Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo at The Western Front. Further details here.
Peter New’s Galileo is a charming man full of frustration and obvious delight, instinctively in love with his passion for the truth, and more susceptible to politics than he would like to believe. When he discovers incontestable proof that the current scientific order of heavens, a mythic selection of nested crystal spheres that encapsulate the earth, upon which are studded all the stars in creation, is patently false, the Roman Catholic Church decides he’s too intelligent for his own good. After all, what use are they if their God did not place Earth in the centre of the universe?
Luxuriously intellectual, the performance begins in Venice, with Galileo at his work table, tutoring a house boy in his theories and critical thinking. He is presented as poor, though brilliant, and a little at familial war with his housekeeper. The set is spare and the minimal costumes effective. (I made note of the Pope, especially.) Immediately, we are drawn into sympathy with Galileo as he struggles to overturn Dogma with Fact in a nation dominated by creepy Inquisitors. The play doesn’t really take off until the advent of the telescope, when astronomy becomes a dangerous and hotly debated subject, propelling Galileo into a risky public spot-light as a possible martyr to knowledge, but when it does, its appeal is instantaneous.
Having more characters than players, the cast was constantly switching between roles. Raphael Kepinsky, for example, flawlessly played both Ludovico, a cocky rich student in love with Galileo’s daughter, and a supercilious Cosimo, so perfectly patronizing that I constantly caught myself checking that he was not standing on tip-toe as to look even further down his nose at the liberal scientists daring to challenge the status-quo. This duality is like a ghostly reflection of the inherent dispute in the play. Every breath drawn is in defense of an argument, and while sometimes painfully amusing, some of the outdated sentiments on stage, innocent with age, are still attached to certain darkness. It occurred to me, uncertain if I could clap louder during the applause, ‘This is an old fight, but we haven’t won it yet.’
For six weird weeks in the fall of 2004, Udo Wächter had an unerring sense of direction. Every morning after he got out of the shower, Wächter, a sysadmin at the University of Osnabrück in Germany, put on a wide beige belt lined with 13 vibrating pads — the same weight-and-gear modules that make a cell phone judder. On the outside of the belt were a power supply and a sensor that detected Earth’s magnetic field. Whichever buzzer was pointing north would go off. Constantly.
“It was slightly strange at first,” Wächter says, “though on the bike, it was great.” He started to become more aware of the peregrinations he had to make while trying to reach a destination. “I finally understood just how much roads actually wind,” he says. Deep into the experiment, Wächter says, “I suddenly realized that my perception had shifted. I had some kind of internal map of the city in my head. I could always find my way home. Eventually, I felt I couldn’t get lost, even in a completely new place.”
On a visit to Hamburg, about 100 miles away, he noticed that he was conscious of the direction of his hometown. Wächter felt the vibration in his dreams, moving around his waist, just like when he was awake. […]
When the original feelSpace experiment ended, Wächter, the sysadmin who started dreaming in north, says he felt lost; like the people wearing the weird goggles in those Austrian experiments, his brain had remapped in expectation of the new input. “Sometimes I would even get a phantom buzzing.” He bought himself a GPS unit, which today he glances at obsessively. One woman was so dizzy and disoriented for her first two post-feelSpace days that her colleagues wanted to send her home from work. “My living space shrank quickly,” says König. “The world appeared smaller and more chaotic.”
During a long brainstorm session, they wondered whether the tongue could actually augment sight for the visually impaired. I tried the prototype; in a white-walled office strewn with spare electronics parts, Wicab neuroscientist Aimee Arnoldussen hung a plastic box the size of a brick around my neck and gave me the mouthpiece. “Some people hold it still, and some keep it moving like a lollipop,” she said. “It’s up to you.”
Arnoldussen handed me a pair of blacked-out glasses with a tiny camera attached to the bridge. The camera was cabled to a laptop that would relay images to the mouthpiece.
I cranked up the voltage of the electric shocks to my tongue. It didn’t feel bad, actually — like licking the leads on a really weak 9-volt battery. […] I walked around the Wicab offices. I managed to avoid most walls and desks, scanning my head from side to side slowly to give myself a wider field of view, like radar. Thinking back on it, I don’t remember the feeling of the electrodes on my tongue at all during my walkabout. What I remember are pictures: high-contrast images of cubicle walls and office doors, as though I’d seen them with my eyes. Tyler’s group hasn’t done the brain imaging studies to figure out why this is so — they don’t know whether my visual cortex was processing the information from my tongue or whether some other region was doing the work.
The author also has a blog about this stuff: sunnybains_feed.