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December 05, 2009, 2:30 PM


Participants: Olga Ast, George Musser, Mark Norell, Michael Shara, Peter Whitely

Nietzche's doctrine of "eternal recurrence" posits the recapitulation of all experience in the infinitude of time. It's been said that a macaque monkey sitting in front of a typewriter for eternity would eventually be able to recreate the complete works of Shakespeare, or at least King Lear. Urged on by mortality, the creative capacities of the human mind grapple with the concept of time, whose practicality is belied by its metaphysical ambiguity. Absolute time—the common-sense view of time we are familiar with—was abandoned following a paper by Einstein in 1905, giving rise to the notion that time is not separate and independent from space, but combines with it to form an object called time-space. Henri Bergson looked at time as a flow, its demarcations representing little more than inventions of the imagination. Is infinity simply a subjective notion, or can it be quantified? In this roundtable, experts from the fields of paleontology, physics, visual art, and Native America studies will explore this seemingly impossible question: what is time?

Olga Ast is an interdisciplinary conceptual artist whose work investigates the connection between time, space and information, and the impact that they have on everything that we find around us. She has exhibited and lectured both in the U.S. and abroad, presenting her work at the Kloone 4000 Science/Art International Project, Rutgers and Goettingen Universities, the Current Space Gallery, and NYC Future Salon. In 2009, she organized and curated the ArcheTime Conference and Exhibition in New York, dedicated to exploring artistic, academic and scientific concepts of time. In 2009, she published Fleeing from Absence, which explores the nature and interpretations of time in four essays: "The Visualization of Time," "In Search of Absent Time," "The Origin of Forms," and "A Copy Machine."

George Musser covers astronomy and fundamental physics for Scientific American Magazine. He was the originator and an editor of the special September 2003 issue, "A Matter of Time," which won a National Magazine Award for editorial excellence. He is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to String Theory.

Mark Norell (moderator) is Chairman and Curator-in-Charge of Fossil Amphibians, Reptiles, and Birds at the American Museum of Natural History, and Professor of Paleontology at the Museum's Richard Gilder Graduate School. Dr. Norell works in several areas of specimen-based and theoretical research. He works on the description and relationships of coelurosaurs, and studies elements of the Asian Mesozoic fauna. He analyzes important new "feathered" dinosaurs from Liaoning, China, and develops theoretical methods for better understanding phylogenetic relationships and patterns in the fossil record. Norell has an interest in Asian art and history, sits on the board of the Rubin Museum of Art, and is Curator of the AMNH exhibition, The Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World.

Michael Shara is Curator in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. Prior to joining the Museum, he spent 17 years with the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Shara's research interests include the structure and evolution of novae and supernovae; collisions between stars and the remnant descendants of those collisions; and the populations of stars inhabiting star clusters and galaxies. He frequently observes with the Hubble Space Telescope and other large ground-based telescopes.

Peter Whiteley has been Curator of North American Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History since 2001. From 1985 to 2000, he was professor of anthropology at Sarah Lawrence College. His interests include questions of society, culture, history, language, ritual, and philosophy among Native North Americans. Principal publications include Deliberate Acts: Changing Hopi Culture through the Oraibi Split, Rethinking Hopi Ethnography, and The Orayvi Split: A Hopi Transformation. Since 1980, he has conducted extensive ethnographic research with the Hopi, and spent briefer periods with the Hupa, Cayuga, Akwesasne Mohawk, and several Rio Grande Pueblos.

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.


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