Saturday, November 14, 2020 9:30 am - 1:15 pm
Matthew Stanley / New York University
Einstein’s name is synonymous with genius. His wild-haired, thoughtful-eyed face has become an icon of modern science. His ideas changed the way we see the universe, the meaning of truth, and the very limits of human knowledge. This course will examine how Einstein’s youthful philosophical questioning led to a revolution in science. We will discuss his creation of special and general relativity, and particularly how these epochal theories emerged from his seemingly simple questions about how we experience the world. His preference for easily-visualizable thought experiments means we will be able to engage deeply with the science with very little mathematics. Einstein also pioneered quantum mechanics, only to reject its strange consequences and eventually devote his life to overturning it through a unified field theory.
Einstein’s elevation to worldwide fame was closely tied to political and social developments such as World War I, Zionism, and the rise of the Nazis. As he became an incarnation of genius, people sought out his views on everything from world peace to the nature of God – and his opinions often had surprising links to his scientific work. The picture of Einstein we end up with is a figure somehow both revolutionary and deeply traditional, emblematic of the modern age and also profoundly uncomfortable with it.
Matthew Stanley teaches the history and philosophy of science at NYU. He holds degrees in astronomy, religion, physics, and the history of science and is interested in the connections between science and the wider culture. He is the author of “Practical Mystic: Religion, Science, and A. S. Eddington” which examines how scientists reconcile their religious beliefs and professional lives. He has held fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study, the British Academy, and the Max Planck Institute. Professor Stanley was awarded a 2014-2015 Gallatin Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Tina Rivers Ryan / Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo), Formerly Columbia University
A leader of the High Renaissance of the early sixteenth century, Michelangelo Buonarroti was legendary even in his own time for his inventiveness as an artist: Giorgio Vasari, the godfather of art history, wrote that he had been endowed by God with "universal ability in every art and every profession…to the end that the world might choose him and admire him as its highest exemplar in the life, works, saintliness of character, and every action of human creatures, and that he might be acclaimed by us as a being rather divine than human."
In this talk, we will trace the arc of Michelangelo's storied life, from his upbringing by the powerful Medici family, to his glory days as architect and artist to the Popes, and his spiritual re-awakening late in life. Along the way, we will look closely at his paintings and sculptures, including the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the Last Judgment, the Pietà, and the David, in order to understand the importance of his unique artistic vision. Through his works, we will come to better understand the man behind the legend–a passionate artist and competitive rival to the likes of Raphael and Bramante–whose outstanding achievements and temperament gave rise to the modern notion of the artistic "genius.”
An art historian by training, Dr. Tina Rivers Ryan is currently Assistant Curator of contemporary art at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. She holds a BA from Harvard, three Master’s Degrees, and a PhD from Columbia, and has taught classes on art at institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, the Pratt Institute, and Columbia, where she was one of the top-ranked instructors of the introduction to art history, “Art Humanities: Masterpieces of Western Art.” A regular critic for Artforum, her writing has also appeared in periodicals such as Art in America and Art Journal, and in catalogs published by museums including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Walker Art Center. As a public speaker and scholar, Dr. Ryan has delivered lectures on topics ranging from Michelangelo to Warhol in more than 50 cities internationally.
Caroline Winterer / Stanford University
Benjamin Franklin was truly a genius, recognized as such at home and abroad, in his own time and still today. George Washington referred to him as “that great philosopher.” Thomas Jefferson called him “the greatest man of the age and country in which he lived.” John Adams said of him, “Franklin had a great genius, original, and inventive, capable of discoveries in science no less than of improvements in the fine arts and the mechanical arts”. The lightning rod was the most spectacular. After that invention, the world began to look upon natural phenomena in a different light, recognizing man’s ability to understand and control them through science and invention. But for Franklin it was only one of many. Another of his original creations, bifocal eyeglasses, was very simple and came to him without any previous experimentation. One contemporary claimed Franklin invented them so he could watch the girls across the room while still keeping his eyes on the one next to him. A third original invention of Franklin’s is daylight saving time, which gives extra hours of daylight to enjoy in the evening.
A stickler for economy, Franklin’s dictum “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” urged his fellow countrymen to work during daylight and sleep after dark, saving money on candles. He calculated that if all the families of Paris who caroused until late at night and then slept until noon would arise with the sun six hours earlier, 64 million pounds of candle wax would be saved in six months’ time. In fact, both Mozart and Beethoven wrote music for an instrument invented by Franklin, the glass armonica. In Europe, Franklin’s fame for the armonica rivaled the reputation he had achieved for his electrical experiments and lightning rod. Franklin never patented any of his inventions, saying, “I never made, nor proposed to make, the least profit by any of them.” It was a matter of principle with him that, as he had benefited from past inventions and discoveries, present and future generations should be able to benefit freely from his inventions. Among his other inventions were an improved printing press, a flexible catheter, an extension arm for grasping items beyond one’s reach, his famous stove and room heater, a modified odometer, a three-wheel clock that displayed seconds, minutes and hours, an improved oil lamp, flippers to aid swimming, and even a sea anchor.
Caroline Winterer is William Robertson Coe Professor of History at Stanford University. Her latest book is, “American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason.” She is a recipient of an American Ingenuity Award from the Smithsonian Institution for mapping the social network of Benjamin Franklin, and is also a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.