Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Intuition and Science


The blend of an OMSI Science Pub at the Bagdad with an ISEPP lecture by Dr. Lisa Randall at the Schnitzer was quite "kick ass" I must say.

The three at OMSI were / are Oregon-based innovators: an ocean wave energy specialist, a graphic artist and war zone journalist, and an intuitive genius cook. Dr. Randall is a particle physicist teaching at Harvard.

Their stories were each fascinating (marquee below) and gave a sense of how following one's passion can be soooo the right thing to do (not talking about "crimes of").

This OMSI Pub was a co-production with Portland Monthly magazine, which provided the interviewer (a pretty good one). And of course McMenamins is involved.

Dr. Randall of Harvard was likewise spectacular. She was calm and respectful, yet happy to live up to her role of "smartest person in the room".

At the dinner after, I had two questions, a more popular one and a more philosophical one. I ran them by Tara and we agreed they were both interesting.

I led with the crowd pleaser: so what would really happen were an individual to walk through the 27 kilometer tunnel during a time of peak energy operation? What would be the biological phenomena we might expect? To Lisa's credit, she forthrightly admitted to holes in her knowledge, with zero defensiveness, and was immediately inquisitive herself. Here was a mind cut out for science: pure curiosity and a willingness to continually confront one's own ignorance, as an opportunity. Certainly her chosen field, high energy particle physics, is fraught with uncertainty and speculation, and also suspense, as the new machine (LHC) is more precise and more powerful than ever before.

My other question would have been a run through of my "particle physics as grammar" analogy, the one I ran by Dr. Robert Laughlin, just to get her comments. She'd been talking about this question of Agency, whether something external could perturb events without itself being a subject of scientific scrutiny (God would have to get in line under the microscope, just like everyone else). However, I'm more thinking of "agency within" with a more Ouija Board like synergy. No one feels in control because no one is: everybody is.

I didn't get to ask it though. Dr. Randall was timing her Q&A for the intervals between courses, so she could get some rest right after dinner, not stay late. When she got up a second time and saw my hand go up again, she said "you already asked one; who else has a question who hasn't asked one before." That was fair (I was more just being an ice breaker if needed) and I stopped putting up my hand after that, concentrating on the excellent wine and her witty responses to others' probing queries.

Back to OMSI Science Pub: it was great to meet Nirel's friend Patrick, who had been trying to deliver something to the Occupy Portland crowd when he was waylayed by some species of bigot-thug. He got into a fight, had this shiner. Dondi and Don were also present (we're all Wanderers).

I again saw Nate the videographer at the ISEPP lecture (we seem to be following one another around), Trish the teacher and gardener, Jessica (with her boy), Flextegrity Sam, Rick the engineer, Jon the musician, Jim the eclipse chaser, Lynne the artist, math guy Steve, Glenn with beads, David the applied mathematician, Joe the psychiatrist, Pat the realtor and Rhonda with Airstream and many others (this was the first of the 2011-2012 Pauling Memorial Lectures, so a kind of reunion in some ways).

Tara did a good job at the special table inside the Schnitzer, for people who had filled out the Portland Energy Strategies survey questionnaire, for a promise of free tickets. ISEPP made good on that promise, with Tara exchanging printed vouchers for tickets. Dr. Randall sat behind us (this was before showtime) being pleasant with people and signing copies of her new book.

Teacher / engineer: Annette von Jouanne – Electrical Engineer and Professor at Oregon State University, Pioneer in wave energy technology

Journalist / artist: Joe Sacco – Journalist & Cartoonist, Author of Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde, and Footnotes in Gaza

Restaurateur / cook: Naomi Pomeroy – Owner of Beast, Award-wining chef