December 9, 2009

A Perfect Circle

Natalie Angier writes a lovely piece for the Science Times this week, discussing the ever-robust imagery of the circle, using the current Kandinsky exhibit as her hook. (An exhibit which, appropriately housed in the spiraling Guggenheim, is a must-see.) Aside from its myriad physical manifestations (everything from planets to raindrops to infinitesimal loops of string), cyclical themes have long been the bedrock of the most memorable compositions in music, literature, and art. Consider the cyclic form of Brahm's Symphony No. 3; Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle; Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. Kandinsky, whose fascination with science undoubtedly inspired his work, was also consumed by the idea that he could represent musical tones and chords on canvas. He created many Improvisations and Compositions to this effect, frequently using points, half-circles and circles within cacaphonies of color.

As the LHC--itself a perfect 27km ring--meets its goal for power, the extraordinary beauty of both the massive machinery and the impossibly small particle collisions has captured artistic imaginations worldwide. PLANET magazine offers an extraordinary portfolio of images from CERN by Enrico Sacchetti: circles within colors within circles. Einstein, whose work pushed scientific understanding ever closer to the theory of everything--and whose infamous equation, e=mc2, is itself a cyclic model--would have been thrilled at humanity's perch on the LHC-thrust precipice of the unification of the large and small. One can imagine him, much like Ms. Angier upon seeing Kandinsky's "Several Circles," staring at collision images of the Higgs with a "big, stupid smile plastered on his face."

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