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GIF Minutes for November 30, 2004, and January 11, 2005

Prepared by Roland Stahl

Graduate Idea Forum, November 30, 2004, and January 11, 2005
"Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time and the Beauty That Causes Havoc"

Participants: Paul Grobstein, Anne Dalke, Tom Young, Roland Stahl, Judie McCoyd, Corey Shdaimah

For today's discussion we read the following article:

Arthur I. Miller, Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time and the Beauty That Causes Havoc


Notes. GIF November 2004 and January 2005 meetings

In the November and January GIF meetings we discussed Arthur I. Miller’s Einstein. Picasso. Space, Time and the Beauty that Causes Havoc (2001).

In our first discussion in November we focused on questions that seemed relevant in terms of Einstein’s and Picasso’s personal biographies. Most people would probably agree that both Einstein as a mathematician and Picasso as an artist belong to that rare species of people whom we commonly refer to as genial. This, it seemed to most of us raised questions about what exactly distinguishes Picasso and Einstein from most other people. What is it that enables them to produce work of such intellectual and socio-cultural importance? It was argued that the ability to turn out the kind of masterpieces produced by Picasso and Einstein requires most of all extreme imaginative power and passion.
Yet, along with imagination and passion, we felt that Picasso’s and Einstein’s biographies also indicated that both these men lived exceedingly monastic lives. They were loners in the sense that they never seemed to really engage with the people surrounding them. They were not social people and some of us felt that they might not necessarily have been the kind of people that one might wish to have as companions.
This ‘dark side’ of leading an overly passionate and solitary life lead us to wonder what the lives of those people were like who were in fact (or tried to be) wives, partners, friends, or colleagues of Picasso and Einstein. Miller, most of us thought provided a rather austere account of the people who were close with these two men, especially the women in their lives. The women who had important roles to play in Einstein’s and Picasso’s lives often seemed to have to bear the consequences of their partner’s focus on their work. In fact, one group member asked whether ‘monastic people needed to make other people suffer’. Is it indeed necessary that the social fabric around people like Picasso and Einstein fails and is this essential condition for the production of genial work?
More generally one might ask whether there are parallels between the idea (and reality) of a lone genius and the ideology of the competitor in a capitalist system. Do we live in a world were the ‘winner takes all’ in the sense that the producers of great works of industry, science, and art are to be excused for causing havoc on the peoples lives around them? But then again, if those people would not be able to produce their great works, would we really be content to live in a world were we had no idea that time and space were relative entities and where none of us could ever have marveled at Les Demoiselles d’Avignion or a Microsoft program for that matter. Our discussion ended as they often do with more questions tha answer.

In our January meeting we talked about the novelty aspect of Picasso’s and Einstein’s works. In a very general sense we considered whether novelty and change in and of itself was something to strive for. Is there something inherently positive about novelty and change? What is the difference between novelty and change and is the human drive to change things a biological or cultural feature of our lives? We discussed Freud’s conceptualization of stability and change and at length whether the attempt to solve a problem is aimed at stability or whether it is in fact aimed at change. It was mentioned that there might be two types of problem solving and both can be based on what one might call curiosity: problem solving: 1. aimed at stability (e.g. preventing the next tsunami, and 2. aimed at newness (e.g. trying to figure out why the stars move they way they do). We also discussed that there seems to be a different balance between the drive for newness and the drive to solve problems in different people and Paul explained that we can see the difference between the drives for stasis and change on the physical/neurological level.

Roland Stahl, 11/1/2004

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