Rachel Rose, Still from The Last Day, 2023, courtesy of Gladstone Gallery
Noyce Conference Room
Working Group
  US Mountain Time

Our campus is closed to the public for this event.

Magic ruled the 17th C. agrarian English landscape in England. There was a surreal interconnection understood to exist between animals, illnesses, the sun, the moon, the trees, death, birth and so forth. This was the collectively agreed-upon fiction about how the world worked: if one were sick, coughed, and a wind blew down a tree that then damaged the roof of their house, that collapse was understood to have been caused by the cough. The land upon which the house sat would not yet have been fenced, and the trees around the house not yet burned; land as capital was not yet in play. The modules of modernity remained embryonic.

In the late 17th and early 18th C., physical, political and spiritual violence unfolded on the landscape alongside the accelerated discovery of fundamental scientific discoveries in math, biology, and physics. Two world views came into collision - the new view based on local mechanical causality vs. the more ancient belief in near global agency. We now live in a post-Newtonian world, but culture continues to be shaped by both the solipsistic and interconnected dream of halcyon. Whereas the sciences need to cleave to what is best attested and recent, the arts remain free to roam across space and time.

This working group is interested in the intersection of materialism and magic, or how humanity moved from the center to the margin of reality. We would like to explore how science and metaphysics relate to:

• the emergence of life

• its multifarious forms

• the meaning of individuality

• the dynamics of learning

• the causes of death

All of these topics are rooted in context or environment. There is always a biological or cultural landscape in which these transformations take place. Each participant is specifically selected to address elements of this history: how mechanism differs from magic or magical thinking, and how we might in certain ways be returning to omniscience and omnipotence through the agency of technology.

A public discussion following this meeting will take place at SITE Santa Fe on July 22nd, 2022. More information on that event, as well as ticket registration can be found via SITE Santa Fe


David KrakauerDavid KrakauerSFI President and William H. Miller Professor of Complex Systems
Caitlin McSheaCaitlin McSheaDirector, Experimental Projects at the Santa Fe Institute

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