Carnegie Mellon University

Victor M. Bearg Science and Humanities Scholars Speaker Series

Victor M. Bearg, 1964 MCS graduate in Physics, has generously endowed a speaker series to bring dynamic lecturers to campus.

September 20, 2012

Clayton EshlemanClayton Eshleman, co-sponsored by the University Lecture Series, delivered a lecture and poetry reading "Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination & the Construction of the Underworld" on September 20, 2012. 

Clayton Eshleman, American poet, translator and editor, Professor Emeritus, Eastern Michigan University, has been at the heart of American poetry since the early 1960s. His poems, critical essays, and translations of poets as important and diverse as César Vallejo, Aimé Césaire, Pablo Neruda, Antonin Artaud, Vladimir Holan, Michel Deguy, Henri Michaux, and Bernard Bador have earned him international acclaim, including a National Book Award, Guggenheim Fellowship, numerous grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and two Landon Translation Prizes from the Academy of American Poets.

Eshleman was founder and editor of two important literary journals in the latter half of the 20th century: Caterpillar (1967-1973) and Sulfur (1981-2000). During his career he has published over forty books, including, between 2008 and 2012, three collections of poetry -- The Grindstone of Rapport: A Clayton Eshleman Reader, Anticline, and An Anatomy of the Night; and three translations -- Curdled Skulls by Bernard Bador, Endure by Bei Dao, with Lucas Klein, and Solar Throat Slashed by Aimé Césaire, with A. James Arnold. In the past decade he has also published three collections of prose -- Companion Spider, Archaic Design and Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination & the Construction of the Underworld. This most recent title is a groundbreaking collection of poetry and prose that culminates Eshleman's twenty-five years of research into the origins of image-making via the Ice Age painted caves of southwestern France.

January 23, 2012

James ElkinsJames Elkins, co-sponsored by the University Lecture Series, School of Art, Department of Biological Sciences, BXA Intercollege Degree Programs, School of Design, Department of Physics, and the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, delivered a presentation on "How to Use Your Eyes, and How Some Animals Use Their Eyes" on January 23, 2012.

This is an informal, speculative lecture. It’s in three parts: first a brief overview of the ways that academics in the humanities study vision and the gaze, using Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and some Vermeer paintings as examples. The notion is to suggest some limitations in that kind of study. Second: a look at some other kinds of seeing, some taken from the book How to Use Your Eyes. X-Rays, sand, postage stamps, ice halos, and a landscape provide the examples. Third: an open-ended list of animals, showing the way each one of them sees the world. The intention here is to show that our own, human vision is not natural or complete, because by comparison with animals, our vision is very partial and selective. The animals include scallops, bees, deepwater fish, the nautilus octopi, sea slugs, and chitons.

James Elkins is the E.C. Chadbourne Chair in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His writing focuses on the history and theory of images in art, science, and nature. Some of his books are exclusively on fine art (What Painting Is, Why Are Our Pictures Puzzles?). Others include scientific and non-art images, writing systems, and archaeology (The Domain of Images, On Pictures and the Words That Fail Them), and some are about natural history (How to Use Your Eyes). His most recent book is Art Critiques: A Guide. Current projects include an edited book series called the Stone Art Theory Institutes, and an edited book series called Theories of Modernism and Postmodernism in the Visual Art. His most recent book is What Photography Is.

April 4, 2011

Fritjof CapraFritjof Capra, co-sponsored by the University Lecture Series, Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education & Research, and School of Design, delivered a talk on "A Science for Sustainable Living" on April 4, 2011.

Watch the talk now.

Fritjof Capra, Ph.D., physicist and systems theorist, is a founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California. The Center advances schooling for sustainability; its most recent book on this growing movement in K-12 schools is Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability (2009). Dr. Capra is on the faculty of the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program of the University of California, Berkeley. He also teaches at Schumacher College, an international center for ecological studies in England, and frequently gives management seminars for top executives. Dr. Capra is the author of five international bestsellers, The Tao of Physics (1975), The Turning Point (1982), Uncommon Wisdom (1988), The Web of Life (1996), and The Hidden Connections (2002). He coauthored Green Politics (1984), Belonging to the Universe (1991), and EcoManagement (1993), and coedited Steering Business Toward Sustainability (1995). His most recent book, The Science of Leonardo, was published in 2007.

October 25, 2010

Douglas VakochDouglas Vakoch, co-sponsored by the Center for the Arts in Society, delivered a presentation on "Aesthetics for Aliens: Art, Music, and Extraterrestrials" on October 25, 2010.

Do aliens have a sense of beauty? Could they understand ours? From Johannes Kepler’s Music of the Spheres to Hollywood’s alien symphony in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, we have pondered the link between the cosmos and creativity. Today scientists leading the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) point their telescopes toward the stars, seeking evidence of civilizations beyond Earth. If they find a signal from aliens, what should we say in reply? How could we let them know what it’s like to be human? Building on the language of mathematics and science, SETI researcher Dr. Douglas Vakoch shows how we might start telling extraterrestrials about aesthetics on Earth.

Douglas Vakoch is the Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute, as well as Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He leads the SETI Institute's project to compose interstellar messages of the kind that may some day be sent in reply to a signal from extraterrestrials. Dr. Vakoch is Chair of the International Academy of Astronautics’ Study Groups on Interstellar Message Construction and Active SETI. As a member of the International Institute of Space Law, he examines policy issues related to interstellar communication. Dr. Vakoch has published widely in scholarly books and journals in psychology, astronautics, and the relationship between the arts and sciences. His work has been featured in newspapers and magazines such as the New York Times, Nature, Science, and Der Spiegel. As a spokesman on the cultural aspects of SETI, he has been interviewed on radio and television shows on the BBC, NPR, ABC, The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel, and many others.

April 1, 2010

Dean Keith SimontonDean Keith Simonton, co-sponsored with the University Lecture Series, delivered a talk "Creativity in the Arts and Sciences: Contrasts in Disposition, Development, and Achievement" on April 1, 2010.

Psychologists have often thought of creativity as if it’s a single entity. Some people are creative, others not. Some people have jobs that require creativity, while others work in jobs where they are not required to be “creative.” But does this one-size- fits-all creativity really exist? This question is first examined by looking at the characteristics of major domains of creativity in the arts and the sciences. It then becomes clear that the creativity of a scientist differs from that of an artist. Further distinctions can be made among various scientific disciplines or artistic genre as well. For example, the creativity of a scientific revolutionary differs from that of a practitioner of normal science. Moreover, the creators in these diverse domains vary systematically in their dispositional traits (e.g., psychopathology) and developmental experiences (e.g., birth order). These differences then suggest what is required to display exceptional creative achievement in one’s chosen field. The answer is surprising.

Dean Keith Simonton, PhD, is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of 396 publications, including eleven books, and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology, the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, the Western Psychological Association, and the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics.

February 26, 2010

Rebecca SklootRebecca Skloot, co-sponsored with the Department of English, read from her New York Times-bestseller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on February 26, 2010.

Skloot’s work tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman whose cells – taken without her permission in the 1950’s at Johns Hopkins – have become a central tool of biomedical research. These “HeLa” cells, the first “immortal” human cells to be predictably cultured and reproduced in the lab, were central to the development of the polio vaccine in the 1950’s. HeLa clones – trillions by some counts – continue to be made, bought, and sold, and to fuel research around the world, including recent advances in radiation therapy, in vitro fertilization, and gene mapping. But Skloot’s work goes beyond the HeLa story. It’s also the story of the Lacks family and deeply connected to the history of African Americans in the US and current debates on informed consent, donor protocols, and the “business” of medicine.

Rebecca Skloot is an Assistant Professor at University of Memphis and an award-winning writer. She’s a contributing editor at Popular Science and has been a correspondent for NPR’s RadioLab and PBS’s Nova Science NOW. Her work appears in The New York Times, O, Discover, Columbia Journalism Review, and Prevention. Skloot has degrees in biological sciences and nonfiction writing and has taught at Memphis, the University of Pittsburgh, and NYU’s graduate program of Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting.