Into The Impossible

A podcast about how we imagine, and how what we imagine shapes what we do. Each month, we'll bring you into a conversation between visionaries from the worlds of arts, sciences, humanities, engineering, and medicine on the nature of the imagination and how, through speculative culture, we collaborate to create the future, with interviews by Clarke Center leaders Sheldon Brown, Brian Keating, Erik Viirre, and Patrick Coleman.

Episode 34: Brian Keating interviews Sir Roger Penrose: The Emperor’s New Mind -- Consciousness & Computers


Books mentioned in this episode: The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness Sir Roger Penrose OM FRS (born 8 August 1931) is an English mathematical physicist, mathematician and philosopher of science. He is Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics in the University of Oxford, an emeritus fellow of Wadham College, Oxford and an honorary fellow of St John's College, Cambridge. Penrose has made contributions to the mathematical physics of general relativity and cosmology. He has received several prizes and awards, including the 1988 Wolf Prize for physics, which he shared with Stephen Hawking for the Penrose–Hawking singularity theorems. Penrose sat down with Professor Brian Keating to discuss artificial intelligence, consciousness, cosmology, and the many fascinating developments in physics since the publication of The Emperor’s New Mind in 1989. Previous talks at UC San Diego: Conformal Cyclic Cosmology: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zt1WH_SkazQ&t=2284s New Theory of Dark Matter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlSMME-Cl5g Physics and Fantasy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaIdJMxP6bA Hawking Points in the CMB: https://youtu.be/gfYBfjVt08k

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Episode 33: UC San Diego Alumni discuss their careers & Quantum Design Inc. with Brian Keating


Dr. Stefano Spagna, PhD. and Ivy Lum Fipps, MS are both alumni of UC San Diego Physics. Dr. Spagna is Chief Technology Officer and Mrs. Fipps is Final Test Engineer specializing in dilution refrigerators. Since its inception in 1982, Quantum Design International (a privately held corporation) has developed and manufactured automated temperature and magnetic field testing platforms for materials characterization. These systems offer a variety of measurement capabilities and are in widespread use in the fields of physics, chemistry, biotechnology, materials science, nanotechnology, and quantum information research. Building on its expertise in the global marketing and distribution of its own scientific instruments, Quantum Design International (QDI) eventually broadened its scope to distribute quality scientific instruments from other manufacturers through an international network of wholly-owned subsidiaries in every major technological center around the world.

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Episode 32: Brian Keating Interviews Richard Panek about The Trouble With Gravity


Richard Panek is most recently the author of The Trouble with Gravity: Solving the Mystery Beneath Our Feet, published in July 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. His previous book, The 4% Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality, received the Science Communication Award from the American Institute of Physics. He is also the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Antarctic Artists & Writers grant from the National Science Foundation, and a Fellowship in Nonfiction Literature from the New York Foundation for the Arts. His own books have been translated into sixteen languages, while his collaboration with Temple Grandin, The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, was a New York Times best-seller and the recipient of the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Nonfiction Book of 2013. He also co-wrote the giant-format 3D museum movie ROBOTS [[CUT: 3D]], a National Geographic production. He has been a monthly columnist for Natural History magazine and a regular contributor to The New York Times. Two of his previous books also cover the history of science for non-specialist readers, Seeing and Believing: How the Telescope Opened Our Eyes and Minds to the Heavens (Viking, 1998), and The Invisible Century: Einstein, Freud and the Search for Hidden Universes (Viking, 2004). Education MFA in Fiction, University of Iowa BS in Journalism, Northwestern University

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Episode 31: UC San Diego Alumnus, Nanome.ai Co-Founder & CEO Steve McCloskey interviewed by Stuart Volkow


Steve McCloskey is an Alumni from the first class of Nanoengineering at the University of California, San Diego. Steve’s work is focused on emerging technologies applied to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). During his time at UC San Diego Steve worked directly with the founding Chair of the Nanoengineering Department, Ken Vecchio helping set the foundation for the Nanoengineering Materials Research Center and developing thermodynamic processing methods for Iron-based Superelastic alloys. After graduating from UCSD he founded Nanome Inc to build Virtual Reality solutions for Scientists and Engineers working at the nanoscale, specifically protein engineering and small molecule drug development. Steve is also a founder of the Matryx blockchain platform which provides a secure framework for collaborative design and development for STEM. Nanome is transforming how we interact with and understand science, creating a virtual world where users can experiment, design and learn at the nanoscale. We’re building an open platform to solve age-old problems of collaboration, incentivization and siloed information – creating a world with open access to science & technology.

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Episode 29: Brian Keating Interviews Jim Gates about Proving Einstein Right, supersymmetry and other mysteries


Jim Gates is the Ford Foundation Professor of Physics, and the Director of The Brown University Theoretical Physics Center. He is a 2013 recipient of the National Medal of Science He was a Distinguished University Professor, University System of Maryland Regents Professor, John S. Toll Professor of Physics, and Director of the Center for String and Particle Theory. Gates is well known for his pioneering work in supersymmetry and supergravity, and his 1977 doctoral dissertation on supersymmetry earned him a prominent place in the early development of the field, as did the 1984 book he co-authored, Superspace, or One thousand and one lessons in supersymmetry, which is widely considered the first comprehensive book on the subject. His study of string theory and supersymmetry has recently led Gates to develop an interest in what are called adinkras. Adinkra symbols are graphical representations of supersymmetric algebras named after symbols created by the Asante people. Adinkras may help us understand the structure of the universe, although Gates cautions, “most of the time when we make up ideas, they’re wrong. However, when we get it right, it’s amazing.” Gates is also a pioneer in another respect, having been the first African American to hold an endowed chair in physics at a major U.S. research university. He comes to Brown with a mission to increase the participation of historically underrepresented groups in the sciences. Gates is a former scientific advisor to President Barack Obama, Gates is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as the board of trustees of Society for Science & the Public, and one of the USA Science and Engineering Festival's “Nifty Fifty.”

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Episode 30: Brian Keating interviews Sean Carroll about his book Something Deeply Hidden & Many Worlds


Sean M. Carroll is a Research Professor of Physics at CalTech. He is a theorist who thinks about the fundamental laws of nature, especially as they connect to cosmology. His research involves theoretical physics and astrophysics, especially cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. He has worked on questions involving dark matter and dark energy, modified gravity, violations of Lorentz invariance, extra dimensions, topological defects, cosmic microwave background anisotropies, causality violation, black holes, and the cosmological constant problem. Currently, most of his attention is focused on the origin of the universe and the arrow of time, including the roles of inflation, baby universes, and quantum gravity.

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Episode 28: Dan Hooper discusses his book At The Edge of Time


Professor Hooper focuses on the interface between particle physics and cosmology. Particle physics explores the fundamental nature of energy and matter, while cosmology is the science of the universe itself, including its composition, history and evolution. Some of the areas of this field he has worked on include dark matter, supersymmetry, high-energy neutrinos, extra dimensions and ultra-high energy cosmic rays.

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Epidsode 27: Innovator Series - Additive Rocket Corporation


Stuart Volkow interviews two of the founders of The Additive Rocket Corporation (ARC), CSO Riley Weekes and CTO Kyle Adriany. ARC was started at UC San Deigo and utilizes state of the art metal additive manufacturing techniques coupled with advanced design and test processes to create thrust chambers for the space market. The company's revolutionary methods allow for the design and production of specifically tailored and mission specific propulsion solutions. Since its beginning, ARC has been dedicated to pushing the boundaries of rocket propulsion technologies. All members of the ARC team are driven with a passion to create the next generation of rocket technology and distribute its benefits throughout the industry. Through rigorous engineering and testing, products from ARC are certified at the highest levels of reliability, safety, and performance. ARC's use of additive manufacturing allows the company to create solutions to even the most challenging mission parameters. By working as a development partner alongside customers, ARC is positioned to deliver specialized solutions, meeting the customers’ exact needs. The byproduct of this philosophy is a customer experience that is unique in the space industry. Together with our customers and partners in industry, ARC aims to create brighter futures on Earth and beyond.

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Episode 26: The Origins of Life and the Work of Primo Levi


Primo Levi was deeply interested in the fascinating mystery of the Origin of Life. In particular, in his essay “Asymmetry and Life” he deals with the questions related to the Origin of Homochirality. Which are the prebiotical processes that, starting from a symmetric world, established a living world dominated by asymmetric biomolecules, such as L-amino acids and D-sugars? Would life be possible with the mirror image of these biomolecules? In this short interview, starting from Primo Levi’s writings, we will go through some answers that modern chemists are giving to the questions raised by Primo Levi.

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Episode 25: A Discussion of Quantum Theory and the book "What Is Real?" by Adam Becker


This podcast is about the book, "What Is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics". The conversation was part of the "Into the Impossible" podcast at the UC San Diego Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, featuring a discussion between Professor Chip Sebens (UCSD Philosophy), Dr. Andrew Friedman (UCSD Physics), and the book's author, Adam Becker.

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Episode 24: Julian Guthrie Discusses Alpha Girls


Co-Director of the Clarke Center Professor Brian Keating interviews bestselling author Julian Gurthrie about her latest book Alpha Girls. The stories of 4 women who achieved prominence in the male-dominated world of Silicon Valley venture capital. How did these women do it? What makes them so successful? Julian also reveals how she's written and published 4 successful non-fiction books over the past 8 years.

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Episode 23 - Matthew Stanley & Einstein's War


How history can shape science, and how science can change the tide of history? NYU Professor Matthew Stanley is our guest, here to discuss about his latest book: Einstein's War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I . Brian Keating, associate director of the Clarke Center and professor of physics at UC San Diego, talked to Professor Stanley about his interest in the history of science and the relationship between science and society. We learn about Einstein's first failed attempt at proving his theories with a disastrous expedition at the outbreak of WW I in 1914, and Arthur Eddington's 1919 solar eclipse experiment that made Einstein famous around the world.

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Episode 22 - Journalist & Author Annalee Newitz


How does Annalee approach world-building? I'm using the same skillsets for world-building in science fiction works like AUTONOMOUS and in journalism covering cutting edge science and technology. I want my science fiction to be as accurate as possible. The boundary is if I can make things plausible. Educated guesses about the future come from history. My approach to science fiction is to set stories at the edge of the present. Annalee discusses her books: Autonomous, Scatter Adapt, and Remeber: How Humans Will Face Mass Extinction, and her latest, The Future of Another Timeline about how people from the future seek to alter the past. She also discusses the abuse of graduate students in academia and how it shows up Autonomous.

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Episode 21: Beyond 10,000 Hours


On this episode, we explore physics, education, and what it takes to train imaginative scientists with Carl Wieman, Nobel Prize winning physicist with joint appointments as Professor of Physics and Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University. Dr. Wieman is interviewed by Brian Keating, UC San Diego Professor of Physics, Director of the Simons Observatory, and Associate Director of the Clarke Center.

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Episode 20 - The Second Kind of Impossible


THE SECOND KIND OF IMPOSSIBLE: The Extraordinary Quest for a New Form of Matter is the exciting, first-hand story of how Paul Steinhardt, the award-winning physicist and Albert Einstein Professor in Science at Princeton University, predicted a new type of matter – the quasicrystal – shattering centuries-old laws of physics. Steinhardt’s quest to prove the natural existence of quasicrystals takes him on a globe-hopping scientific journey from Princeton to Italy to the remote mountains of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. In a “suspenseful true-life thriller of science investigation and discovery” (Publishers Weekly), readers are taken along for the ride as Steinhardt challenges commonly held assumptions about settled science, refuting skeptics and disproving their notions of impossibility along the way. Steinhardt’s search to prove the existence of this rare crystal structure began in the early 1980s, when he first proposed the existence of “quasicrystals.” While studying abstract tile patterns, Steinhardt and his graduate student discovered a scientific loophole in one of the most well-established laws of science and, exploiting that, realized it was possible to create new forms of matter. In this podcast, co-associate director of the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, Professor Brian Keating, and Professor Paul Steinhardt explore a wide range of ideas from the discovery of new forms of matter to string theory and the sociology of science. Enjoy!

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Episode 19 - Nature Has More Imagination


In a ranging conversation, associate director Brian Keating interviews the preeminent scientist and thinker Freeman Dyson, discussing his career in science and letters, the role of creativity and subversiveness, the perils of prizes, and how nature always shows more imagination than we do.



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Episode 18 - Internet of All Kinds of Things


How is the internet changing our humanity, and what can we do about it? We explore these questions and more with Antonio Garcia Martinez (author of Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley) and Douglas Rushkoff (author most recently of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus and host of the fantastic podcast Team Human).


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Episode 17: Graphic Science


On May 8th, the Clarke Center will host an evening of Graphic Science: Comics Engage the Cosmos. In advance of that, associate director Brian Keating chatted with Jorge Cham, creator of PHD Comics, and Daniel Whiteson, physicist at UC Irvine, about their new book We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe, a witty, creative look at the biggest open questions in cosmology.


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Episode 16: Alien Contact: Part 2


We’re continuing our conversation from episode 14 about alien contact by focusing on language barriers: barriers betweens humans and aliens, humans and animals, and, in what some consider the most alien encounter of all, between scientists and artists. With acclaimed science fiction writer Ted Chiang, dolphin researcher Christine Johnson, and visual artist Lisa Korpos.


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Remembering Stephen Hawking


In 2007, Erik Viirre, Associate Director of the Clarke Center, was fortunate to share a unique experience with the great Stephen Hawking: taking him into zero gravity. He shares his remembrance of the intellectual giant with Brian Keating here, in honor of Hawking's passing on March 14, 2018.



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Episode 15: Dark Matter


We’re going to get pretty dark today... by exploring dark matter, with one of the foremost theorists in physics: Sir Roger Penrose. Dr. Penrose visited the Clarke Center this past January to deliver a talk titled “New Cosmological View of Dark Matter. We wanted to share this talk with you today, and for those of you who are able, check the video version on our Youtube channel (find via imagination.ucsd.edu) to see Penrose's rightly famous for his hand-drawn illustrations on overhead transparencies, which are beautifully illuminating.

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Episode 14: Alien Contact


We're digging in the vaults to explore ideas of alien contact, with Jill Tarter (SETI Institute) and Jeff VanderMeer (bestselling author of the Southern Reach trilogy). We'll talk about the Drake Equation, the faulty math of the film Contact, manifest destiny, whether we're alone, flawed assumptions about the concept of intelligence, what fiction can do to help us think about the very alien-ness of alien contact, and how it may be happening all around us.

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Episode 13: Life on the Moon


It’s the end of 2017, but we’ll spend this episode living, imaginatively, in the 2080s, on the first lunar city, called Artemis. Artemis is the invention of Andy Weir, the author of The Martian and another of the great science fiction writers to have come through UC San Diego. We welcomed him back to campus earlier this month, and we have the live conversation to share with you today.


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Episode 12: Speculative CubeSats


How can CubeSats—the small, standardized satellites paving the way for the democratization of space—change our sense of the possible? We dive into two projects: the Planetary Society's Lightsail 2, with Director of Science and Technology Bruce Betts, and with MacArthur Genius grant-awardee Trevor Paglen, we discuss Orbital Reflector, the first satellite to be launched purely as an artistic gesture.


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Bonus: Andy Weir (author of The Martian and Artemis)


We have a mid-month bonus episode with Andy Weir, author of the novel The Martian, so memorably adapted in the film starring Matt Damon, and the new book Artemis, which launches today! Our own Brian Keating, author of the forthcoming Losing the Nobel Prize, sat down with Andy to discuss lunar colonization, his approach to world- and character-building, and what he would do if he was in charge of the future of space exploration. Andy will be speaking at the Clarke Center on December 7th (see imagination.ucsd.edu for more details).

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Episode 11: Stranger Things (While Podcasting); or On Fear and Imagination


In honor of Halloween, we're exploring the relationship between fear and imagination. First, a story about when the production of this very podcast was visited by a demon from the Upside Down (maybe?). Then, a conversation with Christopher Collins, author of Paleopoetics: The Evolution of the Preliterate Imagination, on the auditory and visual imagination, the evolution of language, and how human culture has spent so much time telling itself scary stories.

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Episode 10: Pictures, Pastries, and the Matter of the Universe


Physics is cool—and sometimes very hard to understand. Today we talk to Duncan Haldane, winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize, about quantum topology and why the Nobel committee brought a bagel, a pretzel, and a bun to the award ceremony to explain his ideas. And with the inimitable Sir Roger Penrose, we explore the visual imagination as it relates to science, the work of artist M.C. Escher, and what it has to do with Penrose's cosmological theory of the universe.

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Episode 9: Artificial Imagination


We kick off Season 2 of Into the Impossible by diving into the world of artificial imagination. As the artificial intelligence dream comes closer to AI reality, are the doomsday stories about AI correct—or will AI augment human imagination in unexpected and powerful ways? We speak with Kenric McDowell, the Director of Google's Artists and Machine Intelligence group, about generative AIs, Deep Dream, neural nets, AlphaGo and Deep Blue, artists working with machine learning, and what the technological enhancement of human imagination may, ultimately, look like.

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Episode 8: Fantastica, with George R.R. Martin and Kim Stanley Robinson


Science fiction and fantasy have gone from the sidelines to the mainstream. We bring you a live conversation between two of the field's living legends, George R.R. Martin (“A Song of Ice and Fire,” adapted for television as Game of Thrones, the Wild Card series) and Kim Stanley Robinson (New York 2140, the Mars trilogy), discussing their careers, the history of fantastic literature, and how it shapes our imagination. They came to the Clarke Center in support of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop (clarion.ucsd.edu), the premiere training and proving ground for emerging writers, which the Clarke Center organizes each summer with the Clarion Foundation.

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Episode 7: New Spaces


We’re looking at new spaces in space, speaking with Drs. Yvonne Cagle (astronaut and physician) and Adam Burgasser (astrophysicist). We talk about why we send humans into space, the discovery of potentially habitable worlds at TRAPPIST-1 and how we imagine them, the role of interstellar art, the evolution of human physiology in zero-g, why the scariest thing about being an astronaut might be finding yourself on stage at the Oscars with Dr. Katherine Johnson, subject of the film Hidden Figures, and how important it is that we remain vigilant in our embrace of diversity across disciplines.

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Episode 6: Designing the Future


How do you design the future? Today we talk with cyberpunk founder and design theorist Bruce Sterling and feminist/activist writer Jasmina Tešanović about speculative design, design fictions, open source hardware, the maker movement, and the soft robots of our domestic future. Plus we go behind the scenes of the creation of a design fiction by Bruce, Jasmina, Sheldon Brown, and the Clarke Center—a video installation called My Elegant Robot Freedom.

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Bonus #1: Entanglements with Rae Armantrout


In advance of our upcoming event Entanglements: Rae Armantrout and the Poetry of Physics, we have a bonus episode: a conversation between the inimitable poet Rae Armantrout and Clarke Center cosmologist Brian Keating. Enjoy! And join us April 13, 2016 at UC San Diego for a evening with Rae, Brian, the writer Brandon Som, and the critic Amelia Glaser in conversation on how Rae's poems mix the personal with the scientific and speculative, the process of interdisciplinary creativity, and what her poetic engagement with physics can teach those working in the physical sciences.

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Episode 5: Limits of Understanding


On this episode, we’re touching up against the outer limits of cosmology, and through that bringing up questions of limits on the imagination, the role of theology, and the end (and ends) of the universe. First, we’ll hear Paul Steinhardt on developing the inflationary model of the universe—and then casting that model aside in favor of the radically different cyclic model that replaces the Big Bang with a neverending series of Big Bounces. Then David Brin, science fiction author and futurist, shares his perspective on understanding religion, enabling discussion, and how nice it would be if we were all reborn in computronium as the universe collapses in on itself.

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Episode 4: How to Make a Spaceship


How do you jumpstart the private spaceflight industry? Passion, commitment, bold risk-taking, some inspiration from Charles Lindbergh, and a little luck. On today's show, we hear from Peter Diamandis, whose XPRIZE Foundation launched the competition that gave us the first private manned spaceflight—and paved the way for Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and his own Planetary Resources, among others—along with the prize-winning pilot, Brian Binnie, and the writer Julian Guthrie, who chronicled their stories along with those of the other teams from around the world inspired by this unprecedented challenge. Also on this episode: convincing Arthur C. Clarke to buy your college friends dinner and a nearly disastrous incident with a mother-in-law and a cup of coffee.

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Episode 3: The Hard Problem


Today is an unusual and very special episode of Into the Impossible. In winter of 2015, the Clarke Center produced a collaborative project with the performance artist Marina Abramović and the science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson. The multi-day workshop cultivated a series of interactions between a story that Stan was writing about a multi-generational spaceship heading to another star, and the performance art gestures of Marina’s that are a journey into our inner self. We improvised readings and performance actions to find the ways in which these seemingly diametric experiences touched on the common idea of how we extend our sense of time and space from the moment to the eternal. Out of this, we created an installation with multiple audio tracks, which was then further developed for the Venice Biennale. We also made a short film, which you can find a link to on the podcast webpage, and the audio tracks were mixed and choreographed by Adam Tinkle into the podcast we are featuring today: The Hard Problem: An Audio Voyage, by Kim Stanley Robinson, Adam Tinkle, Marina Abramović and the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.

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Episode 2: Becoming a Galactic Wonder


We’re looking at wonder and imagination today, through the plays of Herbert Siguenza (playwright, actor, and director; founding member of Culture Clash) that take us from Pablo Picasso in 1957 to a post-apocalyptic California, and the art (and green thumb) of Jon Lomberg (astronomical artist), who worked with Carl Sagan on the original Cosmos and has created a garden that can help us imagine our place in the universe. Both ask, as Herbert does in the persona of Picasso himself, “How can we make the world worthy of its children?”

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