Latest Publications

Bearing Witness to 9/11 – A filmmaker’s story – by Beverly Peterson

New York City
June 1, 2011
Dear Neil:  Thank you for asking me to provide some personal and artistic background as preface to my 20-minute film [click on the link to view it now:] 71 West Broadway: Ground Zero, NY.
For fifteen years, my husband, Farrell, and I lived within 3 blocks of the World Trade Center
On September 11th I stood on the corner of Warren and West Broadway as the first plane flew over my head and became lost in a fireball.  I ran an excruciating block to find Farrell and the two of us shared what we thought were our last kisses.  We continued watching the Twin Towers helplessly while many leapt to their deaths.  The crowd around us hushed as the next plane appeared ominously in the sky and the world turned upside down.  
After months of evacuation, the City finally deemed our building safe, and we returned to our artist loft — only to be priced out three years later by the “recovery efforts.”  Tribeca had become the most expensive and desirable real estate in NYC, and our artist community scattered throughout the boroughs.  
But whatever happened and wherever we would end up, we were thankful to be alive and have the gift of rebuilding our lives.  
Now — nearly 10 years after that event — I find myself suddenly watchful for planes on their way to surrounding airports as they make their slow descent over our new home.   The sound of my husband’s soft breaths as he dreams of  images to paint reminds me how lucky we are and I slow my breathing in sync with his while drifting back to sleep; and send silent angel prayers to those far less lucky than we were who somehow find the path toward hope.  
Looking back upon the whole experience now, quite honestly, I remember that I started filming because it was just an utterly natural way for me to cope with the horror of what was happening around us.  Shortly after the WTC attack, small business owners and those of us living next to the towers — or the smoldering pit where the buildings had been — were soon forgotten, and it seemed impossible to share our experiences with people who lived outside the “Red Zone.”  Even neighbors located a few blocks above the blockades were able to begin to process the global scope of the tragedy and begin to move on.  
But we were trapped locally in 9/11, our days lost maneuvering through the maze of support groups all with conflicting information and requirements.  
The piece reflects the core of my work and exemplifies, even now, what I try to pass on to my broadcasting and film students at Montclair State University.  I leave it to CNN to tell the who, what, why, and etcetera framed within the objective approach.  Rather, I prefer to find truth by sharing a personal perspective and allowing viewers to experience first hand what it felt like to witness history unfolding — so I filmed and I filmed and I filmed some more.  
Later on in the year, filmmaker Pola Rapaport sent out a request for any short films that people were making about 9/11 for a compilation she was curating.  I had a tremendous respect for her approach to documentary, so I sent her the cut I was working on.  Pola asked if she could include my film, and since the first screening was at a festival at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (March 2002), I finished editing shortly before that.  
I am grateful to the Creative Research Center for requesting that I share 71 West Broadway with your readers and visitors, and I look forward to your public symposium on campus,  The Uses of the Imagination in the Post-9/11 World on Wednesday, October 12 in Memorial Auditorium.

[Professor Beverly Peterson‘s documentaries have been broadcast internationally and screened at major festivals including HBO, PBS, The Sundance Channel, The Sundance Film Festival, Human Rights Watch, Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Walker Art Center, The Warhol Museum, The Kitchen. 71 West Broadway: Ground Zero, New York, NY was selected as part of the memorial presentation at the Library of Congress, which has included it in the national 9/11 film archive.  Portions of her film Invisible Revolution were featured on ABC’s 20/20, Dateline, and HBO specials on domestic terrorism.  Ms. Peterson is Assistant Professor in the Department of Broadcasting at Montclair State University.]

Creativity and Bridging – by Philip Barnard and Scott deLahunta

“Abstract art is only painting. And what’s so dramatic about that? There is no abstract art. One must always begin with something. Afterwards one can remove all semblance of reality; there is no longer any danger as the idea of the object has left an indelible imprint. It is the object which aroused the artist, stimulated his ideas and set off his emotions. These ideas and emotions will be imprisoned in his work for good… Whether he wants it or not, man is the instrument of nature; she imposes on him character and appearance. In my paintings of Dinard, as in my paintings of Purville, I have given expression to more or less the same vision… You cannot go against nature. She is stronger than the strongest of men. We can permit ourselves some liberties, but in details only.”– Pablo Picasso, at Boisgeloup, winter 1934, in Letters of the great artists: from Blake to Pollock, by Richard Friedenthal. London: Thames and Hudson, 1963, pp. 256-257 (translation Daphne Woodward)

This quote from Picasso is rich in latent meaning, not only about the content of multimodal imagery underlying artistic endeavour, but also concerning the way in which ideas are translated from sources of inspiration (“One must always begin with something…”) to an artistic product (“[his] paintings of Dinard and Pourville”) and how it is to be interpreted in the broader social context of artistic practice.

The statement, in and of itself, is silent about the means — both mental and physical — through which creativity is realised. The nature of creative endeavour, be it in fine art, graphic design, choreography or even science, involves bridging between the sources of inspiration that drive a form of enquiry and its outcomes.

As a part of a project exploring creativity in dance, Wayne McGregor | Random Dance have been researching rich ways of describing and unpacking creative practices with a view to augmenting them. A key element of this research recognises that we just don’t get from an “idea” to an artistic outcome in a single leap; the process involves bridging, in which mental processes, discovery representations and production representations all play crucial parts.

The bigger picture we envision for supporting discussion of what we have in mind is shown in our model of what is involved in bridging between sources of inspiration and artwork that appears in its social context. Here we focus specifically on choreography; however, this form of “model” can, in principle, be applied to any design practice, such as technology design (Barnard, 1991) or the design and development of diagnostic tests and therapeutic interventions for mental illness (Barnard, 2004).

The diagram is composed of boxes that contain “stuff” or representations; and arrows that are labelled as specific processes (analyse, assimilate, evaluate and select, assess and modify, contextualise, and synthesise).

On the left hand side of the diagram is a box labelled “representations of the world of contemporary dance” – or, more widely, any other landscape of artistic production. We can easily know a great deal about what is “out there” in the world of contemporary dance with the constraints provided by specific dancers, performance spaces, audiences, DVDs of productions and so on.

On the right hand side of the diagram we can also say something about the “representations of ideational resources” that an artist reports drawing upon – from books, poetry, senses of meaning in the essence of their own work as well as that of others, images, or even the meanings that come out of natural encounters with people, places or events.

Wayne McGregor, like many other artists, forages voraciously through such sources.

Crucially, in the centre of the diagram are two further boxes labelled “discovery representation” and “production representation”. These are called into play at the time of making an artwork. In the case of Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, McGregor himself will have number of topics in mind that he is quite explicitly using to generate the imagery for the processes and tasks (discovery representations) he uses in making. The classes of processes that he uses to arrive at a particular movement vocabulary are also readily open to description – and, indeed, such descriptions are available (Kirsh et al., 2009).

Equally, at any point in the evolving process of creation, production representations in one form or another (e.g. videos, notebooks, diagrams, emails) can capture the current state of the production (ultimately, of course, in other domains there might be scores, storyboards or scripts, etc.).

The “easy” part in many respects of exposing design work is characterising the representations involved. Here we have much to work with in terms of artefacts, documents and even interviews with, or writings of, the artists themselves.

The hard part is characterising the processes – the arrows that link the boxes. These are processes that go on in the minds of the practitioners. In the context of Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, these include dancers, choreographers, scenographers, lighting designers, and costume designers.

It is in the collective mental processes of analysis, assimilation, evaluation and selection, assessing and modifying, contextualising and synthesing that the real magic of creativity lies. That magic is not some un-analysable mass. It involves deep expertise, large numbers of small steps and many, many individual decisions.

The diagram’s decomposition of what might be involved is not intended to reduce creativity to some simple-minded elements, but rather to provide a rich way of indexing the real intricacies of creativity in action. In this way, we hope to provide platforms for debate, exploration and augmentation of artistic practice. To do this, we draw on other and more detailed, models of the processes involved in choreographic practice and models derived from cognitive neuroscience of the human mind.

We do not expect to unravel all the secrets of creativity, but just enough to provide practical insights to stimulate the minds of practitioners in how to evolve and enhance their own practices; and, in pedagogy, to excite and stimulate the minds of new generations of artists by providing them with ways of seeing more clearly how the elements of creative skills are realised and how they could undergo systematic development in the future.

Philip Barnard, MRC Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge; and Scott deLahunta, R-Research Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, Sadler’s Wells, London.

Sources cited

Barnard, P. J. (1991). Basic theories and the artefacts of HCI. In J. M. Carroll (Ed.), Designing interaction (pp. 103–127). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Barnard, P.J. (2004). Bridging between basic theory and clinical practice. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42, 977–1000.

Kirsh, D. et al., (2009). Choreographic methods for creating novel, high quality dance. In: Proceedings of the 29th Annual Conference of the Design and Semantics of Form and Movement (pp. 188-195). Lucerne, Switzerland: Design and Semantics of Form and Movement.

Fashion Studies at Montclair State – “Dazzling” Historic Costume Exhibition – by Alexandra Thelin

A great museum exhibition is a thrill to behold.

A variety of historic artifacts on display in cases with a blurb describing each item, whether it be a collection of paintings from the Abstract Expressionist period; a room of Medieval wall tapestries; or mannequins wearing American women’s fashion from 1880-1940 — there is something about seeing a piece of history.

As a young girl, I remember many trips to The Metropolitan Museum of Art with my great aunt, where we wandered and took in all the sights of the museum’s prolific galleries. Around this time I understood that I wanted to be an “artist” – or someone who worked in the art field.

I chose Art History as my major as an incoming freshman to Montclair State University in September, 2001. Experiencing my first Art History class lectures solidified my beliefs that this was indeed the field for me. Upon graduation, I attended Montclair State University for a Master’s Degree in Theatre with a concentration in Arts Management as well as the Fashion Institute of Technology for a second Master’s Degree in Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory and Museum Practice.

Projects for all three degrees included creating multiple small-scale exhibitions with artwork placement and writing succinct and informative label text. My multiple internships involved exhibition set up and visual merchandising. At FIT, the students in my graduating class were in charge of curating, designing, and creating an exhibition on the iconic shoe designer, Christian Louboutin.

And so, you can imagine my excitement when I became an adjunct here at MSU in Fashion Studies, where now I teach Historical Analysis of Costume. At the start of my second semester, we moved to the renovated basement of the Fox Theatre Building, with dedicated climate-controlled storage for the Department’s Historic Costume Collection, new classrooms, and a dedicated exhibition space where I was asked to have my class design the very first exhibition installation.

With expert and dedicated help from Dr. Linda Reilly, Dr. Abby Lillethun, and the Historic Costume Collection student assistant, Samantha Stutler, we picked garments and accessories from the Collection that had some element of sequins or beadings.

Why sequins or beads? Well, one afternoon, Dr. Lillethun and I were rummaging through the boxes in the collection and we found several garments with beading. It was the ideal theme for categorizing more garments, through which we figured that students would become even more receptive to the upcoming project. It was then that the title of the exhibition — “Dazzling” — emerged. Samantha pulled many garments and accessories that fit under that special qualifier.

A snow day…and a delayed exam later…we finally arrived on campus one morning to install. Unlike exhibitions where there are many months of planning, the students were the ones making the executive decisions about item choices, placement, and design. We had a few pieces of washed and un-ironed muslin to provide the backdrop and floor covering for the exhibition space. The sequins and beading gave the glitz; the muslin and industrial metal of the mannequin stands were a juxtaposition to the splendor.

The students worked together — dressing mannequins, displaying the elements, and designing the space. For some, it was their first hands-on experience with historic garments and exhibition display. Others had worked in retail or on fashion internships and were familiar with mannequins and visual marketing.

We hope this experience has solidified the love of the arts and fashion field for the students involved, and I am looking forward to having future students feel the same way.

Virtual Exhibition Checklist

The following items were chosen for “Dazzling” by the Fashion Studies students at Montclair State University. In addition to the pieces from the Historic Costume Collection, student fashion illustration artwork is also displayed with coordinating historic accessories:

  1. Gold pillbox hat with net, mid 20th century
  2. Black lamé hat with velvet bow, mid 20th century
  3. Black net hat with sequins and bow, mid 20th century
  4. Black velvet pumps by The American Girl Shoe company, mid 20th century
  5. Gold tone costume jewelry, late 20th century
  6. Gold, orange, black and white paisley print dress with sequined belt, 1960-70
  7. Maroon and ivory shift mini-dress with silver metallic thread, 1960s
  8. Ivory satin pumps, 20th century
  9. Gold sequin halter jump suit, 1970s
  10. Black satin pumps by Fayva with gold sequin embellishments, mid-late 20th century
  11. Detachable decorative heels with crystals. (One gold pair, one silver pair), 1920s
  12. Gold gloves, mid-late 20th century
  13. Neck covering with seed beads on silk ground, 20th century
  14. Gold tone costume jewelry with ram decoration, late 20th century
  15. Gold woven t-strap heels, 20th century
  16. Pink velvet headpiece, 1940s
  17. Black patent leather pumps by Fayva, mid-late 20th century
  18. Gold tone costume jewelry with black beads, late 20th century
  19. Neiman Marcus sequined dress with white bow below waist, 1980s

You will note that the majority of items in the exhibition are from the mid-to-late-twentieth century. This is partly due to the fact that items from this time period are generally in good condition and can be handled and dressed on mannequins for proper exhibition. Although the Historic Costume Collection at Montclair State does contain pieces from earlier time periods, it is generally easier to find garments from a time period that is closer to that in which we live.

Many mid-twentieth century sequins are made out of cellulose acetate[1] and have endured well over time. One of the main concerns associated with sequins in a historic costume collection is loss or transfer of color. Another decorative element found in the garments on display is glass beading: the small, perforated bodies of beads are sewn onto fabric to make decorations and designs. Beads can be made to emulate gold and silver, and this is achieved by blowing gold or silver dust into hollow glass beads.[2] Sometimes beads are sewn onto a ground fabric that is not very sturdy, such as silk. The heavy beads can tear the delicate fabric over time, making display of the historic artifact both difficult and dangerous to the object. Fortunately, none of the garments on display had these concerns.

Perhaps the most intriguing items on display are the two pairs of detachable heels from the 1920s [items 11]. Shoes for a woman at this time were designed to have interchangeable heels to coordinate with various outfits. The base of the shoe stayed the same, but the heel could be removed and switched with another set. The Historic Costume Collection owns two pairs of these interchangeable heels, but not the corresponding pair of shoes. Both pairs are encrusted with jewels to draw the eye to the wearer’s feet. Dresses of the 1920s were also heavily beaded and decorated, so a jeweled heel was another touch of sparkle that helped complete an ensemble.

One of the ‘crowd favorite’ items in the exhibition is the 1970s sequin halter jumpsuit. This type of garment would have been perfect for a night of disco dancing. The halter top wraps around the neck and has a cinched-in waist with long, wide pants.

The 1960s shift dress is a good example of the mini skirt length that was the epitome of the era. Instead of utilizing beads or sequins in its design, there are metallic threads woven into the fabric of the dress. The silver metallic thread catches light and shines.

All the garments and accessories on display have a touch of “sparkle” and are only a small representation of the Historic Costume Collection. This first installation taught us all a lot about time management, budget limitations, and what we could have done to make the space even better.

The new space is a blank canvas — and I can only imagine what the future holds.


[1] George P. Fulton, “Sequins,” National Institute of Cleaning and Dyeing Bulletin Service 30 October 1948: T-205.
[2] K.S. Finch, “Beadwork,” Textile Conservation, ed. Jentina E. Leene (Washington, D.C., 1972) 210.

Alexandra Thelin, MA, works in University Communications at Montclair State University, where she also serves as an adjunct professor in the Fashion Studies Department. Her graduate thesis at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City was on the conservation treatment and analysis of an eighteenth century woman’s calash bonnet. Alexandra also enjoys knitting, embroidery, sewing, and essentially anything associated with fashion and textiles.

Are We Not Trying Hard Enough? – Sharing Cognitive Frameworks in the University Classroom – by Yi Luo

When I met with Neil Baldwin in the Creative Research Center office recently, we started comparing teaching experiences. As a new faculty member at MSU, I admitted, with a little hesitation, “I try very hard to convey my subject-matter, but sometimes students still don’t ‘get it.’ Am I not trying hard enough?”

To my relief, Dr. Baldwin had had similar experiences. I have heard other faculty members express such frustrations across the disciplines at MSU, as well as at other universities. One colleague at another state university lamented that trying to be both educator and entertainer still failed at connecting with her students. It almost seems as if students are somehow battling against us.

What has happened? Are we, as dedicated teachers, not trying hard enough?

I would like to suggest that we bring a process-oriented approach to address the problem. Instead of questioning whether we as educators have run out of ways to stimulate students, we should try asking whether students and educators possess overlapping cognitive frameworks to begin with.

The term “cognitive framework” refers to the interpretive system through which individuals process information and make sense of their experiences (Weick, 2001). Mutual understanding depends upon this shared interpretive system (Chia, 2000; Taylor & Roichaud, 2004). Our frameworks may be quite different from those of our students. Indeed, if students and educators bring different cognitive lenses to bear on classroom experience, it is little wonder that we fail to communicate!

At issue is not so much our students’ intellectual ability, or the teaching competence of educators, but rather the lack of a shared cognitive framework with which to investigate, question, and integrate concepts.

After recognizing these discrepant frameworks, the next challenge lies in bridging the gaps. The process of acquiring and retaining knowledge parallels that of ‘sensemaking.’ Research on sensemaking (Mills, 2003; Schwantdt, 2005) has demonstrated that individuals resist processing information that contradicts their interpretative systems — unless new information allows them to revise or reconstruct those systems. Viewing classroom instruction as an on-going process of building, revising, or re-shaping students’ interpretive systems promises several insights in addressing the cognitive gaps between educators and students. This process is essentially interactive, because learning is seldom — if ever — unidirectional.

There are several key ways for teachers to construct shared cognitive frameworks together with students. At the beginning of a course, it is crucial to understand how students interpret phenomena of interest (or the underlying phenomena of the course).

Exploratory class exercises can provide a preliminary picture. Such “diagnoses” or knowledge-base inventories allow instructors to assess the extent to which the students can accommodate the new subject at hand. The stronger the connection between the course materials and students’ pre-existing framework, the more likely they will be motivated to absorb and integrate new knowledge.

Building this cognitive connection is likewise a creative process for instructors. If the prospect of changing or reconstructing students’ existing interpretive systems becomes necessary, instructors will then need to justify or “legitimize” that revised system.

Many studies on sensemaking in organizational settings have found the effectiveness of such explanations to help make meaning of and clarify organizational changes. In an educational setting, this revision requires illuminating the links between existing and new cognitive frameworks, as well as motivating students to explore the utility of this revised framework in interpreting, understanding, and applying new concepts or theories.

In so doing, students become active learners in constructing and experimenting with their interpretive systems, as opposed to feeling forced to receive the new concept. As a result of this alignment between their cognitive frameworks and new information, students are less likely to resist learning.

During the course of learning, misunderstanding or errors in applying certain concepts may indicate a misalignment between these concepts and interpretive systems. This happens when students use inappropriate cognitive frameworks to make sense of the new concepts requiring a shift in assumptions. Instead of reiterating the new concepts, it may be productive for us as teachers to guide students to recognize this mismatch through a series of questions.

Assuming the role of an investigator, students will then learn how to challenge their own assumptions. Through this process, students have the opportunity to hone their skills in detecting, diagnosing, and resolving problems. A student’s initial resistance can then lead to a collaborative process, in which instructors encourage students to question their customary perceptual lens and strengthen their abilities as active, independent, and critical learners.

At the stage of knowledge retention, the results found in organizational settings could also serve as a useful barometer. Studies show that organizational members are more likely to retain meanings consistent with their existing cognitive frameworks. (Gioia & Mehra, 1996; Kreps, 2009; Weick, Sutcliffe, & Obstfeld, 2005). In an educational setting, by extension, students are likely to preserve their recent learning as memory, intelligence, or knowledge when the connections between their learning and interpretive systems are consistently and systematically made clear to them by the teacher.

Assignments or projects encouraging students to explore and reinforce this linkage between their cognitive frameworks and learning will help reach this goal.

When we as professors question whether we have “tried hard enough” to facilitate students’ learning, it may be helpful to shift our attention to the way students interpret and ultimately internalize a concept or theory. This process-centered approach will reveal why students learn the way they do, and also help tell us what pedagogical changes are necessary for them to view certain concepts differently.

An appropriate question for educators then becomes:  “What lens are our students using to see the world?”


Chia, R. (2000). Discourse analysis as organizational analysis. Organization, 7, 513-518.

Gioia, D. A., & Mehra, A. (1996). Review of sensemaking in organizations. Academy of
Review, 21, 1226-1230.

Kreps, G. L. (2009). Applying Weick’s model of organizing to health care and health promotion: Highlighting the central role of health communication. Patient Education and Counseling,  74, 347-355.

Mills, J. H. (2003). Making sense of organizational change. London: Routledge.

Schwantdt, D. R. (2005). When managers become philosophers: Integrating learning with
sensemaking. Academy of Management Journal, 4, 176-192.

Taylor, J. R., & Robichaud, D. (2004). Finding the organization in the communication: Discourse as action and sensemaking. Organization, 11, 395-413.

Weick, K. E. (2001). Making sense of the organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Weick, K. E., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Obstfeld, D. (2005). Organizing and the process of
sensemaking. Organization Science, 16, 409-421.

—  Yi Luo, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies in the College of the Arts at Montclair State University. Her primary research interests are organizational communication and organizational justice; change management and public relations management; and social cognition.

Entropy: A Story of Science as Art – by Ashwin Vaidya

A recent informal discussion with my students on the nature of creativity in the sciences revealed that, for them, creativity is housed primarily in the arts. But don’t scientists also create, muse, imagine, and entertain…as much as artists experiment, observe, measure, analyze, and posit?

As I re-read The Two Cultures by C.P. Snow recently, I was struck by his famous observation regarding the schism between the arts and sciences and the lack of understanding of one another’s disciplines:

A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: ‘Have you read a work of  Shakespeare’s? [1]

Thermodynamics and its relationship to pattern formation in fluid mechanics has become my newfound research passion. As a physicist, I will use this blogging opportunity, collegially provided to me by The Creative Research Center, to redress the situation that Snow refers to, and  ‘educate’ my colleagues in the arts and humanities about the second law of thermodynamics, in the best way I understand it.

A story of physics told through the unraveling of the second law of thermodynamics sheds new light on the natural interplay of science, humanities and arts in our daily lives; it reveals the scientific enterprise as a  creative and democratic endeavour, and the artistic process as being rigourous and having a method of its own.

What I have found, to my amazement, is how fundamental a subject thermodynamics is. The study of heat and energy is only a little more than a century-and-half old and is slowly being recognized as a causal principle behind several aspects of nature (such as the patterns on a butterfly), the life cycle (several functional aspects of a cell) and the process of evolution as a whole[2].

In particular, the second law of thermodynamics, which introduces the idea of entropy, has come to occupy a special place in the vast literature of fundamental physics, as the only concept in physics to hint at a meaning of ‘time’.  Most branches of physics treat time as a reversible parameter; thermodynamics is the only branch to account for nature’s inherent irreversibility, which has become the scientific definition of time.

One exact statement of this law according to Clausius (there are a few more equivalent popular versions via Lord Kelvin, Constantin Caratheodory and others) goes: The entropy of the universe tends to a maximum. [3]

To understand this statement would require a clear understanding of the idea of entropy. There is no consensus on the definition; it has come to mean one or many of the following: disorder, wasted energy, dispersed energy, or dissipation.

For the purposes of this discussion, let us adapt a simple and popular definition (without the accompanying nuances) of entropy as unusable energy. The first law of thermodynamics states that the total energy in the universe is a constant, but can be can be converted from one form to another.  From this standpoint, the second law points out that although the net amount of energy does not change, the amount of unusable energy is increasing over time until at some point all available energy in the system is unusable. Physicists before and since Snow have laid great faith in the immutability of this law, eliciting the famous comment by Sir Arthur Eddington:

If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much worse for Maxwell’s equations… But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation. [4]

I would further like to point out that the second law has parallels in eastern philosophy.

As Krishna enlightens Arjuna, the warrior, on the eve of the epic battle of Mahabharatha (described in the ancient Indian philosophical treatise, ‘Bhavagad Gita’), on the meaning of life, he points to the fundamental and conserved (or constant) qualities of nature (within both individuals and the collective universe) called ‘gunas’ in Sanskrit. In chapter 14 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna states, referring to the nature of humanity:

Sattva or goodness; Rajas or activity and Tamas or inertia; these three gunas of mind bind the imperishable soul to the body…[5]

The three gunas are however described as a fundamental embodiment of all of nature, including matter, consciousness and the realm of energy beyond. This statement, and its detailed ensuing description in the Gita, has remarkable similarities to the detailed mathematical formulation of the second law.

While the traditional scientific definition of entropy is  anthropocentric and hence the common connotation of the second law rather negative, the above metaphysical parallel of this law (if so interpreted) is devoid of this human bias and regards the return to nature as a desirable trait.  

The second law, since the time of Snow,  has spread its influence and exposed parallel notions beyond physics by pervading the disciplines of ecology, chemistry, biology, environmental sciences and even economics. In his book Entropy: A New World View, Jeremy Rifkin[6], an economist and political thinker, gives a remarkable account of how the concept of entropy has captured the imagination in science and the humanities. In considering how entropy and the second law play a fundamental role in our daily lives,  Rifkin helps uncover a more revealing definition and fundamental role of entropy than the  focused scientific definitions. The creative evolution of this idea (not always called ‘entropy’ or defined by the ‘second law of thermodynamics’) is perhaps a very simple but telling example about it.  Perhaps Snow was a little hasty in his comments by not realizing that entropy by many other names can ‘smell’ sweeter.

While we have simply dwelled on the meaning of entropy above (and tersely at that), the ongoing consequences of the idea are crucially more important. As the world tumbles hopelessly toward environmental catastrophe, a greater public understanding of the lessons of entropy is essential. 

We cannot hope to solve a problem of this magnitude all on our own. A better understanding of each other’s disciplines will help foster stronger collaborations between artists and scientists, and open new pathways and solutions – ones yet to be imagined.

Severus Sebokht, the Syrian bishop, thought it necessary to state the obvious in 662 AD: There are also others who know something.

Perhaps it is time to state the obvious yet again.


1. C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959

2.  Frijitof Capra, The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems, Anchor, 1997.

3.  Kondepudi, D., Introduction to Modern Thermodynamics, Wiley, 2008.

4.  Arthur Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World, University of Michigan Press; 4th prtg, 1981.

5. [An English Translation of the Bhagavad Gita].

6. Jeremy Rifkin, Entropy: A New World View, Bantam Books, 1981.

Ashwin Vaidya, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences in the College of Science and Mathematics at Montclair State University, faculty advisor to the Physics and Art Photography Competition, and a dynamic interdisciplinary contributor to the inquisitive conversations of The Creative Research Center.  Beyond his restless examinations of the interpenetration of the arts and sciences, Dr. Vaidya’s research interests lie in the areas of Applied Mathematics, Mathematical Fluid Mechanics, Non-Linear Partial Differential Equations, Hydrodynamic Stability, Non-Newtonian Fluid Mechanics, Fluid-Structure Interaction, Experimental Fluid Mechanics and Philosophy of Science.  For his doctoral thesis, he worked on problems concerning the steady state behavior of rigid bodies sedimenting in Newtonian and non-Newtonian fluids.  He is, in general, interested in problems concerning fluid structure interactions and non-Newtonian fluid flow and their implications in as diverse fields as geophysics, environmental fluid mechanics and biofluid mechanics.

Imagination and the Post-September 11th State – by Brigid Callahan Harrison

When asked by The Creative Research Center to write about “the uses of the imagination in the post-September 11th world,” the first notion that struck me was in terms of my own research – though admittedly I had not conceptualized the changes to the political context that occurred after September 11th, 2001 as “imagination.”

But really, what is terrorism, if not the manipulation of the imagination – the terrorist’s power to force his or her prey to imagine the worst – to think of terrors that may not occur, and to then contextualize the prey’s realities based on that imagined terror?

It is said that September 11th changed everything. This event – along with the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — is the catalyst that inextricably altered the modern political realm. It changed how Americans imagine their idealized democracy – specifically the powers they imagine appropriate for the government to exercise. Because we can imagine the alternative, we consent to an unprecedented expansion in governmental power in the name of security. We kid ourselves into imagining that trial size liquids, dutifully removed loafers, and the pre-board pat-down protect us from the bogeymen. But at 3:10 a.m. under the quilts, we know that our enemies’ imaginations, and the infinite ways in which individuals can do harm in a post-modern world — no longer subject to the rules of warfare — probably exceed our ability to imagine ways to thwart attacks. The pat-down won’t protect us from a vial of smallpox in Times Square, and won’t keep our water supply or our soldiers safe.

And isn’t this the essence of terror?

Because we can now imagine terror, we also imagine terrorists. The tried-and-true tolerant are tested as were their similarly-inclined forebears in the wake of Pearl Harbor, of Tet, during the Cold War, and other wars. But the stereotypical villain of yore, whether Hitler, Khrushchev, Castro, or Ho Chi Minh, has morphed in our collective imaginations; he is swarthy and steely-eyed, turbaned, and ruthless. And more than 7 in 10 Americans support the practice of subjecting men who look like him — citizens or not —  to extra scrutiny before boarding a plane.[i] They imagine they know the enemy. That identification of an enemy is comforting. It facilitates the unity of “us” versus the otherness of “them.” It helps us organize our thinking, provides a concrete enemy in the face of a war without one. It brings order to the reality of our chaos.

But as with all politics, the Hobbesians do not have a monopoly on our political imagination. September 11th and its aftermath has changed (in a very Lockean way) how Americans, especially young Americans, imagine their own role as citizens in democracy quite different from previous manifestations. Through these events, we can see the power of imagination to alter political realities – to shape and define the context in which political and policy decisions are made.

Since the early 1970s—a decade blemished by the intense unpopularity of the Vietnam War and by scandals that ushered in the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974—Americans’ attitudes about government have been dismal.[ii] Numerous surveys, including an ongoing Gallup poll that has tracked Americans’ opinions, demonstrated low levels of trust in government and of confidence in government’s ability to solve problems. Young people’s views have mirrored those of the nation as a whole. One study of undergraduate college students, for example, showed that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) did not trust the federal government to do the right thing most of the time, an attitude that reflected the views of the larger population.[iii] Distrust, lack of efficacy, and apathy among young people were reflected in the voter turnout for the 2000 presidential election, when only 36 percent of eligible college-age voters went to the polls. 

The events of September 11th jolted Americans’ ideation of their political context, and while 70 percent of Americans say that the attacks were the most memorable event of their lives,[iv] their impact would be felt most strongly by young people, the millennial generation born between 1980 and 1995. “The attacks of 9/11 . . . changed the way the Millennial Generation thinks about politics. Overnight, their attitudes were more like [those of] the Greatest Generation [the generation of Americans who lived through the Great Depression and World War II],” observed John Della Volpe, a pollster who helped Harvard University students construct a national poll of young people’s views.[v]         

In short, a different democracy was imagined: as patriotic spirit soared in the country at large, suddenly 60 percent of college students trusted the government to do the right thing. Ninety-two percent considered themselves patriotic. Some 77 percent thought that politics was relevant to their lives. [vi] In the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks, President George W. Bush and Congress enjoyed record-high approval ratings. Roughly 80 percent of young people and nearly that same percentage of all Americans supported U.S. military action in Afghanistan. But beyond opinions, imagination informed actions:

         —  More than 70 percent of college students gave blood, donated money, or volunteered in relief efforts.

         —  Nearly 70 percent volunteered in their communities (up from 60 percent in 2000).

         —  Eighty-six percent believed their generation was ready to lead the United State into the future.[vii] 

And then the political context changed again; not overnight this time, but over months and then years. As the wars in Afghanistan and then Iraq wore on, as casualties mounted, and as military spending skyrocketed, the American people again grew cynical. Trust in government, particularly of the president, plummeted.

By all outward appearances, it appeared that the ideal citizen and government imagined in the wake of September 11th was a mirage – a short-term patriotic blip on the screen fuelled by the rally-round-the-flag syndrome. Then the 2008 election happened, and whether or not you agree with the outcome, you cannot deny the importance of what the election represented: high voter turnout, most importantly, nearly historic participation among the youngest voters (whose participation has been steadily increasing).  Among voters age 18–21, the largest increases in turnout occurred among 19-year-olds, whose turnout rivals that of voters in their 30s.

The negativity, cynicism and low-turnout of the 2010 mid-term elections offer evidence to those who say that the 2008 energy and the enthusiasm generated among both Democrats and Republicans that presidential election were mere blips akin to the post-September 11 phenomenon.   I disagree. Mid-term elections are parochial beasts; they do not offer the opportunity national elections do to tap into a common psyche, a resonant vision.

In the classroom and in the statehouse, I see evidence that the catalyst of September 11th provided fodder to the imagination of our youngest citizens – the watershed event that was September 11th spawned a generational event the impact of which will be seen for decades as Millennials imagine, develop, and perfect new means of political participation. I see them hopeful that their imagined vision of a new American democracy informed in tragedy and shaped by unity can become a reality through action. For many, the foundation of political participation, volunteerism, or community action has already provided them with a rationale for increasing their knowledge of, and participation in, their communities.  As their participation increases, so does their potential effectiveness, creating a positive spiral of imagination, action, and results. 

In the end, it is what we imagine – the terror and the hope –that defines our polity and defines us.

Brigid Callahan Harrison is Professor of Political Science and Law at Montclair State University, where she teaches courses on American politics. A frequent commentator in print and electronic media, her most recent book, the second edition of American Democracy Now was published this month by McGraw-Hill Publishers.



[iii] Institute of Politics at Harvard University. “Attitudes Towards Politics and Public Service: A National Survey of College Undergraduates.” April 11-20, 2000., accessed August 16, 2007.


[v] Carl M. Cannon. 2007. “Generation ‘We:’ The Awakened Giant,” National Journal. March 9.

[vi] Institute of Politics at Harvard University. “Attitudes Towards Politics and Public Service: A National Survey of College Undergraduates.” April 11-20, 2000., accessed August 16, 2007.

[vii] Ibid.

“Theatrical Darwinism” and “Artworlds” – A Fresh Approach via Pierre Bourdieu – by Laura Cirigliano and Ronald Sharps

How do you think theater should evolve in order to make it more sustainable? 

What needs does theater fill in the U.K. and the U.S. and how can we cater to these needs so that this art form continues to thrive in an economic downturn?

By the time CRC visitors to a new blog by Montclair State University Masters Candidate in Arts Management Laura Cirigliano — Play by Play: Theatrical Darwinism — have finished working their way through an artful and beautifully- calibrated series of Web pages rich with reference resources and citations, they will be ready and willing to answer these questions.

More than two years ago, Ms. Cirigliano began an intensive course of study with her academic mentor, Dr. Ronald Sharps, Associate Dean of the MSU College of the Arts.   Dr. Sharps’ innovative syllabus in The Business of Art, in turn, had been honed through his dedicated immersion in the sociological/cosmopolitan philosophy and methodology of Pierre Bourdieu, (1930-2002) especially as manifested in Bourdieu‘s classic concept of “the field of cultural production.”

As readers will see vividly here, Dr. Sharps’ scholarship took on very dynamic visualization with his graphic Cultural Field Maps, now published for the first time by the CRC — with art direction by Brian Carter, Technology Coordinator for the MSU College of the Arts — and astute contextualization and commentary by Ms. Cirigliano.

In her newly-edited volume (with Sarah Kenderdine) Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage, Fiona Cameron, Senior Research Fellow in Museum and Cultural Heritage Studies at the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney, cautions against falling into “the illusion of the immaterial;” we would do well to heed her.  

As you delve deeply into the born-digital Play by Play: Theatrical Darwinism, notice how the blog inspires thoughts of “digital cultural objects,” their exponential multiplicity, and the commensurate responsibility of a site such as the Creative Research Center to act as a living archive. 

“I have always believed that it is the artist who creates a work, but a society that turns it into a work of art,” the late Johannes Cladders, Commissioner of the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale from 1982-1984, told Hans Ulrich Obrist in an interview a decade ago.    

Similarly, Play by Play: Theatrical Darwinism explores the ways in which the art and business of theatre have been made ever-more complex by the pressurized and competitive US and UK institutional marketplaces within which today’s arts enterprises must be situated.

And so, we encourage all our faithful CRC devotees to follow the fascinating intellectual, theoretical — and applied — journey put forth by Laura Cirigliano and Ronald Sharps, and then to take the time to join the international conversation, and respond to the two research questions posed

We look forward to hearing from you.

— N.B.

Work in Progress: The Montclair State University International Center for the Health Humanities – by Brian Abrams and Lois Oppenheim

The Health Humanities (conceived as a unified entity) is the application of humanities disciplines (arts, literature, languages, law, history, philosophy, religion, etc.) to discourse about, expression, and/or promotion of the dimensions of human health and well-being.  

The Health Humanities may be understood as situated at one end of a continuum opposite the health sciences (or biomedical, behavioral, and social sciences). While this applied capacity of the humanities is not a novel idea, the construct of the Health Humanities as a meta-discipline has only begun to emerge over the first decade of the 21st Century.

In the Health Humanities, health (and the promotion of health) is understood according to the constructivist (and other non-positivist) principles indigenous to the humanities, as distinguished from the positivism of science. The Health Humanities model does not in any way refute the value of the health sciences; but aims, rather, to offer a contrasting (and collaborative) epistemological paradigm, in other words, a pragmatic approach with respect to health (mental and physical—understood as deeply interrelated) and its promotion.  Its foundations are grounded historically in the Medical Humanities, but transcend the scope of the Medical Humanities through humanities-based conceptualizations of health and the applications of the humanities for health promotion. The Health Humanities construct is also distinct from complementary and alternative medicine, which consist of non-conventional interventions applied within the conventional health sciences.

The Health Humanities is a growing international movement. A conference was held October 13-15, 2006, at Green College, University of British Columbia. In January 2009, Paul Crawford became the world’s first Professor of Health Humanities at The University of Nottingham and, with Dr. Victoria Tischler, Charley Baker, Dr. Brian Brown, Dr. Lisa Mooney-Smith and Professor Ronald Carter, created an international Health Humanities initiative that included the establishment of a biennial International Health Humanities Conference (IHHC) funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) of the United Kingdom.

The first such conference was held August 6-8, 2010, at The University of Nottingham, United Kingdom.  It opened with Professor Crawford’s address, “Health Humanities: Literature and Madness” and included keynote lectures by Kay Redfield Jamison and Elaine Showalter.  Mark A. Radcliffe, who also spoke at the conference, reported on “Health Humanities” in his weekly column for Nursing Times. The conference was also reported in the Bethlem Blog.

The second conference (IHHC) will be hosted at the University of Colorado in 2012, with the theme “Film, Media and Health.” Planning is underway for the third in 2014, also to be held in the USA. Montclair State University has been invited by IHHC representatives potentially to serve as the site for that conference. Plans are also in place to establish an international society and scholarly journal on the Health Humanities.

Professor Paul Crawford of the University of Nottingham (en route to a meeting at Harvard University) came to MSU last month to meet with interested members of the MSU faculty from the College of the Arts and the College of the Humanities and Social Sciences.  Following this meeting, Professors Lois Oppenheim of CHSS and Brian Abrams of CART discussed the possibility of creating an MSU Center that would promote scholarship and pedagogy in this new field, distinguishing MSU as the first institution in North America to house such a center.  

The proposed (and provisionally-titled) International Center for the Health Humanities would be aligned with Montclair State’s current emphases on interdisciplinary and international program development. A task force composed of members of CART and CHSS is leading the charge in establishing the Center with the hope that it will eventually embrace all MSU colleges, so that the combined voices of a diverse constituency will allow the new Center to flourish.

MSU’s International Center for the Health Humanities would be linked via the forthcoming journal and the bi-annual conference to important work already taking place in the UK and elsewhere. Our hope is that MSU would serve as a North American “hub” of a new and rapidly developing field, thus becoming the model for program-building involving cross-curricular pedagogy, as well as opportunities for community engagement and service learning (including partnerships with health care institutions).  We also envision new academic programs in the Health Humanities, with concentrations located in specific disciplines.

SOURCES (Retrieved Sept. 18, 2010) 

Squier, S. M. (2007). Beyond nescience: The intersectional insights of health humanities. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 50 (3), 334-337

“Medical Humanities – BMJ Journals”. (Retrieved July 5, 2010) 

“Madness and Literature: Report from International Health Humanities Conference,” 16th August 2010.

Brian Abrams, Ph.D., MT-BC, LPC, LCAT, FAMI, is Associate Professor in the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University. He has been a music therapist since 1995, and has published and presented internationally on topics such as music therapy in cancer care, music psychotherapy, and humanistic dimensions of music therapy. 

Lois Oppenheim, Ph.D., is Professor of French and Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Montclair State University.  Of her numerous books, the most recent is A Curious Intimacy: Art and Neuro-Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 2005).  She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of the Imagination in New York City.

Affirmative Media Theory and the Post-9/11 World [Part II] by Gary Hall

[CRC Editor’s Note:  As part of Open Access Week at Columbia University in NYC, Gary Hall will be presenting his talk, Radical Open Access in the Humanities, on Monday, October 18, 2010, from 12:30-2:30 pm in Lerner Hall 555 on the Columbia campus.]

To be sure, there’s something seductive about the thought of producing the kind of big idea or constructive theoretical discourse that is able to capture and explain how the world has changed and become a different place after 9/11. Let’s take just the most frequently rehearsed of those examples with which we are regularly confronted: that the awful events at the World Trade Center and Pentagon on that day in 2001 are connected to the ‘war on terror’, the ‘axis of evil’, the ‘clash of civilizations’, the introduction of the PATRIOT Act, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the abuses in Abu Ghraib, indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay, the so-called ‘global economic crisis’ that began in 2008, the election of Barak Hussein Obama, the continuing debate over the place of Muslims in US society – even the ‘return to the Real’ after the apparent triumph of (postmodern theories of) the society of the spectacle, the simulacrum and the hyper-real.

Yet when it comes to deciding how to respond to events and narratives of this sort – which we must, no matter how much and how often they are framed as being ‘self-evident’ – do we not also need to ask: Why do big ideas and constructive theoretical discourses appear so compelling and refreshing at the moment, in these circumstances in particular? What exactly is the nature of this sense of frustration and fatigue with thinkers and theories – let’s not call them deconstructive – whose serious understanding of, and strenuous engagement with, antagonism, ambiguity, difference, hospitality, responsibility, singularity and openness, renders them wary of too easily dividing history into moments, movements, trends or turns, and cautious of creating strong, reconstructive, thirst-quenching philosophies of their own? From where does the desire spring for what are positioned, by way of contrast, as enabling and empowering systems of thought? Why here? Why now? And, yes, what is the effectiveness of such ideas and discourses? What do they do? How can we be sure, for instance, that they don’t function primarily to replicate the forces of neoliberal capitalist globalisation?

To repeat: none of this is to claim big ideas and ‘constructive, explanatory’ discourses aren’t capable of being extremely interesting and important. Of course they are (especially in the hands of philosophers as consistently creative, challenging and sophisticated as Badiou, Hardt and Negri, Stiegler and Žižek).

Yet how are we to decide if the idea of the post-9/11 world, persuasive though it may be, is viable, ‘capable of functioning successfully’, of being ‘able to live’ with the ‘enigma that is our life’, if this overarching-concept is so easily incorporated – in these ‘particular circumstances’ especially – into inhospitable, violent, controlling discourses or totalizing theoretical explanations (or posturing displays of male power and intellect)?

Let me raise just a few of the most obvious issues that would need to be rigorously and patiently worked through:

How is the use of the ‘post’ in this prepositional phrase to be understood? Is it referring to that which comes afterwards in a linear process of historical progression? Is the post meant to indicate some sort of fundamental fracture, boundary or dividing line designed to separate the pre-9/11 world from what came afterwards? Or is the post being used here to draw attention to that which, in an odd, paradoxical way comes not just after but before, too, just as ‘post’ is positioned before ‘9/11 world’ in the phrase ‘post-9/11 world’? In other words, does post-9/11 mean a certain world has come to an end, or is it more accurate to think of 9/11 and what has happened since as a part of that world, as that world in the nascent state?[i] Is the concept of the post-9/11 world referring to the coming of a new world, or the process of rewriting some of the features of the old?[ii]

What is meant by ‘9/11’? Whose 9/11? Which 9/11?

Arundhati Roy, writing in September 2002, is able to locate a number of places around the world for which that date has long held significance:

Twenty-nine years ago, in Chile, on the 11th of September, General Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in a CIA-backed coup…

On the 11th September 1922, ignoring Arab outrage, the British government proclaimed a mandate in Palestine, a follow up to the 1917 Balfour Declaration [which]… promised European Zionists a national home for Jewish people…

It was on the 11th September 1990 that George W. Bush Sr., then President of the US, made a speech to a joint session of Congress announcing his Government’s decision to go to war against Iraq.[iii]

Of course your Creative Research Center Website indicates that by 9/11 you mean the terrible attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001. I have no wish to detract from the pain and suffering associated with those events. The question arises nonetheless: On what basis can we take the decision to single out and privilege those tragic events over and above the others Roy identifies that also took place on 9/11? How can we do so, and how can we speak of what you refer to as a ‘post-9/11 generation’, without being complicit in those processes by which the attacks in New York have already been appropriated by a range of social, political, economic, ideological, cultural and aesthetic discourses for reasons to do with security, surveillance, biopolitics, justifying the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and so on (discourses which can make the experience of writing about 9/11 fraught, to say the least)?

This is not to imply a decision to privilege 9/11/01 can’t be made. It’s merely to point out that such questions need to be addressed if this decision is to be taken responsibly and the implications of doing so for the ways in which we teach and write and act assumed and endured.

As for the last part of this phrase (you’ll have gathered there’s nothing ‘inherently’ viable about this concept for me), is it possible to begin to creatively think and imagine using the idea of a post-9/11 ‘world’ without universalizing a singularly US set of events? After all, even the formulation 9/11, with its echo of 911, seems very North American; in the UK we tend to refer to September 11th. Yes, the Twin Towers were a symbol of World Finance Capital. Yes, the attacks on them were mediated around the world in ‘real time’. Yes, an article in Le Monde published the next day declared ‘We are all Americans! We are all New Yorkers’.

Has the phrase ‘post-9/11 world’ been chosen deliberately to draw attention to American-led neoliberal globalisation? It’s certainly difficult to propose alternatives to either with regard to the world’s social imaginary without risking being made to appear fanatical or extremist.  Nevertheless, on what basis can we justify totalizing or globalizing these specific events in this manner? And how can we do so without inscribing 9/11 in the logic of evaluation inherent to neoliberalism’s audit culture (‘in the sense that the Holocaust’s singularity and horror would “equal” that of 9/11’ perhaps, but that of Hurricane Katrina or the Deepwater Horizon oilrig explosion would not);[iv] or participating in the way 9/11 has often been made to overshadow other world historical events in the mythic imaginary: The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August 1954; Nixon’s decoupling of the US dollar from the gold standard in 1971 (which can be seen as one of the roots of the current economic crisis); the gas disaster at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal on December 2-3, 1984; the 2009 alter-globalisation protests in Seattle; the 2003 invasion of Iraq, recently described by the ex-head of MI5 in the UK as having ‘radicalised a whole generation of young people… who saw our involvement in Iraq… as being an attack on Islam’ – and that’s to name only those events that come most readily to mind?[v]

Even if we confine ourselves to acts of non-state terrorism, there’s the Oklahoma City bombing of 19/4, 1995; the Madrid bombing of 3/11, 2004; London 7/7; and the attacks in Mumbai of November 2008.  Why would we not try to creatively think and imagine using the concept of a post-2-3/12 world? A post-19/4 world? A post-7/7 world?

Whose post-9/11 world is this exactly? Who wants this post-9/11 world?

Gary Hall, 24 August, 2010

[i] I am here deliberately employing the language of Jean-François Lyotard’s description of postmodernism in his appendix to The Postmodern Condition. For Lyotard, ‘a work can become modern only if it is first postmodern. Postmodernism thus understood is not modernism at its end but in the nascent state, and this state is constant’ (Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986) p. 79). 

[ii] Jean-François Lyotard, ‘Rewriting Modernity’, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time (London: Polity, 1991). 

[iii] Arundhati Roy, ‘Come September’, The Algebra of Infinite Justice (London: Flamingo, 2002) p.280, 283, 288-289.

 [iv] Joanna Zylinska, The Ethics of Cultural Studies (London: Continuum, 2005), p.69. I should stress Zylinska is here critiquing such a logic of equivalence when it comes to thinking about traumatic events and catastrophes.

Affirmative Media Theory and the Post-9/11 World – [Part 1] by Gary Hall

[Gary Hall writes to NB] Thank you for the invitation to contribute to your born-digital, dynamic, nimble, open-source, collaborative space at Montclair State University. I’m very happy to join the conversation of your Creative Research Centre and take part in your symposium,The Uses of the Imagination in the Post-9/11 World’.

You’ve asked me to address ‘the inherent viability of the concept of “post-9/11 world’ and explain what this ‘over-arching concept’ means to me.  Perhaps you’ll forgive me, then, if I begin by telling you a little about my own research. This currently involves a series of born-digital, open, dynamic, collaborative projects I’m provisionally calling ‘media gifts’. Operating at the intersections of art, theory and new media, these gifts employ digital media to actualise critical and cultural theory. As such, their primary focus is not on studying the world in an attempt to arrive at an answer to the question ‘What exists?’, before proclaiming, say, that we’ve moved from the closed spaces of disciplinary societies to the more spirit- or gas-like forces of the societies of control, as Gilles Deleuze would have it.

Instead, the projects I’ve been working on over the last few years – which include a ‘liquid book’, a series of internet television programmes and an experiment that investigates some of the implications of internet piracy through the creation of an actual ‘pirate’ text[i] – are instances of media and mediation that endeavor to produce the effects they name or things of which they speak.

The reason I wanted to start with these projects is because they function for me as a means of thinking through what it means to ‘do philosophy’ and ‘do media theory’ in the current theoretico-political climate.  I see them as a way of practicing an affirmative media theory or philosophy in which analysis and critique are not abandoned but take more creative, inventive and imaginative forms. The different projects in the series – there are at least ten at the time of writing – thus each in their own way experiment with the potential new media technologies hold for making affective, singular interventions in the here and now.

The Possibility of Philosophy Today

Having said that, I want to make it clear I’m not positioning the affirmative media theory I’m endeavouring to practice with these media gifts in a relation of contrast to earlier, supposedly less affirmative, theoretical paradigms.[ii] In a discussion with Alain Badiouthat took place in New York in 2006, Simon Critchley constructs a narrative of this latter kind when describing the ‘overwhelmingly conceptually creative and also enabling and empowering’ nature of the former’s system of thought.[iii] For Critchley, the current situation of theory is characterised, on the one hand, by ‘a sense of frustration and fatigue with a whole range of theoretical paradigms: paradigms having been exhausted, paradigms having been led into a cul-de-sac, of making promises that they didn’t keep or simply giving some apocalyptic elucidation to our sense of imprisonment’; and, on the other, by a ‘tremendous thirst for a constructive, explanatory and empowering theoretical discourse’. It’s a thirst that Badiou’s philosophy apparently goes some way toward quenching. It’s ‘refreshing’, Critchley declares.

This desire for constructive, explanatory and empowering theoretical discourses of the kind offered not just by Badiou, I would propose, but in their different ways by Michael Hardt and Antonio NegriBernard Stiegler, Slavoj Žižek  and others, too, is of course understandable.

I can’t help wondering, though, if such discourses aren’t also a manifestation, to some degree at least, of what Germaine Greer has characterized as male display — although the books Greer is thinking of are Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics,  — rather than Badiou’s Being and Event or volumes by the likes of Nicolas Bourriaud and Marc Auge that put forward theories of the altermodern and supermodernity.

Every week, [Greer writes] either by snail mail or e-mail, I get a book that explains everything. Without exception, they are all written by men… There is no answer to everything, and only a deluded male would spend his life trying to find it. The most deluded think they have actually found it. … Brandishing the ‘big idea’ is a bookish version of male display, and as such a product of the same mind-set as that behind the manuscripts that litter my desk. To explain is in some sense to control. Proselytizing has always been a male preserve. … I would hope that fewer women have so far featured in the big-ideas landscape because, by and large, they are more interested in understanding than explaining, in describing rather than accounting for. Giving credence to a big idea is a way of permitting ourselves to skirt strenuous engagement with the enigma that is our life.[iv]

Still, as I say, I can recognise the appeal of enabling and empowering theoretical discourses to a certain extent. It’s a different aspect of the current situation of theory as it’s glossed by Critchley I’m particularly concerned with here.

Critchley – who is himself the author of The Ethics of Deconstruction and co-author of Deconstruction and Pragmatism – is careful to name no names as to which exhausted theoretical paradigms he has in mind. But given that a ‘certain discourse, let’s call it deconstructive’, Critchley suggests, is also explicitly placed in a relation of contrast to Badiou’s ‘very different’ creative, constructive philosophy, I wonder if deconstruction is not at least part of what he is referring to?[v]

If so, then I have to say I find it difficult to recognise deconstruction, and the philosophy of Jacques Derrida especially (with which the term deconstruction is most closely associated, and which is very important for me), in any description that opposes it to that which is conceptually creative, enabling, explanatory and empowering.

Derrida’s thought is all of these things – although in a different way to Badiou’s philosophical system, it’s true.  The interest of Derrida and deconstruction lies with systems – including what Badiou, in the same discussion with Critchley, refers to as ‘the classical field of philosophy’ – but also with what destabilizes, disrupts, escapes, exceeds, interrupts and undoes systems. And this would apply to Badiou’s own system of thought (‘and this is a system’, Critchley points out). This doesn’t mean deconstruction can be positioned as ‘melancholic’, though, and contrasted to construction and ‘reconstruction’, as Critchley and Badiou would have it.

For all his interest in radical politics, theatre, poetry, cinema, mathematics, psychoanalysis and the question of love, there’s an intriguing return to philosophy, and with it a certain disciplinarity, evident in Badiou’s work (as opposed to the interdisciplinarity associated with cultural studies, say — or the trans-disciplinarity of your CRC). Badiou refers to this as being very much a philosophical decision on his part:

And finally my philosophical decision – there is always something like a decision in philosophy, there is not always continuity: you have to decide something and my decision was very simple and very clear. It was that philosophy was possible. It’s a very simple sentence, but in the context it was something new. Philosophy is possible in the sense that we can do something which is in the classical tradition of philosophy and nevertheless in our contemporary experience. There is in my condition no contradiction between our world, our concrete experiences, an idea of radical politics for example, a new form of art, new experiences in love, and the new mathematics. There is no contradiction between our world and something in the philosophical field that is finally not in rupture but assumes a continuity with the philosophical tradition from Plato to today

And we can take one further step, something like that. So we have not to begin by melancholic considerations about the state of affairs of philosophy: deconstruction, end of philosophy, end of metaphysics, and so on. This vision of the history of thinking is not mine.  And so I have proposed – in Being and Event in fact – a new constructive way for philosophical concepts and something like a reconstruction – against deconstruction – of the classical field of philosophy itself.[vi]

Yet, what kind of decision is actually being taken here? What is it based upon or grounded in? How philosophical is this decision by Badiou?  Couldn’t it be said that any decision to the effect that philosophy is possible, that a ‘reconstruction – against deconstruction – of the classical field of philosophy’ is possible, has to be taken by Badiou in advance of philosophy; and that his decision in favour of a ‘new constructive way for philosophical concepts’ therefore takes Badiou outside or beyond philosophy at precisely the moment he is claiming to have returned to or defended it? As such, doesn’t any such decision do violence not just to deconstruction but also to the classical tradition of philosophy?

These are questions that Derrida and deconstruction can help with. For Derrida’s philosophy is nothing if not a thinking of the impossible decision. As someone else associated with deconstruction, J. Hillis Miller, puts it:

Responsibility… must be, if it is to exist at all, always excessive, always impossible to discharge. Otherwise it will risk being the repetition of a program of understanding and action already in place… My responsibility in each reading is to decide and to act, but I must do so in a situation where the grounds of decision are impossible to know. As Kierkegaard somewhere says, ‘The moment of decision is madness’. The action, in this case, often takes the form of teaching or writing that cannot claim to ground itself on pre-existing knowledge or established tradition but is what Derrida calls ‘l’invention de l’autre [the invention of the other’].[vii]

From this perspective, what’s so helpful about Derrida’s thought is not that it disavows the possibility of taking a decision in favour of a reconstruction of the classical field of philosophy; it’s that Derrida enables us to understand how any such decision necessarily involves a moment of madness. This is important; because once we appreciate the decision is the invention of the other — of the other in us — we can endeavour to assume, or better, endure ‘in a passion’, rather than simply act out, the implications of this realisation for the way we teach, write and act, in an effort to make the impossible decisions that confront us – including those concerning philosophy – as responsibly as possible.[viii]

The Concept of the post-9/11 World

Why am I raising all this here, in response to the CRC invitation to address ‘the inherent viability of the concept of ‘the post-9/11 world’?

I’m doing so because if Critchley is right and the current situation of theory is characterised by a thirst for constructive, explanatory and empowering theoretical discourses then, as I say, I can understand this. I can also appreciate that the concept of the ‘post-9/11 world’ may be of service in this context (including, perhaps, in terms of what Badiou refers to as the political name or poetic event). In fact, it has already been adopted as a new means of historical periodisation by some. But as far as practicing a creative, affirmative media theory or philosophy is concerned, it seems to me that whether what you are referring to as the ‘over-arching’ concept of the post-9/11 world is ‘viable’ or not, in the sense in which my dictionary defines viable – as ‘being capable of functioning successfully, practicable’, as being ‘able to live in particular circumstances’ – is just such an impossible decision.

[i] See: New Cultural Studies: The Liquid Theory Reader – co-edited with Clare Birchall and others, and published by Open Humanities Press in the Culture Machine Liquid Books series.

Liquid Theory TV;

Gary Hall, ‘Pirate Philosophy (Version 1.0): Open Access, Open Editing, Free Content, Free/Libre/Open Media’, Culture Machine, Vol.10, 2009. Originally placed on the Mininova torrent directory, ‘Pirate Philosophy Version 2.0’ is currently available from AAAAARG.ORG, Alive Torrents, Torrentslib, and Torrentzap, among other places.

For more on the media gifts series, see

[ii] A desire to avoid positioning the affirmative media philosophy I’m attempting to practice in a relation of contrast to previous theoretical paradigms is one of the reasons I’ve taken the decision not to explicitly relate the media gifts series to the so-called affective turn. For an example of the latter, see Richard Grusin’s recent book on affect and mediality after 9/11, where he writes:

one of the attractions of affect theory is that it provides an alternative model of the human subject and its motivations to the post-structuralist psychoanalytic models favoured by most contemporary cultural and media theorists. Affectivity helps shift the focus from representation to mediation, deploying an ontological model that refuses the dualism built into the concept of representation. Affectivity entails an ontology of multiplicity that refuses what Bruno Latour has characterized as the modern divide, variously understood in terms of such fundamental oppositions as those between human and non-human, mind and the world, culture and nature, or civilization and savagery. Drawing on varieties of what Nigel Thrift calls ‘non-representational theory’, I concern myself with the things that mediation does rather than what media mean or represent.

(Richard Grusin, Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11

Another of my reasons for not relating the media gifts series to affect theory lies with the fact that, as I have already intimated, I’m not so interested in developing ontologies or ontological models of understanding the world.

Still another is that, just as such affect theory attempts to do away with oppositions and dualisms, so it simultaneously (and often unconsciously and unwittingly) seems to repeat and reinforce them – in the case of the passage from Grusin above, most obviously between before and after 9/11, between representational and non-representational theory, and between post-structuralist psychoanalytic models and affect theory itself. And that’s without even mentioning the way Grusin’s book is constantly concerned with providing a representation of the logics and practices of mediation after 9/11; and with explaining what things such as the global credit crunch mean in this context in a manner it’s frequently difficult to differentiate from the kind of cultural and media theory he positions his book as representing an alternative to:

remediation no longer operates within the binary logic of reality versus mediation, concerning itself instead with mobility, connectivity, and flow. The real is no longer that which is free from mediation, but that which is thoroughly enmeshed with networks of social, technical, aesthetic, political, cultural, or economic mediation. The real is defined not in terms of representational accuracy, but in terms of liquidity or mobility. In this sense the credit crisis of 2008 was a crisis precisely of the real – as the problem of capital that didn’t move, of credit that didn’t flow, was seen as both the cause and consequence of the financial crisis. In the hypermediated post-capitalism of the twenty-first century, wealth is not representation but mobility.

(Richard Grusin, ibid, p.3)

[iii] Simon Critchley, ‘“Ours Is Not A Terrible Situation” – Alain Badiou and Simon Critchley at Labyrinth Books’, NY, March 6, 2006.

[iv] Germaine Greer, in Germaine Greer, Andrew Lycett and John Douglas, ‘The Week in Books: The Male Desire for Explanation; the Real Quantum of Solace; and Merchandising Fiction’, The Guardian, 1 November, 2008.

[v] For Badiou’s work to be understood in the US and for his influence to grow there, what is required, according to Critchley, is ‘the creation of a new theoretical space or a new intellectual space where a number of things come together’. Along with a radical politics, ‘an interest in theater, in poetry, … for cinema, for psychoanalysis and… also for mathematics’, these  include ‘a very strong and constructive idea of philosophy, which is in a certain way novel and unlike what one is used to within a certain discourse, let’s call it deconstructive’ (Simon Critchley, op cit.).

[vi] Alain Badiou, ‘”Ours Is Not A Terrible Situation” – Alain Badiou and Simon Critchley at Labyrinth Books’, NY, March 6, 2006.

[vii] J. Hillis Miller, in J. Hillis Miller and Manuel Asensi, Black Holes: J. Hillis Miller; or, Toward Boustropedonic Reading (Stanford, California: Stanford  University Press, 1999) p.491.

[viii] For Derrida, such ‘a double bind cannot be assumed’ by definition; ‘one can only endure it in a passion’ (Jacques Derrida, Resistances of Psychoanalysis (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1998) p. 36).

To be continued. Watch for Part II of Gary Hall’s essay coming soon on the Creative Research Center Web Site.

Music and Anti-Scientism, by Tiger C. Roholt

I often write about the experience of music, drawing upon phenomenology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of perception.  I have written about rock, hip-hop, and jazz, examining musical nuances (a.k.a. “expressive variations”), the feel of rhythm (groove), etc.  Here, I want to discuss a more foundational question about how we ought to approach the examination of music in general.  My topic in this post is anti-scientism (a topic broached in a recent CRC post).  I will reiterate some claims made by a music theorist who was heavily influenced by phenomenology, Thomas Clifton (1935-1978), and I’ll emphasize his debt to Martin Heidegger (1889-1976).  What follows is a glance at a reasonable anti-scientistic position one may adopt vis-à-vis certain phenomena.

Scientism is the view that the model of the natural sciences should be the model for all knowledge acquisition.  Is this model a good one for examining music?

Scientism typically involves an emphasis on objective, detached observation, and relatedly, the viability of removing the object under investigation from its context.  Anti-scientism, contrariwise, involves the claim that there is no objective, detached standpoint from which to observe (there is no “view from nowhere”), and, abstraction is not the preferred mode of examining all phenomena.  If one believes that there are phenomena that cannot be elucidated through scientific investigation, value-laden phenomena such as music are likely to be high on that list.

In Music as Heard: A Study in Applied Phenomenology (1983), Thomas Clifton claims that music cannot be distinguished from mere sounds by examining sound-events alone: “music, whatever else it is, is not factually in the world the way trees and mountains are” (p. 3); “there is no empirical difference between sound and music, the difference is decided by human acts” (p. 272).  Listeners constitute music; listeners bring music into being.  Mere sounds do not become music as long as they are experientially separated from the listener.  A certain kind of perceptual activity closes the experiential gap between sounds and a listener; this gap-closing is what Clifton calls possession.

Without going into detail about Clifton’s concept of possession, I want to highlight that he understands possession in terms of Heidegger’s distinction between presence-at-hand (Vorhandenheit) and readiness-to-hand (Zuhandenheit). A few words on that distinction.  Pieces of equipment are items we use in order to accomplish something (a hammer, a writing pen, shoes). We can make sense of a hammer in two ways. First, a hammer can be rendered intelligible as a self-sufficient substance with properties (it might have a brown, wooden handle, a shiny metal head, and weigh 5 pounds). This is the “way of being” (mode of intelligibility) called presence-at-hand.  But according to Heidegger, this is not the way of being of equipment.  Rather, equipment is understood holistically in terms of what it is used for; that is, in terms of its function in an equipmental whole; this is the way of being (mode of intelligibility) called readiness-to-hand.  Thus, a hammer is properly understood as a thing for pounding nails, in connection with wood, carpenters, cabinets, houses, and so on.  If we want to understand a piece of equipment properly (in accord with its way of being), we should not rely on detached observation (the latter is how we would discover its properties in present-at-hand terms).  In order to understand a piece of equipment we must use it. Loosely speaking, one might think of this as a way of drawing a distinction between understanding an object from a detached (present-at-hand) perspective, on the one hand, and an engaged (ready-to-hand) perspective, on the other.  (See Heidegger’s Being and Time [1927], and Hubert Dreyfus’s Being-in-the-World [1990]).

Now, consider that we can make sense of sounds in either of these two ways.  Treating the sounds made by an orchestra performing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony as mere sounds is to remain disengaged, detached; it is to characterize the sounds as present-at-hand.  Clifton suggests that possession involves rendering sounds intelligible as equipment; through an engaged perspective, we use sounds musically. When sounds are musical, they are ready-to-hand; once we possess the sounds, music emerges, the sounds acquire musical meaning and value.  “In a sense, the present-at-hand is always there, just as the sounds of a melody are always there, but to the degree that the thing (the melody) has value, we don’t notice it as a mere acoustical event” (p. 291).  “In other words, prior to the music’s being ready-to-hand, its sounds already occupy a definite position in objective space-time.  They lie there, up there on the stage, or coming out of a speaker.  With the possessive act, this relation is changed . . . . the sounds of music comprise the equipment which we use to accomplish the task of discovering sense in the music” (p. 292).

In what way does this view constitute a potential criticism of, or challenge to, the scientific investigation of music?  If we accept Heidegger’s distinction between presence-at-hand and readiness-to-hand, and Clifton’s application of it to music, then we will find fault with experiments in which music is treated in present-at-hand terms, where scientists aim for a kind of methodological detachment.  For example, we will most likely not accept the relevance to music of a psychology experiment that involves subjects reporting on their perceptions of sine tones presented in no musical context; in such a case, the subjects are reporting on their perceptions of sounds rather than music.  What should we say about experiments that involve subjects reporting on perceptions of, for example, a recording of Beethoven’s Fifth?  Even though the stimulus is a musical recording, that does not guarantee that the subjects are reporting on engaged musical experiences; they may be reporting on detached perceptions of the recording. We will want to know just how the experiment is devised so as to ensure engaged experience.  Finally, even if psychologists ensure that their subjects are reporting on engaged experiences of music, in drawing conclusions based on such reports, we will want to ensure that psychologists do not themselves make sense of the reports in present-at-hand terms.

Related worries are raised by Continental philosophers, sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu, and others, who focus on the roles of history, social class, and politics in understanding music.  Beyond the above worry, the thought here is that a psychologist  who investigates music abstractly illegitimately sets aside music’s historicity and socio-political context.  If the investigator takes herself to be a purely objective observer, she fails to consider the way in which she, herself, is situated in a context that has shaped her perspective.

Tiger Roholt earned his Ph.D. in philosophy at Columbia University.  He is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Montclair State University.  His writing includes the article “Philosophy of Music” in The Grove Dictionary of American Music, second edition, Ed., C.H. Garrett (Oxford University Press, forthcoming), and “Musical Experience, Philosophical Perspectives,” in The Oxford Companion to Consciousness, Eds., Bayne, Cleeremans, and Wilken (Oxford University Press, 2009).

His blog/website is here:

The Mathematical Imagination, by Mika Munakata

As I sit in front of the television watching the Wimbledon men’s quarterfinal match (the one Roger Federer will eventually lose), I am reminded of a classic mathematics problem:

In a single-elimination tennis tournament featuring 128 players, how many matches will be played?

This seems to be a practically-minded problem. If you are the tournament director, you would need to know how many matches to schedule, in addition to when to schedule them, and on what courts.

To one interested in mathematics, however, the problem provides many opportunities for rich exploration. One could start by drawing a diagram, or by counting the number of rounds, or by considering a series that includes the number of matches played each round. Depending on the level of mathematical experience and on one’s learning tendencies, the notation used can vary from simple addition to the use of summation or binary decision trees. One can spend minutes, even hours, trying to find a suitable way of expressing the solution.

But, in every roomful of people, there is bound to be one person who will scarcely need a second to state the solution. In fact, this person would not be bothered if we were to change the parameters of the problem.

For example, what if 279 players entered the tournament? What if 8962 did? The same person would be able to use the same creative strategy to calculate the answers to these problems in a practical instance.

While it is tempting to disclose this clever person’s strategy at this point, I will resist doing so, in case there is someone out there who sees the challenge in finding this “shortcut” strategy. So…allow me to stall…

When Neil Baldwin asked me to write this article for the Cteative Research Center, I pondered the different ways in which creativity and mathematical problem solving intersect.

In a traditional mathematics class, students are rarely asked to “problem solve.” Sure, they solve many problems, but as Alan Schoenfeld — Elizabeth and Edward Conner Professor of Education and Affiliated Professor of Mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley — writes:

A problem is only a problem (as mathematicians use the word) if you don’t know how to go about solving it. A problem that has no ‘surprises’ in store, and can be solved comfortably by routine or familiar procedures (no matter how difficult) is an exercise.” (Schoenfeld, 1983, p. 41)

Consider the typical mathematics textbook that introduces the “what” (finding the area of a circle), gives examples of the “how” (multiply the appropriate numbers) and the “why” (to find the amount of carpet needed), then sets students free to answer questions #1-31 odd. This textbook is merely providing exercises. Creativity is not necessary in this example of mathematics teaching and learning.

In order to encourage creativity in mathematics, students have to be engaged in true problem solving and allowed to gain ownership of the learning that takes place. Creativity is involved when students are asked to “create” the mathematics, at least for themselves. That is, the problems that the students encounter must be new to them, and they must be encouraged to transfer their mathematics experiences and skills to this new problem. This requires some creativity. Of course, this creation doesn’t happen spontaneously, nor is it independent from practice and mastery.

The brand of creativity needed in this particular situation (of finding the area of a circle) may be different from the creativity necessary to paint a painting or compose music (two fields typically associated with the notion of creativity).

But, on the other hand, perhaps it isn’t so different. Painters and musicians don’t become so overnight. Master painters develop a sense for the use of dimensions and colors. Musicians have knowledge and experience of what notes sound good together. Similarly, the mathematics student can be guided to derive (newly for them) the formula for the area of a circle. Perhaps the teacher would ask, “how is it related to the area of a rectangle” or “how might you divide up a circle into shapes for which you know the area? How might that help you?”

The process of organizing and integrating previous knowledge is a creative one, and one that is crucial to the development of new mathematical ideas.

Now, let’s return to the original problem, “how many matches will be played?” Finding a shortcut requires one to resist the temptation to resort to formulas and algorithms (e.g., summation, powers of two, even addition). Rather, one is encouraged to take on a different perspective, to be flexible in one’s thinking, and to consider the context of the problem. Even imagining the events of the tournament, and the outcome of each match may help.

So, as a way to keep you thinking, I will end with one question: “How many winners will there be?

— Mika Munakata is associate professor of Mathematical Sciences at Montclair State University. Her research interests include Problem Solving, Program Assessment, and Teacher Development.

As she tells the CRC, “I began my career as a middle school and high school mathematics teacher. My work now at the collegiate level has direct connections to my experiences teaching at the secondary level. I typically teach undergraduate students training to be teachers; general education mathematics courses for students not necessarily training to be teachers; and content, methods, and research courses for master’s and doctoral students. I am currently co-director of an NSF-funded project that pairs graduate research students with middle school teachers. For that project, we are collecting quantitative and qualitative data to investigate the impact of the project on graduate students and middle school students and teachers.”

[Reference: Schoenfeld, A.H.: 1983, ‘The wild, wild, wild, wild, wild world of problem solving: A review of sorts’, For the Learning of Mathematics 3, 40-47.]

The Landscape of Memory: Why Historical Sites Still Matter – by Danny Heitman

CRC Editor’s Note:  On May 28th, as I was preparing this insightful and nostalgic essay by Danny Heitman for posting here, I took an (ostensible) “break” and clicked on where I found Danny’s powerful piece on the catastrophic BP oil spill, Louisiana, land of Audubon…and now?

*                                    *                                    *

A couple of years ago, while writing a book about a pivotal season in the life of John James Audubon, I spent a great deal of time at Oakley House, the Louisiana plantation where the world’s most famous bird artist lived and worked in the summer of 1821.

My research involved numerous challenges, but competing with other visitors at Oakley House was seldom a problem. Open to the public since 1954, and now known as the Audubon State Historic Site Oakley logged just 17,810 patrons in its most recent annual head count, about half of what the site drew in 1996.

Nestled within the wooded beauty of Louisiana’s West Feliciana Parish, and located less than an hour’s drive from Baton Rouge,  Oakley is far from alone when it comes to declining attendance. Across the country, visitation at historic sites and house museums has trended downward for 30 years, according to findings presented in the November 2008 issue of The Public Historian.

Some institutions have resisted the decline, with varying degrees of success, by offering new programs and promotions, but the general pattern of public ambivalence about America’s historic sites isn’t encouraging.

Culprits for the drop in patronage abound. In a 2005 Wall Street Journal commentary, museum administrator Bruce Courson singled out cheap airfares, which encourage families to ditch the household car and jet to destinations that by-pass rural museums.

Other observers suggest that in an age of TV, cyberspace and video games, the quieter appeal of historic sites simply isn’t appealing enough for the latest generation of travelers.

Of course, technology can also help raise the profile of historic attractions, drawing visitors from around the globe through virtual tours on institutional web sites. I was delighted when my book inspired a public television documentary that exposed thousands of viewers to Oakley who might not otherwise have darkened its doors.

Even so, there’s no real substitute for standing on the same ground where history was made, as I learned many times during my research at Oakley.

The oppressive heat and humidity of Louisiana summers, a reality not easily felt without sensing them firsthand, gave me a unique insight into the physical hardships Audubon faced as he combed the woods near Oakley.

Oakley’s relatively tight quarters also partly explained why tensions ran so high in the household during Audubon’s stay there. I doubt that merely looking at pictures and videos of Oakley would have provided the same revelation.

The lack of natural light in Audubon’s Oakley lodgings led me to conclude that the bird artist must have created some of his most memorable work by bringing his paper and paints outside – into the very environment where he had found the subjects of his art. For me, it was yet another reminder that place can clarify the past in ways small and large.

Other historians have reported similar eureka moments. Biographer Robert Caro pored over hundreds of documents and conducted scores of interviews over the years to plumb the character of Lyndon B. Johnson, but Caro said he didn’t truly understand Johnson’s ambition until he saw the U.S. Capitol gleaming at dawn – just as Johnson would have as a young legislative aide.

To get Harry Truman’s true texture, author David McCullough lived for a time in Independence, Missouri, the former president’s hometown.

Such connections shouldn’t be the exclusive preserve of professional historians. In opening historical sites to the public, their custodians remind us that history is a broad bequest, not the narrow domain of the specialist.

If the public often seems disinterested, perhaps it’s because of what I call “Abe Lincoln Slept Here” Syndrome, the tendency to frame historic sites as static commemorations of a single event or period.

But when land and history meet, they typically create not one story, but many.

“Walden Pond,” W. Barksdale Maynard’s masterful history of a magical Massachusetts landmark, is necessarily about Henry David Thoreau, its most famous resident, but Maynard’s book is also about a great many other things, including what came before and after Thoreau at Walden.

In a similar way, the story of Oakley is much larger than Audubon, yielding important lessons about such things as prehistoric geography, the legacy of slavery, and the implications of modern development.

Embraced this way, land becomes a literature of its own, a text that tells us much about who we were, who we are, who we might become.

At Oakley, Audubon refined what was then a revolutionary technique of depicting birds in their natural surroundings, and his message, quite clearly, is that place defines us.

That reality often abides most vividly in the old homes and haunts of those who have gone before us — in historic sites scattered across the country.

With another vacation season set to begin soon, Americans would do well to give them another look.

— Danny Heitman is the award-winning columnist for The Baton Rouge Advocate and a member of The Advocate’s editorial board. His essays have also appeared in The Christian Science MonitorSmithsonianThe New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal and other national publications. His critically-acclaimed book, A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House appeared in 2008 from Louisiana State University Press.

The Implications of Weight Gain in Pregnancy: A Scientist’s Personal Experience Inspires Her Research to Help Future Generations – by Diana Thomas

CRC Editor’s Note – On June 5th, the very same day we received Diana Thomas’s essay, I picked up The New York Times and saw this article on the front page: Growing Obesity Increases Perils of Childbearing.

*                        *                        *

I had always been athletic and slim if even on the overly skinny side until about 12 years ago.  I wasn’t alarmed when I first started gaining weight, as I was confident that I could easily lose the extra pounds if I needed to.  Unfortunately, I was not aware how much my new sedentary life as a professor and mother would make it difficult to achieve my previous healthy weight.  As it became increasingly more challenging to get in and out of my two-door Honda Civic, I realized it was time for action.  I started my new position as an assistant professor at Montclair State University in September 2000 and began the hard work of losing almost 70 lbs of excess weight.

As I started shedding pounds, I began to mathematically investigate the mechanics behind how humans lose and gain weight. Pam Delaney (Biochemistry).

John Stevens (Math), and I collaboratively developed our first model that predicted weight change, which I primarily used for engaging students in the classroom and answering questions about weight change for family and friends.

Student interest in the topic was high and based on a student project, Baojun Song (Math) and I developed the first model simulating weight change during starvation.  During this time, I lost over 60 lbs of excess weight and just as I stepped back into pre-pregnancy clothes, I discovered I was carrying my second child.

Desperately concerned about going through a weight loss process again, I carefully monitored my weight gain during pregnancy, ate well, swam at Panzer pool or worked out on the elliptical daily.  Upon reading JF Clapp, M.D.’s Exercising through your Pregnancy

I began to think about the dynamics of weight change during pregnancy resulting from changes in exercise and diet.  I contacted Dr. Clapp in 2004 and we collaboratively developed a model for fetal growth in utero based on maternal exercise and diet.  The paper, which appeared in Royal Society Publication set in motion a series of events that permanently altered the course of my research career.

Attention from the publication resulted in current collaborations with Steven Heymsfied, M.D. and  Corby Martin, Ph.D.

Dr. Heymsfield is an expert in human body composition who has studied weight change from a quantitative point of view for over 30 years. Dr. Heymsfield and I have looked at how body composition is a mathematical function of race, gender, age and height using a large cross-sectional data set representative of the current US population. This function is at the core of all the weight loss models we have developed.

Dr. Martin is a behavioral psychologist who is investigating adherence to lifestyle changes that promote weight loss at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Dr. Martin and I collaboratively designed a model we use to monitor patient adherence to diets.  The idea we developed is simple and effective. Applying our validated math model, we generate a weight loss curve for each individual patient based on their prescribed diet. If the patient is non-compliant, their actual weight loss will not follow the trajectory predicted by the model offering an opportunity for immediate interventions by the clinical staff.

These collaborations and others and the ongoing questions they have generated, have led me far away from mainstream mathematical research.  Instead of working in an office with pencil and paper, I am now running clinical trials which will provide additional mathematical insight into weight gain and loss in individuals.

I am currently at the end of my first clinical trial with St. Barnabas Medical Health Center on placental volume and fetal growth during pregnancy.  We have enrolled 12 pregnant women in the study and are investigating how their placenta grows during gestation by conducting a 3-D ultrasound every five weeks of the pregnancy. There is a growing body of evidence that placental volume is controlled by maternal diet and exercise.  Placental volume has been also correlated to birth weights and the baby’s percent fat.  Larger infant percent fat mass has been connected to childhood obesity and therefore mathematically correlating these seemingly independent pieces of gestation is highly significant.

My mathematical background makes me a unique member of my research team which consists of physiologists, nutrition scientists, medical health professionals, and psychologists.  More important, however, is that I am the only individual on our research team that has lost a significant amount of weight and this gives me a personal insight into what challenges our subjects encounter in their weight loss efforts.

As I examine the data, I cheer their hard work and hope to simplify and enhance interventions so that they make the most impact possible for individual healthy weight maintenance.

Diana Thomas, PhD, Associate Professor of Mathematics, Montclair State University