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June 12, 2010, 2:30 PM

Parallel Universes: The History of an Idea

Participants: Eva Brann, Christa Davis Acampora, David Morgan, Paul Park (moderator), David Weinberg

The notion of the parallel universe—the idea that a replica or near replica of the worlds we know, have known, or will know—has permeated imaginative thought in both science and art throughout the ages. Vedic philosophy introduces the notion of the wheel. Nietzsche propounded the Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence around the same time that the French mathematician Poincaré introduced his Eternal Recurrence Theorem. Parallel universes appear in numerous science fiction works, such as Phillip K. Dick's Man in a High Castle, and have appeared as motifs in numerous films, including the Clarence Oddbody sequence in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life and in Peter Howitt's Sliding Doors. This roundtable will examine the history of the idea of the parallel universe, and the confluence of thinkers from fields as varied as non-Euclidian geometry, Hinduism, romantic comedy, science fiction, and astrophysics who have wrestled with this imaginative concept.

Eva Brann is a member of the senior faculty at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, where she has taught for fifty years. Her recent books include The Ways of Naysaying; What, Then, Is Time?; The World of the Imagination: Sum and Substance; and The Past-Present, a volume of essays. Brann's long history of academic posts and honors includes fellowships with the NEH and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Christa Davis Acampora is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Hunter College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her specialties include modern European philosophy, aesthetics, moral psychology, and political philosophy. She is the Executive Editor of the Journal of Nietzsche Studies. She has published four books—two on Nietzsche and two in the areas of aesthetics and critical race theory—and numerous articles and book chapters. Her courses include upper level seminars on Nietzsche and Heidegger, existentialism, aesthetics, twentieth-century philosophy, and special topics such as Tragedy & Philosophy and a team-taught course on Competition and Culture.

David Morgan is Assistant Professor of Physics at Eugene Lang College, the undergraduate division of the New School in New York City. His research on supersymmetry and the physics of "strange matter" stars has appeared in Physical Review and The Astrophysical Journal. In 2004, Dr. Morgan received a commission from the Sloan Foundation and the Ensemble Studio Theatre to write The Osiander Preface, a play that explores the publication of Nicolaus Copernicus's On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres. He is currently finishing his first book, a collection of essays on the history of physics called Constructing the Laws of Nature.

Paul Park has written eleven novels and a volume of short stories in a variety of genres. His most recent novella, Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance, is in the January/February edition of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He lives in Berkshire County and teaches at Williams College.

David Weinberg is a cosmologist who studies the formation of galaxies and the matter and energy contents of the universe. He is the former Spokesperson and current Project Scientist of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which is creating the largest ever three-dimensional maps of the cosmos. He has also collaborated with artist Josiah McElheny on the design of cosmologically inspired sculptures, including "Island Universe," which depicts the multiplicity of cosmic bubbles predicted by inflationary cosmology theory. Dr. Weinberg is presently a Distinguished Professor of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the Ohio State University and a sabbatical visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study.

The below images are from a sculptural installation connected to the idea of multiverse inflation, which grew out of a collaboration between panelist David Weinberg and artist Josiah McElheny.

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


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