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Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti - Testata per la stampa

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International symposium: The two cultures: shared problems

Fifty years after Charles P. Snow

The two cultures: shared problems
Cover drawing: Arrigo Marcolini

October 24th-25th-26th, 2007
Istituto Veneto di Scienze,
Lettere ed Arti
venue of Palazzo Cavalli
October 26th, 2007
from 14.30
Istituto Svizzero di Roma,
Spazio Culturale di Venezia,
Campo Sant'Agnese, Venezia

The aim of the Symposium is to encourage an in-depth discussion of problems of fundamental importance that are common to the two cultures, but that are traditionally seen from different perspectives. The forum will bring together scientists, philosophers, humanists, musicians with the aim of fostering comprehension of problems that have traditionally troubled humankind, and establish more fertile grounds for the communication between the two cultures.
An outline of the themes of the Symposium: the concept of time, infinity, the concept and meaning of nothingness, numbers, intelligence and the human mind, basic mechanisms in the production of thought and of artistic creation, the relationship between artistic and scientific creativity.
The symposium is promoted by the Istituto Veneto, in association with Istituto Svizzero di Roma

Lo scopo del convegno è promuovere una discussione approfondita su problemi di fondamentale importanza che sono comuni alle culture scientifica e artistica, ma che tradizionalmente vengono considerati da prospettive differenti. La discussione riunirà scienziati, filosofi, umanisti, musicisti con lo scopo di promuovere la comprensione dei problemi che da sempre l'umanità si pone e di creare un fertile terreno per la comunicazione tra le due culture.
Tra i temi che verranno trattati: il concetto di tempo, l'infinito, il nulla, i problemi dei numeri , il rapporto tra creatività e pensiero, la mente umana, il rapporto tra creatività artistica e scientifica.
Il convegno è promosso dall'Istituto Veneto, con la collaborazione dell'Istituto Svizzero di Roma.

Wednesday october 24th

16.00 arrival - registration
18.00 welcome
President of the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti
introductory remarks
18.20 opening lecture
Artistic Director of the Istituto Svizzero di Roma
Michelangelo PISTOLETTO
Mirror: an optical prosthesis that multiplies the reflective capacities of the mind
In my talk I will bring to light the objective, phenomenological character that underlies all my work as an artist?work that has led me to conclusions that also regard some of the issues that make up the theme of this symposium and that the many eminent speakers will explore at length.As the title suggests, my talk will be based on the mirror. In its icy sincerity the mirror has shown itself to be the genie that Aladin sought when he rubbed his lamp.
The mirror leads us away from the drama of existence and brings us closer to the identity we seek.
Specchio: protesi ottica che moltiplica le capacità riflessive della mente.
Nel mio intervento metterò in luce il carattere oggettivo e fenomenologico che investe per intero il mio lavoro d'artista. Lavoro attraverso il quale, sono pervenuto a cognizioni riguardanti anche alcuni tra gli argomenti che costituiscono il tema di questo simposio e che saranno approfonditi dai diversi illustri oratori.
Come dal titolo, il mio intervento sarà basato sullo specchio. Esso nella sua gelida sincerità si è rivelato essere quel genio che Aladino cercava sfregando la sua lampada.Lo specchio ci allontana dal dramma esistenziale e ci avvicina all'identità che cerchiamo. Ci informa che la matematica dell'esistente è compresa tra la divisione del nulla e la sottrazione dal tutto.

19.30 Concert
(Trio E. Rovner, K. Schatz, E. Walker)

Thursday october 25th
The concept of time
chairperson Francesco BERTOLA
9.00 Gabriele VENEZIANO
Did time have a beginning? A meeting point for science and philosophy
The traditional claim that time had a beginning is a myth rather than a scientifically established fact. String theory appears today as the only consistent framework where the issue of the beginning of time can be seriously addressed. Recent advances should soon determine whether the "Big Bang" of conventional cosmology should be replaced by the "Big Bounce" of an unconventional one. If so, observable consequences of the new scenario would provide the long-sought tests that string theory has been badly lacking so far.
9.40 Hans MOOIJ
The flow and the map: on the dynamic and static views of time
Time involves a moving present, an increasing past and a decreasing future; but it also involves fixed relationships like earlier and later. Thus, time seems to have dynamic as well as static features. What is the connection between these two characteristics? In particular, the question may arise whether one of them is more basic than the other, and if so: which one, and why. Is time essentially flowing, or is it ultimately and objectively a space-like dimension? Many twentieth-century philosophers (empiricists, phenomenologists and analytical philosophers) have argued about this complex problem. I will discuss its ramifications in the philosophy of physics and the humanities.
10.20 discussion
10.50 coffee break
infinity and nothingness
chairperson Hans MOOIJ
11.20 Luciano BOI
Creating the physical world ex nihilo? On the quantum vacuum and its fluctuations
The answer to some of the longstanding issues in the 20th century theoretical physics, such as those of the cosmic singularity, the black matter and energy, and the phenomenon of breaking symmetry, appear to be closely related to the problem of the quantum vacuum and its fluctuations. The properties of the Universe come from ìnothingî, where nothing is the quantum vacuum, which is a very different kind of nothing. If we examine a piece of ìemptyî space we see it is not truly empty, it is filled with spacetime networks, for example, spacetime has immaterial curvature and structure, and obeys the laws of quantum physics. Thus, it is filled with potential particles, pairs of virtual matter and anti-matter units, and potential properties at the quantum level. The quantum vacuum is the ground state of energy for the Universe, the lowest possible level. To first approximation, this is simply a state with no particles. However, even an ideal vacuum, thought of as the complete absence of anything, will not in practice remain empty. One reason that perfect vacuum is impossible is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle which states that no particle can ever have an exact position. Each atom exists as a probability function of space, which has a certain non-zero value everywhere in a given volume. More fundamentally, quantum mechanics predicts that vacuum energy will be different than its naÔve, classical value. The quantum correction to the energy is called the zero-point energy and consists of energies of virtual particles that have a brief existence. This is called vacuum fluctuation. In other words, quantum fluctuation is the temporary appearance of energetic particles out of nothing, as allowed by the uncertainty principle. Vacuum fluctuations may also be related to the so-called cosmological constant in cosmology. The best evidence for vacuum fluctuations is the Casimir effect and the Lamb shift. Thus, the quantum vacuum is a more complex entity than the macroscopic ones, which is far from featureless and far from empty. It is the source of all potentiality. For example, quantum entities have both wave and particle characteristics. It is the quantum vacuum that such characteristics emerge from, particles ìstand-outî from the vacuum, waves ìundulateî on the underlying vacuum, and leave their signature on objects in the real Universe. In this sense, the Universe is not filled by the quantum vacuum, rather it is written on it, the immaterial substratum of all physical existence. We will argue that, in some sense, with respect to the origin of the Universe, the quantum vacuum must have been the source of the laws of Nature and the properties that we observe today.
12.00 Eugenio MAZZARELLA
World nihilism and theological nihilism: a possible definition
The talk rests upon the assumption that the problem of Nothingness does not concern Being (that is to say, the truth as aletheia, a manifestation or self-manifestation of things as they are), since Being neither addresses nor can understand this problem. Rather, it concerns how that particular entity which is human there-Being (meant as the entity which thematises its relationship to Being) perceives its relation to Being. Thus, nihilism is a feeling, a dimension of human feeling. If nihilism dwells in one's own heart, that is to say, in the feeling of the sundering of the relationship between subject and World, only a religious, creatural, theological, and therefore, religious, nihilism can question the cosmos on the issue of nothingness, involving Being in its own destiny of nothingness. This essay compares two kinds of nihilism which pertain to the sphere of human feeling, that is to say, worldly and theological nihilism, showing their common roots in an itinerary in and of the mind, where one's own relationship to the World and Transcendence is questioned. In this way, it is possible to overcome nihilism through the very decision to depend on that which we nevertheless depend on, that is to say, the "true wholeness" of the truth of Being, which corresponds to the relational structure of our being-in-world, or, for those who believe in the Christian religion, the Cross.
12.40 discussion
14.30 Ruth DURRER
The evolution of the universe
In physics we usually describe a system in terms of the time evolution of its main variables. Through Einstein's equations of general relativity, which relate the geometry of space and time with matter, we can do this also for the entire universe. By doing so, we successfully describe an overwhelming amount of cosmological observations, but run into problems at very early times (the big bang) and in the present universe. This talk addresses mainly the 'dark energy' problem of the present Universe and will briefly discuss the main attempts to solve it.
15.10 Piergiorgio ODIFREDDI
Eternity breaks through Zeno
Beginnning with the Eleatics, the concept of Infinity has moved from philosophy to literature without losing its intellectual attraction. The talk will discuss some steps of the humanistic and scientific history of this fascinating concept, from Zeno's paradox to the stories of Kafka and Borges.
15.50 discussion
16.20 coffee break
chairperson Piergiorgio ODIFREDDI
16.50 Marcus DU SAUTOY
Symmetry is all around us. Our eyes and minds are drawn to symmetricalobjects, from the sphere to the swastika, from the pyramid to the pentagon. Of fundamental significance to the way we interpret the world around us, this unique, all-pervasive phenomenon indicates a dynamic relationship between objects. In chemistry andphysics the concept of symmetry explains the structure of crystalsor the theory of fundamental particles; in evolutionary biology, thenatural world exploits symmetry in the fight for survival; andsymmetry—and the breaking of it—are central to ideas in art, architecture, and music. This talk takes a unique look into the mathematical mind as I explore deep conjectures about symmetry. These conjectures have culminated in the most exciting discovery to date—the summit of mathematicians' mastery in the field—the Monster, a huge snowflake that lives in 196,883-dimensional space with more symmetries than there are atoms inthe sun.
17.30 discussion
18.00 General discussion on the themes of the first day
chairperson Giancarlo SETTI
19.00 Concert (J. Rasche)

Friday october 26th
Intelligence and emotions
chairperson Giovanni BERLUCCHI
Intelligence and human cognition: mental processing in humble brains
Studies on the ontogenetic origins of human knowledge provide evidence for a small set of separable systems of core knowledge dealing with the representation of objects, number and space. I investigate core knowledge systems in a comparative perspective, making use of animal models. I discuss evidence showing precocious abilities in non-human species to represent (i) the complete shapes of objects that move partly or fully out of view, (ii) the cardinal and ordinal/sequential aspects of numerical cognition and (iii) the geometrical relationships among extended surfaces in the surrounding layout. Some of the abilities associated with core knowledge systems of objects, number and space are observed in animals in the absence (or with very reduced) experience, supporting a nativistic foundation of cognitive mechanisms.
9.40 Elkhonon GOLDBERG
Many faces of intelligence
Insight, foresight, empathy, curiosity, expertise are the aspects of the mind which until recently were deemed intractable to rigorous science. Today we are beginning to understand their neural mechanisms, their changes throughout the life span, and their pathology.
10.20 discussion
10.50 coffee break
brain and music
chairperson Alberto Antonio SEMI
11.20 Joerg RASCHE
Cycles of re-creation: psychoanalytical approach to music
Musical compositions often tell a story - not by words but by shaping sounds and structuring rhythms, melody and harmony. Music can't be translated as its meaning can not be described thoroughly using language. Language is always talking through secondary semantics. Music is what it is - and by that it tells stories about a primary reality, the reality of relations. One example is the interaction of the very early affect attunement between mother and child. It is about the integration of affects/emotions with sounds and meaningful gestures, as a basic process for the so called mentalisation of perceptions. The classical music became a cultural vessel for this basic psychological process by developing a wide spectrum of musical forms, as rhythms, consonance and dissonance, combining different structural patterns, polyphonic interactions and so on. An example will be music by J. S. Bach (Prelude and Fugue e flat minor, Well Temperate Piano I, 8). Listening or performing this music provokes an unconscious remembering and re-creation of the very early patterns of interaction and integrating of emotions and experiences in our psyche. An important step in our psychological development is the hatching out of the mother-infant common orbit. The psychological cycle of early loss, alienation, paranoid confusion, mourning, grief and finally re-creation of inner objects can be demonstrated specially in music of the Romantic era. The piano cycle „Kreisleriana" op.16 by Robert Schumann is an example of the basic archetypal pattern of the creation of an individuated psyche. „If you want to see - listen! " (Bernard of Clairvaux).
12.00 discussion
Transfer to ISR, Spazio Culturale Svizzero di Venezia,
Campo Sant'Agnese
creativity in arts and science
chairperson Manlio PASTORE STOCCHI
14.30 Arthur MILLER
Art and science: two cultures or two sides of same coin?
It can be argued that art and science are two sides of the same coin - two aspects of creativity. It is striking that art and science became increasingly abstract in the twentieth century, almost in parallel. Why? How? In my lecture I shall look into all of this and what it tells us about artistic and scientific creativity.
15.10 Ernesto CARAFOLI
Scientific and artistic creativity. Towards a unifying concept
The scientific and artistic cultures are generally considered to be inherently different. The first is objective and demands verification, the second is subjective and does not require it. However, the structure of the process of creativity may be common to the two cultures, as it proceeds in similar ways from the initial step - the intuition - through the labour that leads to the final product. It is often stated that the aim of the scientific culture is the search for truth, whereas that of the artistic culture is the creation of beauty. This dicotomy is an unwarranted simplification of the matter, as truth and beauty are indeed the combined aim of both cultures.
15.50 discussion
16.20 coffee break
beauty: beyond emotions?
chairperson Arthur MILLER
16.50 Maurizio FERRARIS
Things and artworks
The unity of the kind "work of art" is given by three main characters: 1. the work of art is a physical object. 2. the work of art is a social object. 3. the work of art is a thing which pretends to be a person.
17.30 Giuseppe O. LONGO
The dynamics of beauty
A naturalistic definition of beauty is proposed based on our immersion in a vast ongoing systemic process: beauty exhibits itself and is recognized by us through the reciprocal dynamical adaptation between the whole system and its parts. This system evolves with time and so does that adaptation, hence beauty has a historical character and depends on the specific cultural and geographical contexts. The recognition of beauty is subjective, but the common nature and shared experience of humans make it intersubjective. This justifies an attempt to evaluate beauty in a tendentially objective way that goes beyond the particular codes of expression and interpretation to reach the fundamental level of mathematics and physics.
18.10 discussion
arts and science: a final journey
chairperson Charles KLEIBER
18.40 Mario BOTTA
Architecture between art and science
The talk will underline some of the aspects of architecture defined here as a language between art and science. The speaker will move from his personal designing experiences to attempt penetrating into the process of architectural creation: on one hand by describing the poetical intuition, on the other by explaining the critical rationale behind the designing choices.
19.20 discussion
19.45 Giuseppe O. LONGO
Closing remarks
20.00 Concert (E. Colombo, E. Fioravanti, S. Meyer, M. Siniscalchi)

Simultaneous translation avalaible (italian/english and viceversa)
Con servizio di traduzione simultanea (italiano/inglese e viceversa)

Elenco dei relatori
Giovanni Berlucchi, Università degli studi di Verona
Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti
Francesco Bertola, Università degli studi di Padova
Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti
Luciano Boi, Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales
Mario Botta, Università della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano
Ernesto Carafoli, Università degli studi di Padova
Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti
Ruth Durrer, Université de Genève
Marcus du Sautoy, University of Oxford
Maurizio Ferraris, Università degli studi di Torino
Elkhonon Goldberg, New York University
Charles Kleiber, Segretario di Stato per l'Educazione e la Ricerca, Svizzera
Giuseppe Oddone Longo, Università degli studi di Trieste
Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti
Domenico Lucchini, Direttore artistico dell'Istituto Svizzero di Roma
Eugenio Mazzarella, Università degli studi di Napoli Federico II
Leopoldo Mazzarolli, Presidente dell'Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti
Arthur Miller, University College London
Hans Mooij, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
Piergiorgio Odifreddi, Università degli studi di Torino
Manlio Pastore Stocchi, Università degli studi di Padova
Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti
Michelangelo Pistoletto, Città dell'arte - Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella
Joerg Rasche, Freie Universität Berlin
Christoph Riedweg, Direttore dell'Istituto Svizzero di Roma e responsabile scientifico
Antonio Alberto Semi, Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti
Giancarlo Setti, Università di Bologna
Giorgio Vallortigara, Università degli studi di Trieste
Gabriele Veneziano, CERN, Genève

Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti
San Marco 2945
30124 Venezia
telefono +39 0412407711
fax +39 0415210598
ISR - Spazio Culturale Svizzero di Venezia
Dorsoduro 810
30123 Venezia
telefono +39 041 24 11 810
fax +39 041 24 43 863


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