Patrick Jagoda Discusses Time Travel, Video Games During Interdisciplinary Panel

On November 7 at the Field Museum, a multidisciplinary panel composed of University of Chicago faculty together with Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory researchers and engineers convened to discuss the topic of time. “Playing with Time” was the sixth in a Joint Speaker Event series organized by the Office of the Vice President for Research and for National Laboratories. Questions discussed by the panel included, “Did humans invent time to help explain everything around us? Was there time before the origin of the universe?” and “How does a virus experience time?”

Patrick Jagoda, Assistant Professor of English, noted the ways humanities fields like literature and new media grapple with the notion of time, such as in the novel Einstein’s Dreams. “Clock time makes ordered schedules possible, but bodily time is shaped by moods, desires and whims,” he said. “Another scheme imagines time as a current of water occasionally displaced by passing breezes.” Video games, he noted, have developed ways to allow users to manipulate time.

The question of time travel fascinated the panel. Joseph Lykken, a particle theorist at Fermilab, explained that travel to the future has been observed with particle accelerators. “Muons (subatomic particles), for example, usually survive for a microsecond, but when we speed them up they can survive a thousand times as long. They have traveled to the future.” For the humanities, time travel may involve fewer subatomic particles and more creativity. Jagoda noted that reading an old book or playing a video game can be an imaginative way to put oneself in another time.

Steven Rings Wins Emerging Scholar Award

Steven Rings, Associate Professor in Music, was recently awarded the Emerging Scholar Award from the Society for Music Theory for his book Tonality and Transformation. The Emerging Scholar Award is given to books or articles published within five years of the author's receipt of their PhD. Rings, who received his PhD from Yale in 2006, focuses his scholarship on transformational theory, phenomenology, popular music, and questions of music and meaning. Tonality and Transformation uses transformational music theory to examine diverse aspects of tonal hearing, focusing on the listener's experience. For more information on the Society for Music Theory, please visit their site.

UChicago Composers Share Creative Processes

Shulamit Ran, Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor of Music, Augusta Read Thomas, University Professor of Composition in Music, and Marta Ptaszynska, Helen B. and Frank L. Sulzberger Professor of Music, recently shared what inspires them to create music and their composing processes. Ran, who recently composed a piece inspired by the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts which was performed at the building's launch festival, said “Life informs my music in every possible way, through the people I meet, the sounds I hear, things I see or read, life’s events and passages, its awe and adventure. This feeds into everything I am, and thus everything I compose.”

Ptaszynka and Thomas both commented that ideas for their compositions usually come to them fully-formed, rather than in fragments. “I never start a piece if I don’t know how the piece will end,” Ptaszynska says. “It’s like buying a train ticket without knowing where you’re going.”

Thomas' process echoes this theme of travel. “I usually draw maps—a timeline of the piece, the shapes it’s going to take, its harmonic fields,” she says. “If you’re going to build a huge building or cathedral, you can’t just go to the hardware store and start hammering nails. I actually draft the beginning, middle, and end of absolutely every sound. I want to know, what’s the inner life? Where is it going, why is it going there? How does it relate to what comes next, and why? Gestalt is everything to me.”

All three composers underscored that none of their creativity would be possible without diligent work, which makes the University of Chicago a particularly fruitful setting. “Many people have a talent but don’t develop their craft,” Ptaszynska says. “And talent without craft is nothing.”

Read the full article here.

Connection between Magic and Medicine in Ancient World Discussed during Recent Lectures

In October at the Oriental Institute, several professors participated in the lecture series "Medicine and Magic in the Ancient World, A Search for the Cure", which sought to explore the connection between the physical and the psychological aspect of healing within ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece. Robert Ritner, Professor in Egyptology, opened the series with his talk titled “The Theory and Practice of Medicine and Magic in Ancient Egypt”, Christopher Faraone, the Frank Curtis Springer and Gertrude Melcher Springer Professor in the Humanities, and the College, and Elizabeth Asmis, Professor in Classics, presented "Medical Healing in Ancient Greece". Walter Farber, Professor of Assyriology, discussed how people came to understand and fight against contagious diseases in his lecture titled "Diseases and Epidemics in Ancient Mesopotamia: Medical Conceptualization and Responses", while Robert Biggs, Professor Emeritus in Assyriology, focused on Mesopotamian religious practitioners and their approach to illness and misfortune in his talk "Religious and Magical Elements in Babylonian Medical Practice." The series closed on October 27 with a presentation by John Wee, a postdoctoral scholar in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, titled "Mesopotamian Texts and the Knowledge Assumptions of Medical Diagnosis". To find out about upcoming lectures at the Oriental Institute, please visit their Events and Programs web page.