, manager, fixer – all in one, mixed in proportions depending on circumstances.

The event was a part of Trends in Interdisciplinary Studies. Understanding Social Cognition conference, organized by Avant, Centre for Philosophical Research, Institute of Philosophy Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin, Faculty of Philosophy Catholic University of Lublin, Villanova University, The Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at The Polish Academy of Sciences, Centre for the Meeting of Cultures in Lublin – and POLITYKA weekly, of course.

These are institutions. Behind them there are real people I’d like to express my gratitude for such a remarkable happening: Witek Wachowski, Monika Sawka, Paweł Frelik, Paweł Grabarczyk, Marcin Trybulec, et al.

But first of all a huge “thank you” to Dan and Susan Dennett (photos above) – it was a delight to have you here! See you soon!

Pioneers at the edge(s) of the world

Autumn has just started needling us shamelessly with cold rain, battering with this-is-not-a-breeze-look-for-a-shelter, but in other respects this October has been developing surprisingly well.

Slowly but stubbornly my dearest series Pioneers go global. Yeah, it’s a quiet percolation rather than a brute invasion, and it won’t win anyone an Oscar, but that’s not the point of the series. The point is to make people think how thrilling the process of deepening our understanding of the world might be – and what fascinating people, outstanding thinkers often neglected by the ratings oriented media, are engaged in this adventure.

Centre for the Meeting of Cultures in Lublin is launching a series of meetings titled PIONEERS – talks about the boundaries of imagination: “We invite you to the Screening Room of the Centre for the Meeting of Cultures in Lublin to film projections and accompanying discussions with journalists from the POLITYKA weekly as well as artists and scientists. As part of the project, you will also be spectators of an experiment combining art and science”. Come over, if you’re around!

Six episodes of the series will be presented there. The grand opening, organized in cooperation with the Avant project, will be crowned with Daniel C. Dennett’s presence (the philosopher will also meet our readers in Warsaw, a day before). Virginia and Greg Chaitin, Julian Barbour, Charles H. Bennett, Freeman Dyson, and Artur Ekert – they all are going to be in Lublin too. Slightly disembodied – but who cares about bodies in this digital age. They’re so overhyped.

Pioneers take New York City as well. The series (exemplified by the Freeman Dyson’s episode) has just been featured in the NYC based SciArt Magazine, a bimonthly which motto I couldn’t agree more with: “Art and science have long shared a common ground; the ground of boundless inquiry about the nature of our existence”.

Julia Buntaine, founder, editor-in-chief, and a science-based artist herself, says: “While science-based art has a growing presence, the movement at large remains scattered. I want to fix this.” Thank you, Julia!

Don’t forget to check out the magazine. You can read free some of the articles. And if you happen to be in New York City, look for SciArt Center events. It’s a must.

A screening of Julian Barbour’s episode (followed by a discussion about nature of time) has become an element of the second edition of the Abstract Thought Festival, a fresh and refreshing Warsaw festival which name speaks for itself.

And finally – Russia. Yes, Pioneers will explore the vastness of this paradoxical country again. Firstly – FANK Science Film Festival in Moscow and Tobolsk (two episodes will be screened alongside such fascinating doc experiments as Lake Vostok. At the Mountains of Madness by Ekaterina Eremenko). And secondly – Eurekafest in Novosibirsk.

Ah, one more thing – all episodes of the series are now available in the US and in Canada (and elsewhere too) via online system of the Alexander Street publishing house, the leading American provider of media for learning and research. Pioneers are in a good company (to mention the Criterion Collection films, also distributed by the Alexander Street). Visit your university or local library, Pioneers might be already there.

Remind me not to complain for some time, not this October.

Shape Dynamics of the Cotswold Hills

Julian Barbour, one and only independent physicist, cosmologist, and Shakespeare connoisseur based in Oxfordshire, whom you might know as the protagonist of Bottom’s Dream, the third installment of the Pioneers series, continues his work on Shape Dynamics theory – “a new theory of gravity that is based on fewer and more fundamental first principles than General Relativity”. Sounds promising, doesn’t it?

You can learn more about this potentially revolutionary framework by reading those two papers: Shape Dynamics. An Introduction and A Shape Dynamics Tutorial.

We spent three hot summer days in South Newington, documenting the progress, and filming short “ads” that we’ll present soon – inviting you, and friends of yours, to join Julian and his collaborators in their unique research.

The College Farm, the old farmer’s house Julian has been based in for half a century, is – hopefully – going to become an informal and independent research institution, a workshop center for cosmologists and quantum physicists puzzled by the paradoxes of contemporary Big Bang theories.

Here’s a hint how to proceed – below.

Stay tuned! And just in case you didn’t know about Bottom’s Dream – have a look at its trailer.