Michael Century Lecture (Extra Credit)_Michie Cao

This past Thursday, I attended Michael Century’s lecture at the California Nanotech Science Institute.  I thought it was an appropriate culmination to this DESMA Art, Science and Technology course, as his lecture discussed on whole the unification and impact of art and science on society.  


Michael Century started off talking about the stages of interaction between art and science that society had undergone throughout history.  The first apparent “wave” was a period of stability in the middle ages, where society was mainly run under a unified Church system.  As a result of this, most of the information was “compartmentalized”:  there was very little interaction between the different fields and also between theory and practice.  The second “wave”, which Michael Century described as the “Threshold”, came during the Renaissance Era.   In contrast to the last epoch, there was much interaction between theory and practice and scientists and artists.  A fine example of was Galileo, a scientist, and his assistant, Cigoli, an artist.  Interdisciplinary meeting places, such as academies, readily allowed for this free flow or “un-compartmentalization” of information.  They were known as the home of the dilettanti, “those who were interest in many things”.  As a result, there was wave of new inventions, such as the printing press, microscope.   The third wav, a period of re-compartmentalization, occurred after 1600s.  Dualism and specialization were characteristics of this epoch.   Now, we approach the current stage that we are currently at: the “Information Age”, as Michael Century dubs it.  Yet again, it is a period of de-compartmentalization, social fluidity, reflexivity and hybridity. 

As one can see from above, history truly does repeat itself.  In this case, it continues to work in a pattern, alternating between stable and threshold period.   Based on Schumpeter’s graph of the “Waves of Innovation”, these transitions are often triggered by new and significant inventions, such as textiles (in the first wave), steel (in the second) and electricity (in the third).  Currently, we are climbing up the fifth, most recent wave that was prompted by developments in digital networks, media and software.  However, Michael Century points out that this wave differs greatly from all the past ones, in the sense that it relies on “intellectual” technology and not “physical” technology.  As these technologies affect more the way people see and perceive things and not how they do things, the cultural impacts they have on society will potentially be deeper. 

Michael Century ends his lecture, asking us to speculate on the future.  When will the next stability era arrive or will there even be one?  What will be the trigger for the next wave?   Personally, I do not see another “stability” era coming any time soon.   He states that, at this point in time, it is not about inventing new technology, but more about using that technology in new and innovative ways or as Michael Century states, “filling in the dots of the wave”.  Truly, the key to that lies in the unification of art and science.   And after having seen the imaginative and provocative final project proposals of my peers, I definitely think we are doing just that.  With so many new technologies and with art and science interacting ever so closely now, I feel that society will be on a “threshold” and be progressing – in terms of innovation and change – for a very long time.   That we should be able to experience and see these changes take place in our own lifetimes is an extremely exciting thing. 



Michie Cao







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