~e; EM drama-plays
human being <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Thu, 2 May 2002 20:30:39 -0500
[will someday need to write a more definitive explanation
for why certain EM-related materials are of varying degrees
of value. maybe they are different in their value. this is
not overtly EM, but contextually, related. and shows a way
that artists, playwrites in this instance, can take ideas
that may at once be very remote and yet very present in
everyday life as it is experienced. thus, sharing ideas
that have a basis in EM knowledges and explorations. fyi.]
[full article with URLs From Wired News, available at:
Unraveling the Drama of Science
By Chloe Veltman
2:00 a.m. May 1, 2002 PDT
It's been several years since British playwright Michael Frayn wrote
Copenhagen, about the September 1941 meeting between the Danish
physicist Niels Bohr and his German counterpart Werner Heisenberg.
Littered with obscure references to Uranium 235 and the cyclotron, the
playwright doubted whether the work would even get an audience, much
less engender heated debate. "When I started writing the play, I
didn't think anyone would actually come and see it," said Frayn,
speaking recently at a symposium on Theater, Science and History in
Copenhagen at Berkeley, California.
Yet people are still talking about Copenhagen, which won the Tony
Award for Best Play in 2000. It doesn't even seem to matter that the
playwright doesn't know anything about physics.
>From Bertolt Brecht and Friedrich D¸rrenmatt to Steven Poliakoff and
Tom Stoppard, science has proven an enduring theme for playwrights.
While writers generally don't know much about science, sometimes
their dramatic reconstructions of scientific endeavor can impact the
science establishment in ways they never envisaged.
For Frayn, as for many other playwrights, science only serves as a
metaphor for exploring a broader philosophical concept. In the case
of Copenhagen, science is a vehicle to discover, as Frayn described
it, "whether it's possible to know what peoples' intentions are."
But the play did more than that. It fanned the flames of a smoldering
debate among science historians about the events surrounding the
invention of the atomic bomb.
Before World War II, Heisenberg and Bohr transformed atomic physics,
together with their work on quantum mechanics and the uncertainty
principle in the 1920s. Nobody knows why Heisenberg made the trip to
Nazi-occupied Copenhagen in September 1941 to visit his friend and
mentor Bohr, or what the two men said to each other.
Whether Heisenberg was attempting to weasel information out of Bohr
about Allied bomb plans or stall the development of atomic weapons
back home has become the subject of several books, including Thomas
Powers Heisenberg's War and Heisenberg and the Nazi Atomic Bomb
Project: A Study In German Culture, by Paul Lawrence Rose.
More recently, and as a direct result of Copenhagen, the dispute
spilled over into the pages of the New York Review of Books and the
Los Angeles Times, as well as at numerous international symposia,
where critics continue the discussion.
In February, the Niels Bohr archive in Denmark decided to lift an
embargo on an important letter to Heisenberg by Bohr relating to
their 1941 meeting. In the letter, Bohr accuses Heisenberg of
misleading others in the aftermath of World War II by claiming to
have purposefully undermined the German atom bomb effort. Written
around 1957, Bohr claims that in his recollection of their encounter,
Heisenberg seemed less ambivalent about building a bomb than he later
The letter was never sent. Hidden from view after Bohr's death in
1962, scientists, historians and artists speculated about its
contents for years. Scheduled for release in 2012, the letter was
recently published on the Internet, "in order to accommodate the
present interest spurred in particular by the drama Copenhagen and to
avoid undue speculation," said Finn Aaserud, of the Niels Bohr
"The play has caused the history of science to change," said Professor
Robert Osserman, of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in
Berkeley. "Copenhagen forced the archive to release those documents
early, which has helped to reduce speculation."
Theater has become a particularly popular way of putting science into
the public imagination, with plays like David Auburn's Proof, Steven
Poliakoff's Blinded by the Sun, Tom Stoppard's Arcadia and Peter
Parnell's QED attracting wide audiences and public response.
The extent to which people are engaging with these dramas is mirrored
by the fact that these plays have been the subjects of many symposia.
"No medium can better convey the immediacy of emotions," said
professor Robert Marc Friedman, a science historian at the University
of Oslo, Norway, "and science, after all, entails not only cold
logic, but also cauldrons of hot passion."
While it's true that an able playwright doesn't need a PhD in
relativity in order to write a powerful play about Einstein, science
historians are sometimes troubled by artistic reconstructions of
science. Friedman believes that taking too many dramatic liberties
with a character in a play can damage the integrity of the historical
"When a playwright breathes life into a name from history and creates
a seemingly real person who is as new for the audience as any
fictional character, there should be some sense of responsibility for
how that person is portrayed," Friedman said.
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