Man Thinking

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I checked into JW Marriott (in Washington DC) for the NAE Annual meeting and was thrilled that my room had a wonderful view of Pennsylvania Avenue and (the top half of) the Washington Monument.

A Room with a View (100% Rotten Tomatoes) is a 1985 British romance film directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant. It is written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who adapted E. M. Forster‘s 1908 novel. It received universal critical acclaim and was a box-office success, and was nominated for eight Academy Awards (including Best Picture), and won three: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design.  Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars, writing: “It is an intellectual film, but intellectual about emotions: It encourages us to think about how we feel, instead of simply acting on our feelings.

Man Thinking is clearly a play on Rodin’s The Thinker and refers to the majestic sculpture of Albert Einstein, by Robert Berks, outside the NAS Building in Washington DC. Excerpting from Charles Hill‘s (1990) article in American Studies International, “Man Thinking”—Nation and Universe: The Einstein Memorial at the National Academy of Sciences:

The most significant works of art summarize an entire culture…The Einstein Memorial may be such work….is a call to return to the serious tradition of studying Asia, exemplified by Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman.

It did not escape me that E.M. Forster titled his novel A Passage to India based on Whitman’s anthology of poems, of the same name, written on the occasion of the opening of the Panama Canal, as he marveled at the engineering involved while musing about (being able to go to) India:

Singing my days,
Singing the great achievements of the present,
Singing the strong light works of engineers,
Our modern wonders, (the antique ponderous Seven outvied,)

Passage to India!
Lo, soul, seest thou not God’s purpose from the first?

The old, most populous, wealthiest of earth’s lands,
The streams of the Indus and the Ganges, and their many affluents,
(I my shores of America walking to-day behold, resuming all,)
The tale of Alexander, on his warlike marches suddenly dying,
On one side China and on the other side Persia and Arabia,
To the south the great seas and the Bay of Bengal,
The flowing literatures, tremendous epics, religions, castes,
Old occult Brahma interminably far back, the tender and junior Buddha,
Central and southern empires and all their belongings, possessors,
The wars of Tamerlane, the reign of Aurungzebe,
The traders, rulers, explorers, Moslems, Venetians, Byzantium, the Arabs, Portuguese,
The first travelers famous yet, Marco Polo, Batouta the Moor,
Doubts to be solv’d, the map incognita, blanks to be fill’d,
The foot of man unstay’d, the hands never at rest,
Thyself O soul that will not brook a challenge.

Passage to more than India!
Are thy wings plumed indeed for such far flights?
Soundest below the Sanscrit and the Vedas?
Then have thy bent unleash’d.

Having made A Passage from India 😏 I recalled Whitman‘s poem with amusement.

Although I prefer kinetic artworkcars! or “moving” sculptures (inspired by Alexander Calder), the one (static) sculptor that I have always enjoyed is Rodin, repeatedly visiting the museums in Paris and Philadelphia, and enjoying coffee in the garden at Stanford during my visit there – so much so that we have two (authorized) replicas of Danaid (in white and black marble) at home.

I remember first spending time gazing at the statue in October 2017 at the reception for new elected members. Continuing to excerpt from Hill‘s article:

The National Academy was chartered during the Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln to be the national government’s premier scientific and technological advisory organization. Election to the Academy has become a coveted honor.

Five years later, returning to the annual meeting, it was even more enjoyable to wander around, as I was getting ready to receive my (replica of the) Einstein Statue at the reception as a recognition of our gift to the NAE. Continuing:

Indeed its site, just to the side of the Mall, but facing it from within a sheltering clump of trees-an almost sacred-seeming grove, invites a wanderer to reflect on the Mall’s array of symbols of patriotism, war, and statesmanship, and perhaps to transcend nationalism to contemplate human endeavor directed at the universal. Einstein, the refugee fleeing the tyranny of the Old World, is here the new American “man thinking,” contemplating meaning on a galactic, eternal scale.

In an almost blatant fashion it is filled with references to ancient Asian thought. Indeed, Einstein in this sculpture by Robert Berks is a “Great Image” in the manner, and with some of the impact, of the Daibutsu at Kamakura… is massive by usual standards of public sculpture in the West (apart from Mount Rushmore). Rodin‘s Thinker is puny by comparison.

The Einstein Memorial rises from, yet transcends national public sculpture. “It refuses to choose between the false alternatives of universal and particular, knowing that an authentic icon, a living tradition, must be both.”

It is at once American, global, and galactic in significance.

Robert Berks has also donated a sculpture of Einstein to Princeton, and I look forward to visiting it during my visit there, presenting my work on Quantum Computing and such.

Here is the NAE announcement of our gift.

Today is October 2nd, which is Mohandas K. Gandhi‘s birthday. What a day to receive the Einstein StatueEinstein, speaking about Gandhi:

Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.

Since I opened with a movie reference, let me close with another:

Gandhi is a 1982 epic period biographical film. It became a commercial success, grossing $127.8 million on a $22 million budget. The film received eleven nominations at the 55th Academy Awards, winning eight, including for the Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor.

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