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The Spaces In Between

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, December 4, 2015
Seeing and Hearing the Spaces in Between
"With the publication of his general theory of relativity a century ago," New York Times science writer Natalie Angier tells us, "Albert Einstein swept aside traditional notions of a static and unchanging space and instead gave us the stretchy supple miracle fabric of the space-time continuum."

Einsteinian space, she continues, has "heft, shape, and a sense of place," and the ability to bend "around giant suns and plunge down the throats of black holes." As a result, she says, we've never again been able to think of space as an emptiness between earthly objects or a vast nothingness between stars.

The importance of space in art, music, the design of buildings and cities, and social relationships now compels our attention. Angier describes the cultural impact of differently conceived spaces in a New York Times science story. A companion story by Dennis Overbye tells how Einstein spent years working through his theories of a boundless universe where gravity bends light and space-time directs the movement of matter. These difficult mathematically based abstractions have rippled forward in life-changing ways.

The GPS systems used for military navigation, make air travel safer and guide individual drivers and cell phone users to nearest gas stations and restaurants, for example, are based on relativity. Physics Central writer Clifford Will and Discover Magazine blogger C. Renee James explain how 24 satellites orbiting the, earth carrying clocks precise to the nanosecond, provide information that powers the growing multi-billion dollar GPS industry.

Angier's gracefully written story describes how culture influences our own psychological concept of the personal space around our bodies and our perceptions of the spaces in which we work. She describes how sculptor Rachel Whiteread creates what are often called negative spaces in her works, using resin or other materials to fill in places we might expect to be empty, such as the area under a table. She notes French composer Claude Debussy is believed to have said "Music is there space between the notes" and similar observations have been attributed to Mozart. She quotes one art scholar who says artists like Paul Cezanne thought the space between figures was as important as subjects in the foreground and another who cites Jackson Pollock's work as an ideal of "spatial democracy," where there is no background or foreground, and every inch of the canvas is just as important as every other.

And in jazz, where musicians need to listen closely to reach other and respond in intricately related ways, a great individual contribution may be sensing the moment not to play. Paul Haidet, a physician and amateur jazz musician, writes that when doctors create space in communications with patients, patients are able to tell the stories that put their symptoms in medical and personal context. Read Angier's story here and Haidet's article here.

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