Tom McCarthy (image: Kate Joyce)

Novelist Tom McCarthy has been named a Miller Scholar at the Santa Fe Institute for 2022-2025. The Miller Scholarship is the most prestigious visiting position at SFI, awarded to highly accomplished, creative thinkers who make profound contributions to our understanding of society, science, and culture.

McCarthy is a globally acclaimed novelist and artist. His body of work has been recognized for its linguistic and artistic innovation. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages and adapted for cinema, theater, and radio. His 2015 novel, Satin Island, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Goldsmith Prize; his 2010 novel, C, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Walter Scott Prize, and the European Literature Prize. His 2005 debut novel, Remainder, received the 2007 Believer Book Award. In 2013 he was awarded the inaugural Windham-Campbell Literature Prize by Yale University. 

His most recent novel is The Making of Incarnation, published in 2021. The title refers to the production of a new film called Incarnation, and the book’s protagonist, motion-capture technologist Mark Phocan, has been tasked with rendering our technologically infused lives in contexts medical, military, industrial, and cinematic — which is why he finds himself working on the eponymous movie’s production. Ultimately, Phocan’s work leads him to the legacy of time-and-motion pioneer Lillian Gilbreth, and delivers to readers a fascinating reflection on perpetual motion.

Miller Scholars are internally nominated and are free to devote their time at SFI to work of their choosing. They are encouraged to interact and collaborate with resident and visiting scientists, with the goal of catalyzing and crystallizing ongoing research at the Institute. SFI President David Krakauer writes, “Tom is one of those lyrically synthesizing minds that independently, and according to his own rule-system, discovers deep connections in the fabric of reality. As such he is an exemplary complexity thinker.”

In his novels, McCarthy takes up a striking number of themes that resonate deeply with SFI science, especially replication, gaming, and modeling.  The interplay between art and science figure in McCarthy’s current thinking for a new novel, which may look at the ways that novelists and scientists model the world. It may be that the novel form is particularly well equipped to “model the modeler,” explains McCarthy, since it has always been a “very hybrid form.” 

SFI may also be an ideal place for artistic-scientific engagement of the sort that McCarthy celebrates. After his first visit to SFI this summer, McCarthy remarked that he was struck by the ways that SFI “operates as though C.P. Snow [that is, the cultural split between the arts and sciences] never happened.” At the same time, he notes, SFI simultaneously embraces the distinct kinds of work — and potential cross-fertilization — that can happen between novelists and scientists. 

McCarthy will reside at the Institute part-time from 2022 to 2025, as the eleventh Miller Scholar since SFI Chair Emeritus Bill Miller conceived and underwrote the scholarship in 2010.