The Solar Eclipse That Made Einstein Famous

It seems impossible, given how instantly recognizable Albert Einstein’s shock of white hair, bushy mustache and lined face remain six decades after his death, but there was a time when he was not famous. In fact, there was a time when the German-born prodigy was not a full-fledged physicist. Instead, he was patent examiner in Bern, Switzerland, who conducted scientific research in his off hours.

In 1905, when he was 26, Einstein began revolutionizing physics with his theory of special relativity, which helped redefine the relationship between space and time. One of the world’s most iconic mathematical equations — E=mc2 — grew out of special relativity.

Einstein Memorial in Washington, DC

That work secured Einstein a series of academic positions, but it didn’t make him famous. Neither did his theory of general relativity, which he published in 1915. Einstein argued that what we understand as gravity is, in fact, from the curvature of space and time — a hotly debated notion among physicists at the time.

Then came the solar eclipse of 1919 — more than six minutes of darkness along a path that stretched from South America to Africa and changed the course of Einstein’s life. Some people refer to the May 29, 1919, event “Einstein’s eclipse.”

Albert Einstein delivers a lecture to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Pittsburgh on Dec. 28, 1934. (AP)

Nearly a century later, on Aug. 21, a solar eclipse will sweep across the United States in one of the most anticipated astronomical events in the country’s history. It will give scientists an opportunity to study the sun’s volatile corona, the wisps of plasma that billow and sometimes explode around the star.

In 1919, British astronomers, led by Sir Arthur Eddington, used the eclipse to prove that the light from stars was being deflected by the sun’s gravitational field at exactly the degree Einstein’s theory predicted.

Newspapers around the world celebrated the accomplishment. “Einstein Theory Triumphs,” the New York Times reported on November 10, 1919. “Men of Science More or Less Agog Over Results of Eclipse Observations.”

New York Times, November 10, 1919

What Einstein had done, effectively, was change the conversation about space, and how people understood and related to it. Just as importantly, the scientific breakthrough offered a reprieve from the devastation of World War I, which had claimed the lives of an estimated 17 million people.

“Europe was in mourning,” said Jimena Canales, author of The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time. “The public was thirsty for news that was not about what was going on around them.”

Einstein won the Nobel Prize in 1921. Afterward, he traveled the world, hobnobbing with royalty and Hollywood stars. Charlie Chaplin invited him to the premiere of his new movie, City Lights, in 1931, and reportedly said to him, “They’re cheering us both, you because nobody understands you, and me because everybody understands me.”

Einstein fled Germany in 1933 as the Nazis came to power and began ousting Jewish scientists from the country’s universities. In a speech to a packed audience at London’s Royal Albert Hall on October 3, 1933, Einstein warned of the dangers Hitler posed.

“If we want to resist the powers which threaten to suppress intellectual and individual freedom we must keep clearly before us what is at stake,” he said, “and what we owe to that freedom which our ancestors have won for us after hard struggles.”

He sailed to the United States four days later, eventually taking a position at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, where his fame grew. He was a pacifist and an outspoken champion of civil rights, joining the NAACP and corresponding with W.E.B. Du Bois, a co-founder of the organization.

British scientist Stephen Hawking speaks in New York in 2016 while an image of Albert Einstein looms behind him on a video screen. (EPA/JASON SZENES)

“Einstein, in that time, was becoming more than a public scientist,” Canales said. “He became oracular, and he didn’t shy away” from it. “He created this new role [now inhabited] by people like Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan.”

By the time he died in 1955 at the age of 76, Einstein’s name had become a synonym for genius. And it all began in 1919, after the moon briefly blocked the sun.

Original article in The Washington Post.

Yayoi Kusama Museum

Polka dots. Mirrors. Pumpkins. Balloons. And long lines to see all of the above.

Yayoi Kusama’s repetitive patterned imagery has made her one of Japan’s most celebrated artists.

Yayoi Kusama, whose obsessively patterned and repetitive imagery has made her one of Japan’s most celebrated artists, is opening her own museum in the Shinjuku neighbourhood of Tokyo on October 1 this year.

The museum, a five-story building designed by Kume Sekkei, was completed in 2014, but Ms. Kusama, 87, remained quiet about its purpose. (She perhaps alluded to the project in an interview in February with The Washington Post when she was asked what had been the highlight of her career. “It’s still coming,” Ms. Kusama said. “I’m going to create it in the future.”)

Yayoi Kusama Museum, Shinjuku, Tokyo

The museum will be directed by Tensei Tatebata, the president of Tama Art University and director of the Saitama Museum of Modern Art. The space will be dedicated to Ms. Kusama’s own work, with two changing exhibitions each year, as well as one floor housing her popular “infinity rooms” and other installations. The top floor will house a reading room and archival materials.

The first exhibition, Creation Is a Solitary Pursuit, Love Is What Brings You Closer to Art, running October 1, 2017 through February 25, 2018, will show a recent series of paintings, My Eternal Soul. Tickets go on sale on August 28 and will be offered in time slots, suggesting that large crowds are anticipated.

Polka dots. Mirrors. Pumpkins. Balloons. Little bears like all of these 🙂

Yayoi Kusama, Soul under the moon, 2002 @ GOMA, Brisbane in 2015
Yayoi Kusama, Flowers that bloom at midnight, 2011 @ GOMA, Brisbane in 2015
Yayoi Kusama, Dots Obsession, 2016 @ MONA, Hobart in 2017
Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin, 2015 @ Glass House, Connecticut in 2016
Yayoi Kusama, Gleaming Lights of the Souls, 2008 @ National Gallery Singapore in 2017
Yayoi Kusama, With All My Love For The Tulips I Pray Forever (2013-2017) @ National Gallery Singapore in 2017
Yayoi Kusama, Dots Obsession Balloons @ National Gallery Singapore in 2017

A Magical Time at the ArtScience Museum

Little bears have entered a magical world!

Crystal Universe

Crystal Universe
2015
Interactive Installation of Light Sculpture, Endless
Artwork & Sound by teamLab

This monumental, immersive and interactive work by teamLab, puts the viewer at the heart of the universe, enabling them to experience astrophysical phenomena such as planets, stars, galaxies and even the recently detected gravitational waves predicted by Einstein a century ago. The viewer experiences the universe from within, it surrounds them and responds to their presence, helping them understand their part of the vastness of celestial space.

Crystal Universe

The ArtScience Museum in Singapore is devoted to the exploration of art and science and the connection between them. In the permanent exhibition, Future World – Where Art Meets Science, the creative threads by which art, science, technology and culture are inextricably bound are expressed in immersive, interactive works by teamLab, a globally renowned Japanese group of ultra-technologists and multi-award winning art collective.

ArtScience Museum
ArtScience Museum

The exhibition was launched in 2016 to mark the museum’s fifth anniversary.

Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are Destined to be Chased as well, Transcending Space
Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are Destined to be Chased as well, Transcending Space

Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are Destined to be Chased as well,
Transcending Space
2017
Digital Installation, 4 min 20 sec

This immersive audio-visual installation depicts the creation of life and takes visitors (and little bears!) inside the heart of nature. The artwork features crows, rendered in light, that fly around the space leaving trails of light in their path. Swooping through the space and chasing one another, the crows collide, creating colourful flowers in their wake. They represent the Yatagarasu, a three-legged crow described in Japanese mythology, which is believed to be the embodiment of the Sun. The formation of flowers resulting from the crows’ collisions alludes to the genesis of life from the Sun’s energy.

An incredible experience!

Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are Destined to be Chased as well, Transcending Space
Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are Destined to be Chased as well, Transcending Space
Black Waves
Black Waves

Black Waves
2016
Digital Installation, Continuous Loop
Artwork by teamLab, Sound by Hideaki Takahashi

Black Waves is an expression of nature, rendered entirely by digital technology. It depicts the sea in the style of traditional Japanese painting. In the Japanese tradition, oceans, rivers and bodies of water are often represented as a series of curvilinear lines. The movement of those lines gives the impression that water itself is alive.

Black Waves
Sliding through the Fruit Field
Flowers and People, Cannot be Controlled but Live Together – A Whole Year Per Year
Sketch Town
Sketch Aquarium
Light Ball Orchestra
Light Ball Orchestra
Media Block Chairs

Consisting of fiberglass light cube chairs, these cubes can be seen as the building blocks. Adults and children alike are invited to construct high-tech furniture, like chairs and benches, or architectural structures such as walls and partitions. Each block communicates information to each other when they are connected, changing colour in the process. The installation encourages visitors to be both innovative and practical in the process of creation.

Little bears thought the cubes had the right idea, some time out to recharge 🙂

Media Block Chairs
Please leave me alone – I’m recharging.

Have you eaten?

Every country has its own culture, social mannerisms; etiquette and habits.

In Singapore it is common to be greeted with “Have you eaten?” or “Where are you going?” instead of “Good Morning / Afternoon / Evening” or “How are you?”

Of course, it was 3 days before I remembered this… until then I took the question literally, while finding it quite odd 🙂 No doubt they found my literal answer odd 🙂 Angmoh!

It all stems from Singapore’s early days, before they were established as a nation, and probably originated in China. Most people were poor and food was scarce, so if you met a friend in the street you would ask him if he had eaten yet. If he answered no, it was usually because he could not afford to buy food, so you would invite him back to your house to share what little you had. On another occasion they might reciprocate the gesture and in this way everyone shared their food with everyone else. Of course, nowadays it has become a rhetorical question, more of a greeting than a genuine inquiry into one’s welfare.

Food in Singapore is a national obsession. Everyone eats all the time. Every housing block has a food court with 20 or more stalls serving delicious Chinese, Malay, Indian, Thai or Indonesian food. Many food courts are open 24 hours, and outside of the housing blocks these eateries are sometimes known as hawker centers. All major hotels have an international buffet and the streets beside the Singapore River are lined with restaurants. Eating out is so relatively inexpensive that it doesn’t make sense to cook at home. Just go down to the food court and enjoy a big plate of steaming hot noodles with seafood and a rich gravy for a couple of bucks.

Recognising that “Have you eaten?” is a greeting, part of phatic communication, rather than a request for detailed information or an actual invitation to dine, is part of communicative competence – our ability to connect with others on the basis of shared cultural norms and familiarity with social context and conventions. The same goes for the English “How are you?” being understood as a greeting and not a question about the details of one’s health. Many Singaporeans use the greeting “How are you?” when dealing with Westerners, but obviously not all. No doubt, the odd responses they received to “Have you eaten?” provided an incentive to use a different greeting 🙂

So, back to “Have you eaten?” The answer is “Yes”, without discussing what, if anything, was eaten. In case you’re wondering, my answer was “No”, which no doubt was even more odd given the national obsession with food. And I didn’t expect them to feed me.

Another common greeting “Are you busy?” elicits the response “Very”, a much respected quality in Singaporean culture. The answer to “How’s business?” is “Moderate” since it’s considered rude to talk about success.

The one thing you hear constantly is “Lah”. Singaporeans love to add this to the end of every other sentence. It’s as if this one meaningless word gives the Singlish speaker an extra space that is absent in English to further refine, amplify or otherwise adjust the tone of the entire sentence preceding it. I have noticed that Singaporeans who speak English, as opposed to Singlish, do not use lah.

Lah is used to change the tone of a sentence, and doesn’t have a meaning itself. If you listen closely to the habits of a Singlish speaker, you might be able to tell what tone is being conveyed, and how lah helps. There are so many different ways to use it that it’s difficult to fully explain how it works, but here are some examples:

Can lah. (That’s fine, but with a suggestion that it’s just barely so.)
No lah! (No, and you’re clearly wrong to suggest otherwise.)
Don’t like that lah. (Don’t be like that, but in a slightly placating tone.)

Enough lah! 🙂 Time to go out and face the heat and the humidity 😦

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