on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2018 15 Jan

A visit to the Santa Fe Institute

von: Brian Whistler Filed under: Blog | TB | 1 Comment



A couple of days ago, we had the opportunity to visit the Santa Fe Institute, an interdisciplinary think tank located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos Mountains in Santa Fe, NM. Once a private home, it’s a beautiful, airy building with large picture  windows that offer expansive views of the surrounding area.

Complexity science is the primary concept that brings scientists, researchers, mathematicians, philosophers, writers, artists, and economists together here. Their mission statement says it better than I can:


“Our researchers endeavor to understand and unify the underlying, shared patterns in complex physical, biological, social, cultural, technological, and even possible astrobiological worlds. Our global research network of scholars spans borders, departments, and disciplines, unifying curious minds steeped in rigorous logical, mathematical, and computational reasoning. As we reveal the unseen mechanisms and processes that shape these evolving worlds, we seek to use this understanding to promote the well-being of humankind and of life on earth.”


„Barbie Art“ (Video)




Our friends, a married couple, run the graphics department. Here they design publications in the form of books, magazines, and striking posters advertising talks given on and off campus. The offerings and topics are highly diverse: using the science of predicting earthquakes to predict stock market fluctuations; a class with underground cartoonist Lynda Barry on Biology and Creativity; a panel discussion on what it will take to become an interplanetary civilization, including a talk on the process of music composition for sci-fi films.

Our tour guide, Laura, informs us that one of my heroes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy, keeps an office here, mostly to take a break from the isolation of his home in nearby Tesuque. She shows me a handsome table he commissioned and donated to the library. She tells me he often comes into her office to borrow her guitar.

There have been a number of celebrities who have frequented the Institute. Laura tells us that recently film director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Inception, Interstellar) and his brother and collaborator John recently spent some time there, participating, along with esteemed sci-if author Neal Stephenson, in the InterPlanetary Project. The late playwright, director, and actor Sam Shepard was once a fixture at the Institute.




As we walked through the sprawling structure, to which additional “pods” have been added over the years, we peeked into offices where men and women hunched over whiteboards covered with calculations. Laughter rang out of a conference room where a small group was intently gazing at images of stars and planets, which shared the screen with what appeared to be advanced astrophysics formulae. Even some of the exterior windows were covered with arcane calculations.

In one large conference room, which featured a giant movie screen, a series of framed celebrated physics calculations were displayed. “Uber-nerd artwork,” I said out loud. In another office I came across a collection of deconstructed Barbie-doll art, which I took to be a form of ironic social commentary. Later that afternoon, when we were introduced to the IT guys, I noticed that along the back wall of their office was a shelf which proudly displayed miniature models of the evolving incarnations of the USS Enterprise. Directly above the shelf, a Klingon weapon, known as a batlaff, was prominently mounted on the wall. Large computer monitors displayed planetary weather-change models, which were constantly updating.




I confess that I have no idea what was going on in those offices and conference rooms. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to speak to any of the scientists and artists working in them. My overall impression, however, was one of unbridled creative foment. Even during our group Chinese lunch, heated discussions were going on over dim sum and cashew chicken.

I honestly can’t think of a more exciting and aesthetic environment in which to work and play in the field of ideas and creativity. I left in awe that such a place even exists, much less thrives, in today’s terminally unimaginative and malignantly anti-science political climate. Just knowing it’s there gives me hope.



This entry was posted on Montag, 15. Januar 2018 and is filed under "Blog". You can follow any responses to this entry with RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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