Copenhagen and Dar


Okay, this last week and a half has been insane. I'm going hermit tonight.

So here's a big chunk of an update, because I've been too busy to post any for a while.

Anyway, Jenny and I ushered at a play called Copenhagen Monday night. There's no action in the play at all; it's nearly pure dialogue. I mean, obviously, the characters move around, gesture, and whatnot, but everything interesting happens vocally. The basic plot of the play is that Werner Heisenberg (of Uncertainty Principle fame) is visiting his old friend and mentor, Niels Bohr, and Bohr's wife, in their home in Copenhagen.

Actually the play relays multiple visits, from as early (IIRC) as about 1924? to as late as post-World War II. The whole plot, however, centers on one specific visit Heisenberg made in 1941, the motives for which had been shrouded in mystery. (Yes, this play is all about theoretical physics. Well, sort of.)

Heisenberg, Bohr, and Bohr's wife are all dead, and Heisenberg (in some sort of unexplained afterlife sort of thing) is trying to explain his actual motives for that 1941 visit. The crux of the dilemma is that 1941 was, of course, the height of German power during WWII in Europe, and Heisenberg was the head of the German nuclear program. Bohr lived in Copenhagen, and Denmark was at that time a "conquered" nation.

If you really want all the details of the plot, I'm sure you can find a review or a plot summary somewhere; the play apparently won a Tony. What I wanted to say about the play is that a) it was quite good—much better than you might expect a nearly purely dialogue-driven play about theoretical physicists to be, and b) I was both torn and interested by the discussions of actual physics in the play. As you might expect in any work which is intended for mass consumption, the discussions of Uncertainty and quantum and nuclear physics were heavily simplified. This is a good thing, and a bad thing.

It's a good thing because it allows the play to make a point about the human condition—that is, the play drew an interesting metaphor between human perception, memory, and introspection, and the difficulties (better, impossibilities) inherent in the scientific ideal of pure, objective measurement independent of subjectivity or observational effects. It's a bad thing because the metaphor has limits. I rather enjoyed the discussion of "the unobservable observer", for instance, but the play did bring to mind my Art History class in college. In that class, the professor brought up Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in relation to art. I don't remember the precise way in which he used the HUP, but suffice to say that it was based on a hugely erroneous "understanding" of the HUP specifically and quantum physics in general. The four or five of us in the class who were engineers were pretty uniformly horrified by the usage, but several of the other students in the class seemed to take it as an excellent point.

Now, my point here is very definitely not to say that art students are idiots, or even that art students don't understand physics. As a matter of fact, I told Jenny about what the prof had said, and she was of the same opinion as I was—in fact, she more or less condemned even the art history the prof was teaching as well. My point, rather, is to say that there are (admittedly indistinct and wavering) limits as to how far a metaphor may be pushed, and in some cases I felt this play flirted with those limits. I still liked it, though. :)

The Dar concert last week was, as expected, fantastic. The opening act was Kris Delmhorst, who I had never heard of before. Jenny's assessment was that she had a gorgeous voice, but could use some help in the songwriting department. Personally, I strongly regret that I did not have some sort of recording device, because Kris came back out to sing harmony on both Iowa and If I Wrote You, and as much as I already love both songs, she added a whole new dimension to them. Especially to Iowa; her harmony was this sweeping, rolling sound, indescribable but wonderful. I wish I had a copy of those two songs.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on April 10, 2002 4:32 PM.

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