I find myself sitting at La Guardia airport waiting to board my plane home. This is the worst part of vacation; waiting to go home. Would that I could travel all the time. Sigh.
I had mentioned in previous posts (see I Ate New York, and I Ate New York, Again) that I was going to provide some further description of three aspects of our adventure in the Big Apple. So, without further ado, I present to you my adventures at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and the off-Broadway production of Freud’s Last Session.
It should come as no surprise that we were all stoked to visit the AMNH. Between the four of us, there are 2 Statisticians, a Physicist, and a Plant Scientist. That’s right folks, a pinochle of nerds1, each with a Ph.D. in awesome.
On arrival, we quickly decided to purchase the super saver pass, which included 4 shows/exhibits; Journey to the Stars, The Brain, Butterflies, and Sea Rex. I had an instantaneous nerd-on.
Prior to entering Journey to the Stars, we wandered around the Hayden Big Bang Theatre. The theatre itself being a large globe that is used to put other items on display around it into perspective. Starting at one end of the display, we worked from the very large to the very small. Very large of course being 1026 metres, and the very small being 10-15 metres2. In one case, the Hayden theatre was used to represent the size of the universe when compared to our galaxy. At a later point, it represented the sun in comparison to our own planet. Even later, it represented the size of hydrogen atom in comparison to a proton. The amazing part of that comparison, was that the proton was a tiny dot smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. I knew from what I had been taught in chemistry and physics that there was a lot of empty space in an atom, but this really put it into context. Amazing. I love science!
During our journey through size, Alan noticed that one particular panel seemed a bit off. When describing things at a scale of 10-1 metres (i.e., 10cm), the text read at this scale, the Hayden theatre is actual size. Um, shouldn’t that be at the 100 scale? Additionally, on the same panel it was discussing centimetres. Centimetres, as we all know are 10-2 metres, not 10-1 metres. Really AMNH? Really?
The Journey to the Stars presentation was akin to something one would see at a planetarium, except Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg. The movie itself was fantastic, engaging, and very visually satisfying. Strangely there was no mention of the Big Bang theory, perhaps to avoid some sort of religious controversy? Or maybe I’m not up on some new development concerning the birth of our universe. Regardless, I left feeling very satisfied, what with my nerd-zone being fully stimulated.
Our next stop was the Brain exhibit, which was great despite being very crowded. It was interesting to learn about the different layers of the brain; the regions where base functions reside, and those that are required for higher thinking. I was particularly drawn to the part of the exhibit that focused on the eye; specifically ocular implants. It gives me hope that I won’t need stupid eye injections to deal with my Macular Degeneration. Also, the idea of being half man, half indestructible cyborg seems kind of appealing.
There were several other parts of the exhibit that drew me in; one that dealt with higher reasoning and logic, the other about memory. The former including a board full of math-y looking equations, the latter including a small description about a brilliant man named Daniel Tammet who has the ability to remember to 22, 514 digits3. Crazy insane.
I did, however, take exception to some of the equations. As you can clearly see in the picture, there are a lot of problems. Glaringly painful problems. Didn’t they have anyone vet the information they were throwing up on display? Or was this another case of ‘no one will notice because it looks mathy’? Gah. Gah I say! Nothing annoys me more than when someone presents math because it looks math-y. It’s even more annoying since this was on display in a Museum. A MUSEUM.
So what is wrong with the math? Where to begin?
- ? Really AMNH? REALLY? I can’t understand how this one slipped past the editors. Or is that supposed to be , as in the speed of light constant? Because if it is, it’s still wrong. HEAD. EXPLODING. ALL. OVER.
- ? This is only acceptable if is being used as a variable, and not in the standard summation notation form. Poor form, at best. Blatantly wrong, at worst.
- ? Notationally, I have no idea what the limit is with respect to; , or ?
- ? My guess is that they were trying to write out the quadratic equation. While this may not have been the intent, I worry based on all the other problems that it was, and whomever wrote this got it very wrong.
- The rest of the circled items just seem weird to me, mainly because they include notation that I’ve never seen (a plus with a tilde above it?), or seem to be missing notation (the natural logarithm of absolute value of , but the right absolute bar seems to be missing). I know this is picky but after I saw one problem I just couldn’t stop.
Anyway, despite this little hiccup we still managed to enjoy the Butterflies, and Sea Rex. The butterfly exhibit was particularly cool given the hundreds and hundreds of butterflies floating gracefully over our heads. I also got to hold a silkworm cocoon, which was crazy awesome.
The Museum of Modern Art was amazing. This was my third visit; my second in the past year. This time around, we were able to take in an exhibit of some of Warhol’s short movies. Basically, he filmed celebrities of the time by themselves sitting in a room. The resulting films are strangely intimate and personal, but also very awkward to view. All that one sees on film are the celebrity faces. The effect is very much like the living pictures in Harry Potter.
The museum also had a movie on display known as The Kiss. As I stood there watching what I thought were a man and woman passionately kissing, I found it very weird that the woman kept her eyes open. As the camera panned out, I realized it was two men. That didn’t bother me. But it’s then that I realized how young they were. That put me on edge. They seemed far too young, and the result was very discomforting. I’m guessing this might have been Warhol’s intent.
Wandering the rest of the museum, I saw works by De Kooning, Kandinsky, Seurat, Van Gogh, Miro, Pollack, Picasso, Modigliani, and many, many others. Some of the works were, for lack of better terms, moving. And of course, there were others that had no effect on me at all, except maybe to think Really. Are you kidding me? For example, the canvas painted black. Or maybe the solid blue canvas. Perhaps the point being to challenge one’s concept of art. Well played artist who probably made a name with these works. Well played indeed.
I think my favourite part of the museum was the end. As you leave the museum, an employee or volunteer asks you to write down your answer to I went to MoMA and…, and then post it on the wall. Of course, I had to review some of them. The following jumped out at me:
Of course, I had to add to the collection 🙂
Off Broadway Play – Freud’s Last Session
Last but not least, we decided to hit up an off-Broadway play. In this case, Freud’s Last Session. The play was fantastic and provoked much thought and discussion. The idea is that Freud had a last psychoanalytic session with one C.S. Lewis. Lewis, the author of the much beloved Chronicles of Narnia series, was also known for his religious writings such as The Screwtape Letters, and Surprised by Joy. Freud of course was atheist. So one can imagine how interesting a conversation would have been should the two of these individuals had ever met.
Both had great arguments supporting their beliefs, but I have to say I found Freud’s more compelling and logical. Perhaps that is because I am far more logical than I am a believer. That is to say, I respond to empirical evidence more than I do to faith. That could be a shortcoming of mine, but that is the way I tick. One might argue that this is the way God made me. How circular is that? HA!
Beyond being captivated by the concept, the dialogue and the actors kept me completely engaged. And that is no small feat given that there were only 2 actors on the stage.
Anyway, I won’t ramble on any more about the play. If you have a chance to see it, definitely check it out. It is money well spent.
1 A pinochle being the term used to describe a group of nerds (like flock of birds, or pride of lions, except nerdier).
2 Do you notice something about the range of scale here? The very smallest objects to the very largest cover 42 orders of magnitude (26+15+1=42, the extra +1 to include 100 of course). And what is 42? Only the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything4. Coincidence? I think not5.
3 His amazing story is documented in the film The Boy With The Incredible Brain. See it. Seriously. He will amaze and astound you, and you will be left inspired by what the human brain is capable of achieving.
4 According to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
5 Of course, a later part of the display also included magnitudes ranging from 10-18 to 10-16 (for quantum particles), hence destroying that theory of mine. Sigh. I knew it was too good to be true 🙂