On The Poetic Impossibility to Manage the Infinite



Here is a draft review for comment of

The Rehearsal of Space and The Poetic Impossibility to Manage the Infinite

by Edgar Martins

Roger Malina


Reflections on the Space Age and Space Culture in reaction to Edgar Martin’s project : The Rehearsal of Space and The Poetic Impossibility to Manage the Infinite.

Roger F Malina


The Rehearsal of Space and The Poetic Impossibility to Manage the Infinite

Edgar Martins , May 2014, ISBN 978-84-15691-68-6, 184 pages. Essays by Leonor Nazare, John Gribbin, João Seixas, Sérgio Mah. La Fabrica publisher. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Madrid.



Portuguese born, London based, photographer and artist Edgar Martins  (http://www.edgarmartins.com/ ) presents in this book a series of photographs taken at facilities of the European Space Agency over the past few years  from Holland, France, Germany, Spain, to Russia, Kazakhstan, and French Guiana .In 2014 The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation/Modern Art Centre hosted the official launch of “The Rehearsal of Space & The Poetic Impossibility to Manage the Infinite”, a project developed in partnership with ESA.


The project has been documented through a number of venues on line, in galleries and in this excellently produced book, which forms the basis for this review. As we celebrate a series  of fiftieth anniversaries for key events in the birth of the ‘space age”, this book is a great example of cultural appropriating and re contextualisation. I have argued that we are now not only in the anthropocene, but also in what will be seen as the start of the age of a ‘space age” as distinctive as the stone, bronze, or iron ages. My argument is that today’s civilisation depends critically on space data, space systems and space technology to such an extent that if you stopped launching rockets today, our civilisation would regress irreversibly. From disaster relief, to communications, to GPS navigation, we have built space technologies in many of the key infrastuctures that allow our modern societies to function.


The opening essay by Leonor Nazare begins with a discussion of the Mayan civilisation and their astronical calendar achievements. This perpective grounds the book in an interesting question; if four thousand years from now ( after the collapse of our current civilisation and the loss of all archives stored on line and in the cloud) how would we interpret the space age from the artifacts and objects ( like this book) which might still survive ? How to interpret the space age in the same way as we interpret the stone, bronze and iron ages or the Mayans ?


Among other things, we would discover that access to space facilities was as restricted as in our time access was to the Mayan temples and many of the key technical artifacts have vanished, as have the Mayan ones. She notes “ ..in front of the helmet of a SCAPE suit and the astronaut’s wardrobe; they are containers which are empty but highly indexical”.  We are provoked to read Edgar Martin’s photographs as index entries to the space age; why the choice of particular colours in space facilities (pastel and primary colours – often blue or yellow), the use of highly simplified geometrical shapes ( eg the sound baffles in an anechoic chamber), the obsession with cleanliness (clean rooms where the major source of contamination is exfoliation from human skin). We see no humans just as we see no Mayans, just space suits and space habitats and fragments of objects; we would interpret these in terms of the human values they embody.


In the second essay curator Sergio Mah notes that it was in 1967, in the midsts of key events of the birth of the space age, that Michel Foucault developed his concept of ‘heteropias’ or places that function as counter-sites or realised utopias; these spaces have more layers of meaning or define or trigger relations to other places. Space facilities, with their restricted access, function as heteropias and Martin’s photographs ‘seem to exist in a gap, in a space-time that is as real as it is virtual and mental” and through their suggestive ambiguity function ‘like a space in which somthing is about to happen” connecting back to Martin’s term of ‘rehearsal spaces’.


In the third essay science writer John Gribbin, describing himself as a child of the space age, talks about the translation of science fiction to science fact in his own lifetime. He notes that less than 100 years since Einstein’s development of special and general relativity we now routinely use those calculations to use our smartphones. He describes our current understanding of cosmology and the search for extra-terrestial planets and life. In the essay he develops the idea that simulation has now become an integral component of modern science whether simulating the history of the milky way galaxy or the training facilities for astronauts. He notes that “by the time an astronaut gets into space, he or she is literally able to find their way around the actual spacecraft blindfold’. And of course many of Martin’s photographs document the incredible variety of simulated environments the European Space Agency builds on earth that mimic space conditions, to test and prove technological ideas for space travel and space activities. We can then read the photographs as documents of theatrical performances, again in in reference to  rehearsal spaces in Martin’s words, that play out the human story in an unknown cosmic environment, in much the same way that Mayan priests enacted their own relations to the cosmos.


In the fourth essay, physicist Joao Seixas ( a member of a CERN Large Hadron Collider consortium) writes a fascinating discussion of how scientists manipulate, and bound, concepts of infinity to explore the nature of the world. He states “ Most of this has changed over the past 100 years, for we have discovered that in many ways what we have considered infinite was only due to an illusion resulting from our limited knowledge of Nature” leading to ‘ the beginning of a bounded vision of nature’. He describes how the Michelson-Morley experiments led to Einstein’s insight that the velocity of light is not infinite ( and thus velocities are not additive). He explains how within theromodynamics the hard boundary of ‘absolute zero’  and ‘zero point energy” were discovered leading to a temperature scale bounded from below ( and that this lower limit was unattainable). In quantum mechanics it was discovered that it is not possible to measure infinitely precisely because of the uncertainty principle. The big bang model tells us that time does not go back infinitely into the past. Through quantum mechanics also we know that the vacuum cannot be infinitely empty and describes the physics of the last fifty years as “ the ultimate study of the properties of the vacuum”, with the current discoveries of dark energy and dark matter as ultimate puzzles. He argues that we face the same kind of scientific uncertainty as a hundred years ago when relativity and quantum mechanics bounded some infinities in revolutionary ways. he quotes Lord Kelvin who stated “ we see the clouds  gathering on the horizon but we still have still have no idea which storm they bring’. Seixas argues  that ‘infinity is in fact the one and only motivation for discovery’.


Seixas interprets Martin’s photographs as ‘bearing witness to the landmarks we leave on the road to the infinite’. Edgar Martin’s project is subtitled “The Poetic Impossibility to Manage the Infinite” and forces the question whether there are limits to the extra-terrestial environments that humans can inhabit. Maybe four thousand years from now,  these photographs will be interpreted as documentation of human exploration of the limits of  human colonisation of space. Just as Mayan civilisation was finely tuned to their own environmental and social context, so human life is finely tuned to the near earth environment from our genetic history and social nature. The endless debate between human and robotic colonisation of space may take several centuries to explore, but still I am convinced that we are irreversibly a ‘space culture’ and that our civilisation is now a space age vitally dependent on space data, space systems and space technology. As argued by proponents of  the ‘Space Option”

( http://www.leoalmanac.org/the-space-option-by-arthur-woods/ and http://thespaceoption.com/the_space_option_a_precis.php  ) ,

space activities are essential to a sustainable human civilisation on earth. But there may be limits to how far off the surface of the earth humans can sustainably live. Edgar Martin’s project “The rehearsal of space and the poetic impossibility to manage the infinite” is a fascinating cultural document on these fundamentally cultural, not scientific or technical, questions.

Recommending Leonardo’s Brain

dear colleagues

Leonard Shlain (author of a number of key art -science books


died before he could complete his book


Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding Da Vinci’s Creative Genius


We are pleased to hear from his daughter Tiffany that the book is now published posthumously


I just ordered my copy- Leonard Shlain’s work is important to the art science technology

Roger Malina


Dear Friends,

It is with great joy and gratitude that we can announce the posthumous publishing of my father’s last book, Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding Da Vinci’s Creative Genius, which he completed days before he passed away five years ago from brain cancer.

The official release date of the new book is Oct. 7 and it is available for pre-order now.

We will be hosting events to celebrate the book’s release throughout the country starting with a public event in San Francisco on Oct 12th, 2014. Save the date. Details to follow.

Leonardo’s Brain is not only one of his grand intellectual journeys akin to his books Art & PhysicsThe Alphabet vs The Goddess, and Sex, Time and Power, but in many ways, represents a synthesis of so many of his ideas connecting neurology, history, philosophy, art, science, creativity and ourselves. He believed Da Vinci offered a glimpse into the future of our species. I explore him finishing this book, his ideas and losing him in my feature documentary Connected. He would be so happy to know his book was finally being published.
We want to thank our publisher Jon Sternfeld at Lyon’s Press (Globe Pequot), Robert Stricker, his long-time literary agent, and particularly Andy Ross, the literary agent forLeonardo’s Brain who seized the opportunity to bring this book to market with a zeal our father would have loved.  We also want to thank editor Ann Patty (The Life of Pi), with whom we worked to edit the book.

Conversing with my father’s ideas in my mind as my siblings and I navigated the different stages of the editing and publication process was one of the greatest gifts of all.

Our father loved to share  more than anything. Now we are honored to share this book with you. If you have any thoughts or ideas on how we can get the word out, we would appreciate it immensely. If you would like to host an event yourself and invite your friends we would love that too.

Warmest Regards,

Tiffany Shlain,

ps. we will be tweeting and doing facebook posts with gems from his book in the upcoming months using the handles the below.

Leonardo Thinks: Herbert W. Franke on the Future of Art Theory




Leonardo Journal editorial board member and art and technology pioneer Herbert W. Franke has submitted this reflection on the

future of Leonardo- he has agreed that we can share and discuss it here. This discussion is part of the Leonardo

Pioneers and Pathbreakers project where we are soliciting memoirs and thinking from those in our community

who worked in the 1960s and 70s to lay the groundwork for today;s art-science-technology movement.

Roger Malina


The Future of Art Theory: A Contribution to the Leonardo Discussion


Herbert Franke



The journal Leonardo, founded in 1965 by Frank Malina, is dedicated to the connections between art, science and technology. Thus it is located in one of those border areas which are characterized by a high creative potential of which both sides benefit: scientists can develop new means of expression, as for example, the use of visual displays for the visualization of mathematical, scientific and technical processes; artists can extend their methods of design. The invention of tonal musical instruments led to polyphonic orchestral music, and the use of technical equipment such as the camera and the computer helps art to new means of expression, such as in media art.



As a typical example of innovative interactions between art, science and technology, this is a central topic of the Leonardo magazine. But there is another important kind of connections between these activities, namely the rational theory of art. It raises the question of how art is defined and whether there is a common base of rules for each of its ways of expression. Early attempts to clarify this question came were made by the Gestalt psychology, which took a promising start, but soon hit the limits which existed at that time. It was not until the middle of the last century that a more far-reaching path was opened by cybernetics and information theory. For both of these disciplines it was typical that they brought scientific thought into contact with the life sciences. It started with the ‘information aesthetics’ of Abraham Moles and Max Bense and led up to the current discipline of neuro-aesthetics.



All of these schools of thought have in common that they are no longer trying to decipher the phenomenon of art from the artist’s view, (who is the “emitter”), but from that of the public, the „receiver“. Looking at the work of art as an object that triggers perceptual and cognitive processes, you will find not only those rules that apply to all the senses, and therefore necessarily to the reception mechanisms of all kinds of artistic information which, by these theories, have become describable quantitatively and algorithmically. Art processes are now even accessible to experiments and allow statements that are measurable and verifiable by scientific methods. And they draw the focus of interest away from the studios towards the social field and they help answer questions about, for example, the origin of art in the evolution of man and the benefits of art in society.


What are the consequences of all this for a magazine like Leonardo? Surely, it would be too easy to simply ask for a more frequent consideration of issues of the exact aesthetics. It is true that innovations in the field of media aesthetics can be described easily and intelligibly for the common reader, so that Leonardo is well suited for first publications of new findings. But unfortunately, this does not hold for articles concerning information theory or neuro-aesthetics, where the content is mainly expressed in the technical language of science, as well as by mathematical formulas and diagrams. Should the editors risk that parts of their magazine are incomprehensible to many readers? Or should we simply leave out the exact theory of art and thus withhold from the reader the progress that allows him to think and to speak about art in ways based on science?


I do not think that this problem can be solved quickly and satisfactorily for all persons involved. The least thing to be done would be to introduce a permanent section where experts make efforts to translate specialized publications into generally understandable language. It would be even more desirable to persuade the authors themselves of such technical articles to write summaries for Leonardo. It seems important to me that the readers of Leonardo are continually kept informed about the main findings in the field of art theory.



Herbert W. Franke



Dear Roger,


The discussion about Leonardo reminds me of the old days when Frank, your father, told me about his plan to found an art journal. It was meant to deal specifically with Science Art, and so it did. Its main focus was on the exchange between facts and methods from both areas as well as their mutual influences.


Meanwhile, however, the situation has changed considerably, and one of the points of contact (which had in the founding years of the magazine been hardly visible) has gained importance. It is the exact description of all those scientifically describable processes during the perception of art, especially from the viewpoint of cybernetics and information theory. The insights gained in this way permit, among other things, an understanding of the impact of art in the areas of society and education.


Within the thematic range of Leonardo, the topic of “Art as a subject for Science” has so far been touched upon only seldom. Justifiably, for in the early days nobody could tell whether the first researches would lead to useful results.In the meantime, we know better, e.g. by the findings in neuro-aesthetics, and so the question arises, to which extent this area of knowledge should in the future be represented in Leonardo. I would suggest to try to solve this problem within the context of the discussions about the planned general re-shaping of the magazine.


Herbert Franke



James L. Johnson receives NASA fellowship for study of “Rockets and the Red Scare: Frank Malina and American Rocketry, 1936-1946

NASA Fellowship in the History of Space Technology


The NASA Fellowship in the History of Space Technology, offered by SHOT and supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) History Division, funds either a predoctoral or postdoctoral fellow for up to one academic year to undertake a research project related to the history of space technology. The fellowship supports advanced research related to all aspects of space history, leading to publications on the history of space technology broadly considered, including cultural and intellectual history, institutional history, economic history, history of law and public policy, and history of engineering and management. The 2010 NASA Fellowship was awarded to James L. Johnson. The citation:

The awards committee for the 2010-2011 NASA Fellowship is pleased to announce that the fellowship for the academic year will go to James L. Johnson, a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate Program in the History of Science and Technology at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio. Johnson is completing his dissertation under the direction of Miriam Levin on “Rockets and the Red Scare: Frank Malina and American Rocketry, 1936-1946.” This study promises to make a significant contribution to the historiography of rocketry in the United States by focusing attention on the work of Frank Malina and a group of important rocketeers at Caltech during the 1930s and 1940s. This project is especially pathbreaking because it reflects significant issues in post-World War II America and the origins of the cold war. Like many intellectuals, Malina flirted with Marxist ideology in the interwar years and this led to his being forced out of high-technology military programs. He also, as Johnson makes clear, showed a strong entrepreneurial bent and appreciation for the creative potential of relatively open research environments that went against trends in American industry, academe, and the military after 1947. Thus, Malina’s career offers an opportunity for Johnson to elucidate the degree to which individuals were aware that they were not only changing technology but also the very structures through which American scientific research was being conducted—not to mention the ramifications those structural changes may have held for shifting control of research and development decisions away from practitioners during a crucial period in the rise of the United States as a world power.


For a recent post by Johnson see




support this project on artists for water and peace

Dear Colleague I supporting this project on artists for water and peace

Support artists for water and peace by contributing to our crowd funding campaign.

This is for SCANZ 2015: water*peace. There are links for more info at the url below. Rather than pay artists a fee we are trying to cover their costs.

Every bit helps, so waltz over to the page and think about make a pledge.



Ian Clothier
Executive Director
For other projects in this area see the Leonardo e-book



Water Is in the Air: Physics, Politics, and Poetics of Water in the Arts 


This ebook explores the ways that artists, from all over the world, working at the cutting edge of science and engineering, create work that addresses critical issues of water in culture and society. Drawing on thirty years of work documented in the Leonardo journal at MIT Press, the authors explore art and climate change and pollution, artificially seeded clouds, water fountains, the physics and poetics of waves, using all types of media (videos, performances, installations, sound art). 

Published in collaboration with the STUDIOLAB consortium, a Europe-wide initiative that merges the studio with the research lab. Funded by the European Commission Seventh Framework Programme (http://studiolabproject.eu/partner/leonardoolats). 




Sherryl Ryan also brings this project to our attention:



You might like to hear about our Water and Art project that was run this year about water in the air with primary school students and art and science.
Cheers Sherryl



How to embed science and technology more gracefully in society ?

Open Call for Project Stories

Send us your story before August 18 2014


iMinds and Artshare are running the ICT ART CNECT study for DG CONNECT
- European Commission. The study aims at characterizing and connecting
artistic communities of ICT researchers at all levels. From this
analysis, recommendations will be drawn for a DG CONNECT strategy to
engage more broadly with the arts in Horizon 2020 – the EU Framework
Programme for Research and Innovation.

Therefore we need your input on our website !!

Please support our study and your future by telling us your story of a
project that involved Art practice with ICT.

You just have to answer a few questions, send us a video or images. If
selected, you will present your story and the related prototype at the
Bozar Electronics Art Festival, September 25-28 2014. We will cover
your expenses, including the ones related with the exhibition of your

We are looking for fresh or ongoing or unfinished projects that can be
an example of activities in the field of ICT and ART.





Past activities on the contributions of artistic practices to innovative ICT developments, namely ICT&Art 2012, FET-ART and ICT ART CONNECT 2013 demonstrated the worldwide emergence of communities of hybrid researchers. These researchers develop new technological applications responding to specificities of their artistic creativity, creating however potential for innovation outside their original scope.

The recognition of these emergences by the Commission led to the launching of the ICT ART CNECT study, in order to characterize and connect artistic communities of ICT researchers at all levels, including institutions, companies and individuals. The study is creating a map of individuals and institutions engaged in artistic practices within ICT research projects in Europe and world-wide. It will analyse best practices to enhance interaction between artists-researchers and other IT experts and to increase the impact of these interactions on innovation and creativity in Europe. It will not only analyse success stories but also it will identify where are the main needs and demands.

From this analysis, recommendations will be drawn for a DG CONNECT strategy to engage more broadly with the arts in H2020.

The aim is to thereby contribute to enhancing creativity and innovation in society, technology, science, education, and business and to more gracefully better embedding science and technology in society.

ICT ART CNECT is organizing a number of round-tables in the most relevant conferences in the field happening this year: 4th Computer Art Congress, 1-3 September, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Ars Electronica, 4-8 September, Linz, Austria and ArtsIT – Fourth International Conference on Arts and Technology, 10-12 November, Istambul, Turkey.

The main event of the study will be ICT ART CONNECT 2014, at BOZAR in the context of BEAF, where results will be presented.

Leonardo at 50 : the first decades


I gave a talk today via skype in Cambridge, UK at Kettle’s Yard conference on

White Heat: art, science and social responsibility in 1960s Britain ( see details below)

My Talk was a reflection of 50 years of the Leonardo Journal- the journal was conceived when my father Frank Malina

met Robert Maxwell, the owner of Pergamon Press, in 1965 – almost fifty years ago.

I present the backgound and context for the creation of the journal, and some reflections on how the situation today

in the art-science-technology community of practice has evolved. When my father created in the Leonardo journal

he made a list on a napkin of the artists he knew who were either working with scientists or engineers, or the artists who also

had careers as scientists-he ran out of names after 50- today the community of practice has increased 100-1000 fold

with many of the art and technology areas now applied to mass entertainment

The power point is available on slideshare:



I also have a version of the talk with my spoken remarks  on Drop box which I can make available ( drop me

me an email at rmalina(at)alum.mit.edu and i will share it with you.


My talk is part of a general reflection we are having as part of the Leonardo Pioneers and Pathbreakers project



We recently issued a call for memoirs by pioneers reflecting on their memories of their work in art, science

and technology in the 1960s,70s and we are beginning to receive a number of interesting documents. If you know

someone who was at work in art/sci/tech in the 60s or 70s please encourage them to submit a memoire !


Here is the call



Roger Malina


WHITE HEAT: art, science and social responsibility in 1960s Britain

26 July, 9.30am – 4pm, £20 (conc. £15)

Advance booking essential as space is limited. Includes lunch and refreshments

Book online or call 01223 748100

Lecture Theatre LT0, Department of Engineering, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, CB2 1PZ and Kettle’s Yard, Castle Street.

Download the programme here

An exciting one-day conference exploring the relationships between art, science and society in the 1960s. 50 years on, key figures from this period will join speakers from the fields of art and cultural history, the history and philosophy of science, contemporary art, science, activism and popular culture to revisit one of the most intense periods of intellectual and cultural ferment.

The symposium takes place in the very lecture theatre where, in 1965, Gustav Metzger gave his iconic lecture/demonstration “The Chemical Revolution in Art”.

The programme includes talks on the 1960s art-world and the legacies of 1960s art practice in contemporary art. Discussions on the publications Studio International and Leonardo Journalwill explore the interdisciplinary links between art and science in the 1960s.  The day will also include a panel discussion on The British Society for Social Responsibility in Science (BSSRS).

Contributors include Joe BanksAlice BellJonathan BenthallJohn DunbarBronac FerranElizabeth FisherDavid GaleMartin KempNigel Lesmoir-GordonRoger MalinaJerry RavetzJasia ReichardtJonathan RosenheadNeal White andRobert M. Young.

With video contributions from Gustav Metzger.

Following the conference there will be a reception at Kettle’s Yard and a chance to view the exhibition LIFT OFF! from 5-7pm, and a chance to purchase signed copies of the exhibition catalogue. Kettle’s Yard is a short ten minute walk from the Department of Engineering.



Leonardo Editorial Board member Otto Piene has passed away

Leonardo Editorial Board member Otto Piene has passed away


German artist Otto Piene, a long time Leonardo editorial board member has passed away aged 86. He was a key figure in many movements in artscience and technology.

In 1974, Piene was appointed director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies as the successor to Gyorgy Kepes.

Piene was a leading figure in the sky art movement and Leonardo published the sky art manifestoin “Desert Sun/Desert Moon” and the SKY ART ManifestoElizabeth Goldring ( Leonardo, Vol. 20, No. 4, 20th Anniversary Special Issue: Art of the Future:The Future of Art (1987), pp.339-348)



Piene was born in Bad Laasphe, Germany, in 1928 and studied art in Munich and Dusseldorf, as well as taking a degree in philosophy at Cologne University.In 1957 he founded the  movement Group Zero with Heinz Mack The name referred to the countdown for a rocket launch and, according to the group, was meant to evoke “a zone of silence [out of which develops] a new beginning”.”Artists after the war turned against technology, because war is technology,” Piene explained to Art in America magazine in 2010. “Zero was about the pure possibilities for a new beginning.”

The Leonardo community has lost a good friend and colleague.


we repost in his memory the Sky Art Manifesto


Photography was invented and popularized by artists: Niepce, Daguerre, Talbot, Morse. Photography as an art form used by scientists and engineers has  told us more about deep space than  extrapolated data from any other source.

During the last decade and a half photography applied to space has advanced space research more than all previous scientific effort. It is in this tradition that we as artists seek the broadest possible relationship with international space effort. While photography was developed by artists without foreknowledge of its scientific applications, the cumulative thrust of cultural experience and insight gained from the history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries leads to our realization that art, scienceand technology complement each other increasingly as this dramatic century comes to a close.
Interaction among scientists, engineers and artists fosters new media and practice in the arts, and thereby, artists communicate with ever-increasing audiences.
To encourage and proliferate art based on integration the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT has for nearly 20 years hosted artists and theorists working individually and collaboratively. Accordingly, a series of international SKY ART Conferences was begun in 1981 and has led to the 1986 Conference, September 29-October 3. One hundred and fifty artists, scientists and students convened and decided to address the space agencies through the following statement which we are pre- senting today at the November 3, 1986 Paris Conference on Culture in Space.
Our reach into space constitutes an infinite extension of human life, imagination and creativity.
The ascent into the sky is mirrored by the descent into inner space as it reflects the cosmos.
Our release from gravity represents a fundamental shift in human consciousness-flight and release which open a new
dimension of humanity.
From the ancient past, artists have formed images and dreams, fired the imagination, built structures of aspiration to give the world wings to fly, and the vision to see new societies in the sky. We live in their cumulative light.
Not only here on earth but there in space we must see, touch, feel and think in order to transport soul and spirit.

Thus a threshold is crossed where the radiance of art brings expanded awareness into reciprocity with the earth.
As I stood in the contemplation of the garden of space I had the feeling that I was looking into the ultimate depths, the most secret regions of my own being; and I smiled because it never had occurred to me that I could be so pure, so great, so fair!

My heart burst into singing with a song of grace for the universe. All of these constellations are yours, they exist in you; outside your love they have no reality. (Milosz).
We see international implications of our art as fomenting a global consciousness through large-scale display, tele education/discovery and exploratory play.
Sky artists enthusiastically seek productive alliances with all space agencies.

We are asking for the establishment of national and international councils that will advocate specific artistic projects to the appropriate institutions and agencies.
Additionally, these councils will assist with the implementation of far-reaching artistic endeavors that will embody subtle and humane purposes.
We pledge our imaginations and skills, our probing spirit and expressive powers in this effort to seek the widest horizon for human insight and experience.
Interacting with existing vehicles and systems first, then developing special methods, use and implements
The artist as creator and framer of exemplary phenomena and messages goes
into space there to beam signals back to earth
The artist as explorer of the inner self continues the dialogue with the universe in space

The artist as frontier poet with the artist’s sensory instrumentarium goes into space to widen human perspective on the ‘new
world’-sky and space
The artist travels between worlds to harvest tales and images and pass them on to many in places near and far.
Otto Piene
Elizabeth Goldring
Lowry Burgess
Senior Consultant
Paris, November 3, 1986

What is there to celebrate about the first human landing on the moon ?

Foot Prints or Boot Prints: What is there to celebrate about the first human landing on the moon ?


Check out my discussion with historian patrick mcray  at:




July 16-24 marks the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission. This reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago with my colleague Roger Malina. It led to this jointly authored post.




roger malina

In praise of smarter STEM thinking


I thank those of you who commented on my draft review of the Levy Leblond text, and also the linked in discussion that this stimulated.


I append the finalised version of my text that will be published in Leonardo Reviews

Since i posted the draft the US Census Bureau published its STEM census with some

conclusions that re inform the argument that there is no STEM shortage- 74% of those who

graduate with STEM university degrees go on to careers outside of STEM professions- if

there were a shortage halving the number of STEM graduates who leave the field ( eg by raising

salaries in STEM) would be a start ! STEM shortages are in very specific sub disciplines


here is the US Census summary


As revealed recently by the US Census Bureau (https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/employment_occupations/cb14-130.html )

“The U.S. Census Bureau reported today that 74 percent of those who have a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering and math — commonly referred to as STEM — are not employed in STEM occupations. In addition, men continue to be overrepresented in STEM, especially in computer and engineering occupations. About 86 percent of engineers and 74 percent of computer professionals are men.

Approximately 14 percent of engineers were women, where they were most underrepresented of all the STEM fields. Representation of women was higher among mathematicians and statisticians (45 percent), life scientists (47 percent) and social scientists (63 percent). “

All comments welcome


and here is my finalised text on Levy-Leblond’s article in Alliage

roger malina


Is too much STEM a bad thing ?: rebuttal in partial agreement with Jean-Marc Levy-Leblond

Roger F Malina

Review and reflections triggered by:

« La culture scientifique: pour quoi faire ?” by Jean-Marc Levy-Leblond, Alliage No 73, Printemps 2014 p17.  http://revel.unice.fr/alliage/index.html  (Alliage is a French language journal of Culture, Science and Technology edited by Levy-Leblond).

Physicist Jean-Marc Levy-Leblond in a carefully argued contrarian essay asks the question, painful for me as a scientist, whether too much scientific culture can be a bad thing, or at least whether we are selling STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education) with fundamentally flawed argumentation.

He quotes three political leaders in France (Filipetti, Fioraso, Gallois) who in a recent public event re affirmed that the promotion of science and engineering, or STEM in US vocabulary, is essential for three reasons: democratic, cultural and economic. The traditional argument for STEM is often deployed with three sets of arguments:

1.  We seek to have educated citizenry who can make informed voting and other governance decisions on the many societal questions that involve STEM. Therefore more STEM is a good thing.

2. We need trained workforces for new industries that are emerging driven by STEM innovation. There is a STEM workforce shortage. Therefore more STEM funding is a good thing.

3. Modern culture must appropriate STEM discoveries and knowledge to create contemporary cultures that are scientifically robust. Therefore more STEM funding is a good thing.

In France the promotion of ‘scientific culture’ is a ‘regal’ function of the state. Similarly in recent decades in the USA science outreach is funded by the government as part of a commitment to public education.

Levy-Leblond asks brutally whether the very idea of ‘scientific culture’ is not an oxymoron and promoting, out of context of other areas of knowledge, it may be counterproductive.

Does a Scientific Culture exist?

Levy-Leblond’s first questioning, then, concerns the concept of “scientific culture” and its promotion, or STEM outreach and communication.
For one Levy-Leblond argues that within culture, sub dividing domains such as scientific culture one may end up sterilizing the possible added value from culture that scientific ideas undergo through cultural mutation and transformation. The impact of the Galilean hypothesis, with its huge cultural impact, did not come from ‘science outreach’ but total re contextualization and transformation in the process of cultural embedding. Helga Nowotny (http://www.helga-nowotny.eu/ ), former President of the European Research Commission, has made a similar call for ‘socially robust’ science which address not science education but the social embedding of science as the key problem.

The promotion of ‘scientific culture’ Levy-Leblond argues assumes that such a thing exists. For one he argues that the mercantile finality of governmental and industrial financing of science results in a deep ‘de-culturation’ of scientific circles; that in effect basic science is devalued in the current environment of commercialization of techno-science.

He goes further and argues that most scientists are largely culturally ignorant. The training of scientists no longer includes the history or philosophy of science; most scientists have caricatural notions of the cultural meaning of their disciplines. He says the idea of a meaningful ‘scientific culture’ shared by scientists is an empty promise ( and reading him one almost feels that the last person one would want to do science outreach is a scientist that has been trained in recent years, because their training promotes cultural ignorance ).

The situation it seems to me is more a situation of a complex network of evolving sub-cultures and there are regional and temporal differences. The idea of a homogeneous ‘scientific culture’ which needs to be spread harks back to the misleading ideas of C.P.Snow who artificially dichotomized the question. Similarly attempting to isolate ‘basic’ or ‘fundamental’ science, curiosity driven and self-critical, from applied science, as ideological and mercantile, over-simplifies the way that ideas originate, are confirmed and used.

The complexities of the interactions of scientific and larger culture is described for instance by Patrick McCray in his book The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future   (see my review at    http://malina.diatrope.com/2012/12/26/the-visioneers-and-the-marketing-of-science/) . There McCray unpacks how high technology and the popular imagination become joined at the hip, but also the emergence of a new kind of marketing of science.

One of the problems of course is the ‘impedance mis-match” with teaching institutions structured around demarcated disciplinary areas, and the use of science in society which is inherently multi and inter-disciplinary. The current debate of STEM and STEAM is a microcosm of the debate.
STEM and Economic Growth?

Levy- Leblond’s second strand concerns STEM and societal benefits.

Levy-Leblond takes on the received knowledge that more STEM will lead to economic growth. That we need a growing workforce that is STEM trained to take advantage of the innovation coming out of STEM research and development. This line of argumentation relies on traditional ‘triple helix’ innovation theory which couples the work of fundamental science in universities funded by governments that is translated into technological developments and then commercialized by companies who then create jobs; voila!

Levy-Leblond points out that this virtuous circle a) almost never works- most new fundamental science does not result in any new jobs b) the best cases take many decades (DNA discovered in 1954, and the biotech industry only just taking root, general relativity exists since the 1920s but the first commercially meaningful use in GPS systems is very recent, eighty years between the invention of the laser and supermarket scanners).

So promising that more STEM investment will result in more jobs in the next twenty years flies in the face of the data. Most of the disruptive technologies of recent decades have been more in the regime of social innovations and global market economics that scientific ones. And the coupling of the techno-sciences to commercial application is a social translation problem as has been discovered and highlighted by the need to create the field of ‘translational medicine’. He argues that you could cut funding in fundamental science and barely impact the commercial application of techno-science of the next few decades. I think he over simplifies the problem as if fundamental science and applied science were not inseparably joined at the hip. In my own experience working as an astronomer I developed with my colleagues new technologies (detectors, data analysis systems) and even though the funding for space science has strategic governmental objectives apart from basic science, the basic science was driving our agenda.

Levy-Leblond also attacks the widely held arguments about the shortage of STEM trained professionals (a topic of much current debate see for instance the work of Hal Salzman who states in the Journal of the US National Academy of Science:  “Despite naysayers, the nation is producing more than enough quality workers in scientific and engineering fields—and policymakers and industry leaders should proceed accordingly.”  http://issues.org/29-4/what-shortages-the-real-evidence-about-the-stem-workforce/ ).  A more recent book by  Michael Teitelbaum (  http://www.amazon.com/Falling-Behind-Global-Scientific-Talent/dp/069115466X/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0 ) concludes:

“• First, that the alarms about widespread shortages or shortfalls in the number of U.S. scientists and engineers are quite inconsistent with nearly all available evidence;

• Second, that similar claims of the past were politically successful but resulted in a series of booms and busts that did harm to the U.S. science and engineering enterprise and made careers in these fields increasingly unattractive; and

• Third, that the clear signs of malaise in the U.S. science and engineering workforce are structural in origin and cannot be cured simply by providing additional funding. To the contrary, recent efforts of this kind have proved to be destabilizing, and advocates should be careful what they wish for.”

(Teitelbaum, Michael S. (2014-03-30). Falling Behind?: Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent (p. 3). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.).

As revealed recently by the US Census Bureau (https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/employment_occupations/cb14-130.html )

“The U.S. Census Bureau reported today that 74 percent of those who have a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering and math — commonly referred to as STEM — are not employed in STEM occupations. In addition, men continue to be overrepresented in STEM, especially in computer and engineering occupations. About 86 percent of engineers and 74 percent of computer professionals are men.

Approximately 14 percent of engineers were women, where they were most underrepresented of all the STEM fields. Representation of women was higher among mathematicians and statisticians (45 percent), life scientists (47 percent) and social scientists (63 percent). “


Clearly the metaphor of the STEM pipeline is not a good one to understand the various sociological factors involved in how STEM and society are linked.


Levy-Leblond argues in addition that many science educators have promoted this argument in order to protect jobs in university science departments; the boom and bust cycle of STEM funding builds up unsustainable programs. And as Salzman points out that the lack of significant growth in salaries for STEM graduates gives the lie to a shortage (and that often it is global re distribution of workforces that is used to address local shortages).

Levy-Leblond also quotes de Solla Price that the value of having a significant of STEM experts in a society is not because of the knowledge they have that will lead to job creation, but rather that we need sufficient STEM graduates who can respond to new issues (climate change) and can also train the future generation of STEM graduates and notes that the current level of STEM graduates which indeed has stagnated may be sufficient.

We don’t need to increase the total number, but perhaps focus on very specific areas the T and E of STEM, and we need to address the systemic problems (under recruitment of women and minorities, boom and bust cycles, conservatism of peer review processes, unattractive career paths coupled to the current stresses in university business models such as growth of student debt and dependency on non-tenured short term researchers and faculty, scientific fraud). So not more STEM funding, but targeting on systemic internal problems in STEM.


Do we need a STEM educated citizenry?

Levy-Leblond argues that the societal issues that confront governments and which involve issues of governance and citizen involvement in general do not require better science educated citizens as such.

To form an opinion on climate change, nuclear power, genetically modified organisms the questions don’t involve understanding the detailed science of nuclear fission, how genes jump or how CO2 is captured in oceans. Rather they are not scientific questions but technical ones (can one build protection around a nuclear power plants against tsunamis), risk assessment associated with geologic locations and human use. What is needed is not Scientific Culture but first Engineering Culture. Beyond this most of these societal questions that involve STEM areas are really questions of social and political science and economics; the transformation of energy production in Germany has been not one of a science educated citizenry, but one of politically and economically informed decision making.

And the social and political sciences are crucial; the problem he argues is not the science education level of our citizenry, but the way modern democracies operate, or rather malfunction, and in particular the various quango, industrial and governmental entities that make go/no-go decisions on introducing new technologies into societal use. The lessons around nuclear power plant accidents are not those that would be addressed by a more scientifically educated citizenry, but rather how to reform the various systems of expertise that lead to governmental or industrial decisions to adopt disruptive technologies at acceptable risk.

Is Art-Science a viable vehicle for developing Scientific Culture?

Levy-Leblond comes back to the question of the promotion of ‘scientific culture’ and he again re-iterates that one of the fundamental problems is the cultural ignorance of scientists themselves, who he argues are ignorant about their own science in a cultural context but also of the activities of cultural professionals today (outside of commercial or popular arts).

He takes anew a ‘pot-shot” at the emerging and developing art-science movement. (In a previous blog http://malina.diatrope.com/2011/04/17/is-art-science-hogwash-a-rebuttal-to-jean-marc-levy-leblond/ I wrote a rebuttal to Levy-Leblond’s book “Science is not Art”. Levy-Leblond  argued in that book that light and free “brief encounters” (a reference to the classical film by David Lean, Brief Encounter, 1945) between individual scientists and artists are likely to be more culturally relevant that collective and institutionalized endeavors ».

He states that the art science movements “are paved with good intentions which one doesn’t know whether they will lead to hell or even purgatory because they consist of collaborations between scientists who lack cultural knowledge and artists who lack scientific understanding ….one just has to think of the fable of the French fable of the blind man and the paralytic, used ironically of an unpromising partnership. Levy-Leblond goes on to wink that maybe the problem is more culture in scientists rather than more science in culture. In this argument he connects with some of the current discussions on the STEM to STEAM movement, or the need to integrate the arts, design and humanities into STEM strategies.

I obviously beg to disagree with Levy-Leblond and his attack of the growing institutionalization of the art science movement. As in emerging disciplines there are exceptional achievements (the work of Brandon Ballangee, Ruth West, or David Dunn, or Jane Prophet, or Francois-Joseph Lapointe to name a few) and also much routine or misguided or uninteresting work. We saw the same dilution effect as the art and technology movement became institutionalized in new media and gaming programs. I am happy to oppose my optimism to Levy-Leblond’s pessimism and argue that the current institutionalization of the art-science movement is in the large a positive development.

Finally Levy-Leblond points out that indeed if critical thinking and assessment of evidence is part of the contribution of STEM education and outreach- that this argument was used centuries ago in the development of the Enlightenment and again during the age of scientific positivism in the 19th century, He quotes from d”Alembert  in the 18th century where he promises that” the learning of mathematics and geometry will in itself lead a whole nation to become enlightened, perhaps the only way that certain parts of Europe currently under oppressive governments will become liberated”. This nineteenth century proto STEM optimism indeed seems oversold today given the history of carnage of the twentieth century. Levy-Leblond acidly points out that we should not forget that science also offers the possibility of developing un- or economically counterproductive outcomes ( such as reducing employment, destabilizing regional economies) as well as destructive outcomes though the military uses of techno-science.

In Praise of Amatorat and the New Amateurs

The closing section of Levy-Leblond’s essay turns away from the jeremiad and proposes interesting pro-active proposals. He argues that one of the problems science faces today is the social disconnection of its professionals. He argues that what makes the arts and music culturally vital and living is the existence both of expert artists and musicians but also a whole range of different ways that citizens engage in the arts and music as non-professionals. This continuity of practice from elite and professional to popular and broadly practiced, he argues allows the arts to be socially grounded as demonstrated by the very vital popular music culture on line for instance.

He goes on to note that some scientific disciplines have maintained a lively and sustainable spectrum of professional and amateur practitioners. Astronomy and the vital continuing contributions of amateur astronomers is one. But also in some of the natural sciences such as ornithology and bird watching. But indeed there is no such thing as an amateur quantum or particle physicist; perhaps the CERN artist in residency program will break open the concrete? On the other hand the bio-art bio-hacking movement are opening whole new avenues of collaborations between professional biologists and artists (see the Leonardo book e-book “Meta-Life: Biotechnologies, Synthetic Biology, ALife and the Arts” http://synthbioart.texashats.org/ ).

Finally Levy-Leblond notes the birth and rapid development of the citizen science movement which gives him reason for optimism- which ranges from data taking, to problem solving. (He wonders whether in many cases the scientific are not basically exploiting cheap labor rather than engaging in scientific collaboration with amateurs).

I note that there is a recent proliferation of  ‘smart citizen’ initiatives which merge the citizen science and hacker/maker cultures : http://futureeverything.org/news/futureeverything-bringing-smart-citizen-uk-intel/ http://www.smartcitizen.me/  https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/smart-citizen-kit/id682554291?mt=8 ,  these are setting up a system to distribute DYI technologies with ambitions of enabling social action enabled by local taken data. Another example is the Barcelona Fab Lab http://spain-lab.net/project/smart-citizen-fab-lab-barcelonaiaachangar/ ) which seeks to develop a Smart Citizen platform “to generate participatory processes of people in the cities. Connecting data, people and knowledge, the objective of the platform is to serve as a node for building productive and open indicators, and distributed tools, and thereafter the collective construction of the city for its own inhabitants”. STEM institutions are rapidly developing initiatives that couple to the maker and hacker movements through Fab Labs, Maker spaces, Accelerators ( see also for instance Design For America http://designforamerica.com/  now in twenty US campuses.)

Levy-Leblond also notes positive developments with associations of medical associations engaging the participation of patient organisations in the research projects. He advocates investment in amateur and citizen scientific activities as one of the ways of developing a meaningful concept around scientific culture.

Levy-Leblond’s advocacy of a new amateur picks up on ideas in France developed at length in a 2012 special issue of Alliage (http://revel.unice.fr/alliage/index.html?id=3229 ) on “Amateur”. In that issue Bernard Stiegler (http://revel.unice.fr/alliage/index.html?id=3272 ) argued for the term French term “amatorat’ rather than ‘amateur” to cover the whole range of new engaged citizen activities from citizen science, to hacker and maker culture, to patient and environmental monitoring groups and in the US the STEM to STEAM movement. In a very real sense the advocacy of a broadened concept of smart, STEM enabled, citizens is one element of a response to Nowotny’s call for socially robust science (http://spp.oxfordjournals.org/content/30/3/151.abstract )

So is too much STEM a bad thing? Levy-Leblond urges us to be careful in our received knowledge and public argumentation for the funding of STEM, STEAM, and science education outreach in general. He argues that the coupling between fundamental and basic science and the T end E of STEM is fragile in a societal environment where short term economic finalities are the determinants of STEM investment. His warning about the lack of culture of most scientists because of the way that scientists are educated is contrarian but worth thinking about: adding ethics courses to STEM education is not a substitute for teaching science as a culturally embedded set of disciplines.

I think his warnings need to be taken seriously, though the whole ecology that couples science, technology, math and society is a complex dynamic network and it is inconceivable to view STEM strategies that amputate the S. Recent trends in development countries of their funding of basic science however gives pause. And I highly recommend to art-science practitioners that they understand Levy-Leblond’s reticence about the artscience movement. As the STEM to STEAM movement gains steam we need to integrate Levy-Leblond’s critiques.


« La culture scientifique: pour quoi faire ?” by Jean-Marc Levy-Leblond, Alliage No 73, Printemps 2014 p17.  http://revel.unice.fr/alliage/index.html  (Alliage is a French language journal of Culture, Science and Technology edited by Levy-Leblond) . This issue is not on line yet but will be available in fall 2014.

Non-french readers can find some of Levy-Leblond’s writing in English in  La science en mal de culture/Science in Want of Culture, Futuribles, 2004. (http://www.amazon.com/La-Science-Mal-Culture-Want/dp/2843873096 )