Edge 196— November 9, 2006
(8,800 words)

By Hubert Burda

More than two thousand years after a ruler, Augustus, used for the very first time the minting technique to bring his face to the people, the possibilities for getting one's picture shown in public have increased many fold. Print media, TV and the Internet have teamed up and have made the motto of the hippie generation of late 60s San Francisco — "Expose yourself!" — a reality.

[...more below]

Science, Religion, Reason and Survival
Salk Institue, La Jolla November 5-7, 2006

Jerry Adler
Scott Atran

William H. Calvin

Paul Davies

Stuart Hameroff

Sam Harris

George Johnson

Lawrence Krauss

Carolyn Porco

V.S Rama-

Terrence Sejnowski

Michael Shermer

Roger Bingham
Director, The Science Network

Edge was on the road this week to attend The Science Network's "Beyond Belief" Conference, at Salk Institute in La Jolla.

The interesting program, organized by Science Network Director Roger Bingham, included more than a dozen Edge contributors such as Jerry Adler, Scott Atran, Mahzarin Banaji, William H. Calvin, Paul Davies, Richard Dawkins, Stuart Hameroff, Sam Harris, George Johnson, Lawrence Krauss, Carolyn Porco, V.S. Ramachandran, Terrence Sejnowski (Chair of the Science Network Advisory Board), and Michael Shermer. Among the other researchers present were Francisco Ayala, Patrcia and Paul Churchland, Melvin Konner, Sir Harold Kroto, Elizabeth Loftus, Loyal Rue, Richard Sloan, Neil de Grasse Tyson, and Steven Weinberg.

[From the "Beyond Belief" program:] Just 40 years after a famous TIME magazine cover asked "Is God Dead?" the answer appears to be a resounding "No!" According to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in a recent issue of Foreign Policy magazine, "God is Winning". Religions are increasingly a geopolitical force to be reckoned with. Fundamentalist movements-some violent in the extreme-are growing. Science and religion are at odds in the classrooms and courtrooms. And a return to religious values is widely touted as an antidote to the alleged decline in public morality. After two centuries, could this be twilight for the Enlightenment project and the beginning of a new age of unreason? Will faith and dogma trump rational inquiry, or will it be possible to reconcile religious and scientific worldviews? Can evolutionary biology, anthropology and neuroscience help us to better understand how we construct belief, and experience empathy, fear, and awe? Can science help us create a new rational narrative as poetic and powerful as those that have traditionally sustained societies? Can we treat religion as a natural phenomenon? Can we be good without God? And if not God, then what?

This is a critical moment in the human situation, and The Science Network in association with the Crick-Jacobs Center is bringing together an extraordinary group of scientists, philosophers, political commentators and writers to explore answers to these questions.

By George Smoot, Recipient, The 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics

Aesthetic arguments, while useful as development tools, especially when there are no observations to guide the effort, made me uneasy—seemed a throwback to Greek reasoning about the celestial spheres. More recently, I came to realize that Einstein based special relativity not on pure thought alone but upon a great deal of physical observation and codifying theory—in particular, electromagnetism and the theory of light via James Clerk Maxwell's equations. Einstein was certainly aware of Lorentz's work, but was coming from the Maxwell side, not the Michelson-Morley results. He was reducing these ideas down to two essential postulates added onto the existing physics: (1) The speed of light is definite and independent of the speed of the source or of the observer, and (2) the laws of physics are the same in every inertial frame. From these two postulates and thought experiments, one can derive all the consequences of special relativity, including the Lorentz transformations, time dilation, length contraction, loss of simultaneity, E=mc2, and the lot!

[...more below]

Video interviews with Daniel C. Dennett & Marc D. Hauser from The Future of Science conference in Venice, Italy in September of 2006. The theme was evolution and as the organizers themselves state: "Evolution is a central concept in many spheres of human endeavour, ranging from astrophysics and genetics to philosophy and psychology. Reflection about evolution is reflection about ourselves, our future and our place in the universe:

Watch Daniel C. Dennett
Watch Marc D. Hauser


With an Introduction by STEVEN PINKER
and an Afterword

An endlessly fascinating and provocative insight into the bleeding-edge of intellectual endeavour.

Not all ideas are for positive, constructive change. Some ideas are controversial, even disturbing.

As Steven Pinker points out, many discoveries in the history of science were considered socially, morally or emotionally dangerous in their time., the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are obvious examples . And many ideas that resonate today are dangerous too, not because they are assumed to be false, but because they might just — turn out to be true.

What do the world's leading scientists and thinkers consider to be their most dangerous idea? Through the leading online forum www. edge.org, the word went out. As as with the 2005 Question, "What do you believe to be true but cannot prove?", the answers provided were as fascinating as they were varied, and as provocative as they were thought-provoking.

Featuring such luminaries as Jared diamond, Sir martin Rees, Brian Greene Matt Ridley and Freeman Dyson, this collection covers a huge range3 of topics from perennial concerns about the "afterlife" to the future of democracy and the very nature of reality.

As compelling and easily digestible as its predecessor, What We Believe But Cannot Prove, this new compendium is a fascinating insight into the deepest concerns of some of the most brilliant minds alive.

Praise for What We Believe But Cannot Prove:

"A fascinating exercise"

"A stimulating salon of speculation"

"A stellar cast of thinkers tackles the really big questions facing scientists"

TIME | Cover
November 13, 2006


A spirited debate between atheist biologist Richard Dawkins and Christian geneticist Francis Collins.

We revere faith and scientific progress, hunger for miracles and for MRIs. But are the worldviews compatible? TIME convenes a debate

...Roman Catholicism's Christoph Cardinal Schönborn has dubbed the most fervent of faith-challenging scientists followers of "scientism" or "evolutionism," since they hope science, beyond being a measure, can replace religion as a worldview and a touchstone. It is not an epithet that fits everyone wielding a test tube. But a growing proportion of the profession is experiencing what one major researcher calls "unprecedented outrage" at perceived insults to research and rationality, ranging from the alleged influence of the Christian right on Bush Administration science policy to the fanatic faith of the 9/11 terrorists to intelligent design's ongoing claims. Some are radicalized enough to publicly pick an ancient scab: the idea that science and religion, far from being complementary responses to the unknown, are at utter odds--or, as Yale psychologist Paul Bloom has written bluntly, "Religion and science will always clash." The market seems flooded with books by scientists describing a caged death match between science and God--with science winning, or at least chipping away at faith's underlying verities.

Finding a spokesman for this side of the question was not hard, since Richard Dawkins, perhaps its foremost polemicist, has just come out with The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin), the rare volume whose position is so clear it forgoes a subtitle. The five-week New York Times best seller (now at No. 8) attacks faith philosophically and historically as well as scientifically, but leans heavily on Darwinian theory, which was Dawkins' expertise as a young scientist and more recently as an explicator of evolutionary psychology so lucid that he occupies the Charles Simonyi professorship for the public understanding of science at Oxford University.

Dawkins is riding the crest of an atheist literary wave. In 2004, The End of Faith, a multipronged indictment by neuroscience grad student Sam Harris, was published (over 400,000 copies in print). Harris has written a 96-page follow-up, Letter to a Christian Nation, which is now No. 14 on the Times list. Last February, Tufts University philosopher Daniel Dennett produced Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, which has sold fewer copies but has helped usher the discussion into the public arena.

If Dennett and Harris are almost-scientists (Dennett runs a multidisciplinary scientific-philosophic program), the authors of half a dozen aggressively secular volumes are card carriers: In Moral Minds, Harvard biologist Marc Hauser explores the--nondivine--origins of our sense of right and wrong (September)..."

[...proceed to debate (subscription required)]

November 13, 2006

A Dissent: The Case Against Faith
Why Religion and Politics Don't Mix

By Sam Harris

Despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of life and the greater antiquity of the Earth, more than half the American population believes that the entire cosmos was created 6,000 years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue. Those with the power to elect presidents and congressmen—and many who themselves get elected—believe that dinosaurs lived two by two upon Noah's Ark, that light from distant galaxies was created en route to the Earth and that the first members of our species were fashioned out of dirt and divine breath, in a garden with a talking snake, by the hand of an invisible God.

This is embarrassing. But add to this comedy of false certainties the fact that 44 percent of Americans are confident that Jesus will return to Earth sometime in the next 50 years, and you will glimpse the terrible liability of this sort of thinking. Given the most common interpretation of Biblical prophecy, it is not an exaggeration to say that nearly half the American population is eagerly anticipating the end of the world. It should be clear that this faith-based nihilism provides its adherents with absolutely no incentive to build a sustainable civilization—economically, environmentally or geopolitically. Some of these people are lunatics, of course, but they are not the lunatic fringe. We are talking about the explicit views of Christian ministers who have congregations numbering in the tens of thousands. These are some of the most influential, politically connected and well-funded people in our society.


October 26, 2006

Researchers Crusade against American Fundamentalists
By Jörg Blech

In the United States, atheists are becoming an ostracized minority. But now evolutionary biologists are trying to turn the tables: According to their argument, religion is the source of evil. Morals and selflessness are not God-given - they are the result of evolution.

When Richard Dawkins, a zoologist at Oxford University, steps up to the altar he seems visibly pleased to see the pews in the church fully occupied. In the best Queen's English, he reads from his book: "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."

At first his words are greeted with laughter, and then with resounding applause from his audience of 600. Despite the venue, the spectacle that took place last Thursday in the First Parish Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts was in fact the opposite of a religious service. Indeed, if the man delivering the sermon had his way, he would in fact be jettisoning religious faith altogether....


More than two thousand years after a ruler, Augustus, used for the very first time the minting technique to bring his face to the people, the possibilities for getting one's picture shown in public have increased many fold. Print media, TV and the Internet have teamed up and have made the motto of the hippie generation of late 60s San Francisco — "Expose yourself!" — a reality.

By Hubert Burda


According to Hubert Burda, "In today's media society, in which hundreds of different media compete for the attention of viewers, readers and listeners, a great deal of importance is attached to presenting oneself." In the following essay he goes much deeper than the typical discussions of visual representation in the Internet Age and writes about self-presentation in portraits from Jan van Eyck to Andy Warhol and examines the images people want to have of themselves.

Burda is eminently qualified to write on his subject. Trained as an art historian, he is himself a painter, in addition to being one of Germany's media moguls (see "Hubert Burda — Germany's Agent of Change"). In 1993, Burda, synthesizing his experience as an art historian and a connoisseur of fine arts with his understanding of New Media, recognized that the use of digital imaging technology changed the ratio of costs between photography and print in magazine publishing from 5-1 to 1-1. Armed with "Burda's Algorithm" he moved to quickly establish Focus Magazine, one of the great German economic success stories of the 1990s.

Today, Burda is the largest provider of German language content on the Internet. "The opportunities of personal representation and self-presentation have become democratised to an extent that would have been unimaginable many years ago," he writes. "Nowadays anyone who wants to draw attention to themselves and communicate to the public an image of themselves can to all intents and purposes do so."


HUBERT BURDA is publisher and chairman of the board of Hubert Burda Media, publishing 258 magazines inside and outside Germany (including Focus, Bunte). The company also holds stakes in numerous digital enterprises, radio networks, TV productions and direct marketing, and is a leading publisher in several Eastern European countries, as well as in Russia and Turkey.

Hubert Burda's Edge Bio Page


In today's media society, in which hundreds of different media compete for the attention of viewers, readers and listeners, a great deal of importance is attached to presenting oneself. Those who know how to present themselves get noticed, and a whole raft of consultants from different horizons make sure that their protégés are presented as effectively as possible. The opportunities of personal representation and self-presentation have become democratised to an extent that would have been unimaginable many years ago. Nowadays anyone who wants to draw attention to themselves and communicate to the public an image of themselves can to all intents and purposes do so.

As a publisher in a media company with a global presence, who is confronted on a daily basis with a plethora of images of people portraying themselves to the media, but who has remained in close touch with his field of study — art history – I naturally am always interested in the history of such phenomena. I should therefore like to take a look back at the early stages of modern portrait art and follow its development from then until now from the following perspective: what does the self-presentation of the people being portrayed say about the image that they have of themselves and that they want to convey to a specific community?

I take a consciously undogmatic approach to this and pick out just a few significant examples, which I believe are characteristic of the forms of self-presentation we see nowadays. Most of the portraits I present in this paper we know were commissioned. Although there are only a few cases – such as the portrait of Napoleon on horseback by Jacques Louis David – where we know that the person who commissioned the work approved greatly of this mode of pictorial representation, as regards commissioned portraits we can basically assume that those were largely identical to the image that the persons being portrayed had of themselves and wanted to convey through the portrait.

My analysis of portraits deliberately does not focus on the great self-portraits of artists, which the genre spawned over the course of the century, from the enigmatic self-portraits of Rembrandt in costume to the inimitable personal accounts of Cézanne and Max Beckmann.

What these portraits of artists show bears no relation to what interests me about self portrayals. Because, unlike portraits of members of the middle class, these portraits do not reveal anything about the new self-assurance of a class whose standing had risen, but are rather the expression of an existential wonder of the cosmos, their own lives and the period and environment in which the artists lived.

The images I have drawn on for my reflections can be described, to use an expression coined by my professor, Hans Sedlmayr, as "critical forms" of their time. The critical forms approach makes it possible, when analysing works of art, "to draw on extremely diverse phenomena from a source which is the unifying centre of otherwise unrelated, unchallengable factors from art and cultural history." We can thus fall back on "low forms" of artistic expression. [1] The latter in particular enables us relatively easily to create a link with current forms of individual representation.

I would like to start with a painting from the early days of modern portrait art, which, in my opinion, is characteristic of all the new possibilities of expression in this mode of painting: Jan van Eyck's "Man in a Turban", 1432.

Fig. 1 [click to enlarge]
Demonstration of the new middle-class self-assurance: Man in A Turban by Jan van Eyck, 1432, National Gallery, London

This painting is generally regarded by more recent research as a self-portrait of the artist. According to Hans Belting, the gaze of the man in the portrait is so self-assured and inquiring that one can scarcely take one's eyes off him, [2] and the headwear, a bulky red turban with "a strangely bound turban", denotes "the vanity of the artist in relation to his self-portrayal ". The portrait of Jan van Eyck whom Hans Belting holds responsible for the invention of painting, bears powerful testimony to the new self-assurance of a class whose standing had risen and their pretension to express this in their portraits.

The period between 1400 and 1450, during which the portrait was painted, was marked by two very different artistic currents: In Italy, Alberti's treatise on painting laid the foundations for his future theory on perspective; at the same time, in the trading towns of Gent and Bruges, which had close commercial ties with Italy, with the result that new artistic ideas were quickly exported, a completely new reality in terms of pictorial representation was emerging. Hans Belting sees in the fusion of the two — the schematic, inner-visual aesthetics of Italian art and the pragmatism of the new middle-class culture in the North — the basis for the invention of painting as a genre. For him, portrait art is a symbol of a painted anthropology, in which the inner and outer visions of the world are fused. [3]

The modern portrait, which Jan van Eyck's self-portrait embodies, was born out of the reciprocal tension between the established nobility and those rising to the middle-classes.

Whoever managed to climb the social ladder automatically won the right, so to speak, to have their own portrait painted, which in earlier times had been the preserve of the saints. Using a few examples, I would now like to show how those classes which were climbing the social ladder at that time used the portrait to give visibility to their claim to power and status, how the painted portrait lost this function following the invention of photography and how the portrait, as a result of the opening up of the media to anyone wanting to get themselves seen, has been superseded by other forms of expression.

Dürer's famous engraving of Erasmus of Rotterdam reflects perfectly the rationale behind portraits of the middle classes at that time, namely that they were intended to be the staged imago of an individual: On the one hand, the engraving is a portrait and, as such, resembles Erasmus, but at the same time it also reflects, in the way that it presents this great humanist, his personal, cultural and historical importance.

Fig. 2
[click to enlarge]
Presenting a middle-class humanist: Erasmus of Rotterdam, copperplate engraving by Albrecht Dürer, 1526

Dürer also portrays studiolo decoration, like those seen in many of Hieronymus's works, and in doing so identifies the person being portrayed as a scholar. The use of the copperplate engraving technique, which emerged in the Upper Rhine region at around the same time as the oil paintings of the van Eyck brothers, and was, along with the woodcut technique, the first pictorial medium that found an easy way of making copies, indicates that the portrait was designed to convey a certain image of the humanist to interested members of the public. The inscription on the board next to Erasmus provides an additional explanation as to how the picture should be interpreted: the artist is disassociating the imago and the effigy of Erasmus and points out to the beholder in Latin and Greek that the real image of Erasmus can only be understood through the works that are pictured in the foreground.

An excellent example of the great claim that middle-class merchants, who had now moved up the social ladder, laid to having their portraits painted is Hans Holbein's portrait of the merchant Georg Gisze, dated 1532.

Fig. 3
[click to enlarge]
A display of credibility and market knowledge: Portrait of the merchant Georg Gisze by Hans Holbein, 1532, Gemäldegalerie Berlin

There is no detail in this portrait of a proud young man that cannot be attributed to this claim for his standing in society to be represented, from the Oriental rug, the Vase filled with cloves and rosemary, the graceful balance and the golden table clock to the hand stamp bearing the tradesman's mark. Gisze became, as a result of this portrait, a Mercator doctus, a merchant on the cutting-edge of society at that time. He was born in Danzig, but wanted to be presented as a successful merchant on the London trading exchange in order to convey a certain image of himself to the inner circle of merchants in the City. The contracts and many other objects surrounding the merchant are meant, above all, to mark him out as an extremely credible person in money matters and a good connoisseur of world markets. This was of great importance during the period of rule of Henry VIII, since it was at this time that the first wave of globalisation was taking place.

Portrait presentations of the recently elevated middle classes led to the creation of yet another genre in the form of the Dutch group portraits. An excellent example of this is Rembrandt's portrait of "The Syndics of the Clothmaker's Guild", dated 1662, which hung in the main room of the guild in Amsterdam along with five other group portraits of its members.

Fig. 4 [click to enlarge]
Strength lies in a group of like-minded people: The Syndics of the Clothmaker's Guild by Rembrandt, 1662, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

At this juncture I shall disregard the research into the significance of this painting and focus on the group portrait in terms of it being a critical phenomenon of Dutch portrait painting. Through this genre something came to pass in middle-class Holland that was an anomaly in the absolutist Europe of that time: The individual was portrayed as a member of a like-minded group and constituted within this group its "imaginary, ideal image, namely that of a harmonious, conflict-free relationship between individuals and the community ". [4] The recently successful elites felt at their strongest within a group and, through this type of group portrait, they set middle-class self-assurance in opposition to the absolutist court society.

At around the same time that Rembrandt painted the The Syndics of the Clothmaker's Guild in Amsterdam, the 23-year-old King of France, Louis XIV, was informing his ministers that he would be taking control of state affairs, thus becoming Head of State, before going on to dismiss most of them. In keeping with his motto, "In my heart I prefer fame above all else", he later had a portrait of himself posing as the absolutist ruler painted by Hyacinthe Rigaud.

Fig. 5 [click to enlarge]
Depiction of a claim to absolute power: Louis XIV. by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701, Louvre, Paris

The portrait shows the 63-year-old ruler in a pose that expresses perfectly his claim to absolute power: He is draped in his heavy royal blue coronation robes ornamented with the French fleur-de-lys, has one foot placed slightly to the fore, his right hand on his sceptre, his left resting on his sword. A truly regal posture and an appearance that one could hardly imagine more magnificent. The highly theatrical nature of the depiction conveyed by the painting is reinforced by the powerful drapery that the king is posing in front of, as well as the light that is being projected from the foreground as if from a spotlight.

Similarly theatrical in nature, but also drawing on the tradition of painting portraits of emperors on horseback, is Jacques Louis David's portrait, 100 years later, of the then 31-yearold Napoleon Bonaparte, who at that time had headed a coup that put an end to revolutionary rule and had established himself as First Consul and Head of State.

Fig. 6 [click to enlarge]
Pretensions to rule: the emperor posing on horseback: Napoleon crossing the St. Bernard Pass, by Jacques Louis David, 1800, Museum in Malmaison

The portrait shows Napoleon in a flowing cape on a rearing white horse. His right hand is pointing towards the St. Bernard Pass, which must be safely crossed with an army of 30 000 men. On the rocks in the bottom left-hand corner his name, as well as those of his great role models, Hannibal and Carolus Magnus, are hewn in the stone. Legend has it that Napoleon did not cross the Alps on the back of a noble horse, which would barely have been able to stand up to the ice-cold conditions of the journey, but rather on the back of a mule. However, this portrait is not meant to be an exact depiction of his crossing the pass with a huge army, which was a heroic act that secured victory for the French army over the Austrians. The portrait of the Emperor on horseback was supposed to depict the First Consul's claim to political power. In Napoleon's eyes, David had found such a convincing way of doing this that he commissioned him to paint three replicas of the portrait.

The portrait as an expression of seeing oneself as a ruler reached a pinnacle with David's magnificent portrait of Napoleon, but this was a solitary success since, by this time, the heyday of portrait painting had already been and gone. A period of technological progress had opened, which was to leave its mark very firmly on portrait art. In 1826 in Chalon-sur-Saone Nicéphore Niépce took the first ever photograph with an exposure time of 8 hours. This invention was to spell disaster for French portrait painters.

It has been estimated that at that time around 20 000 painters in Paris alone depended on this for their living. Over the next 15 years, over half of them would find themselves out of work. People who wanted to have their portraits taken felt that a photograph could give them a more faithful visual representation of the image of themselves that they wanted to see than a painting could. Henceforth, fewer and fewer people wanted to have their portraits painted, especially as photography techniques were developing so quickly that by 1841 the first major photography exhibition had been held in Paris.

Over the next few decades, many figurative paintings by artists such as Delacroix, Manet and Cézanne bear eloquent testimony to the artist's quest for new outlets for his work. The Munich-based artist, Franz von Lenbach, found an original and clever approach, as shown in his portraits of Chancellor Bismarck, which achieved a successful symbiosis between photography and painting. Lenbach, who brought a touch of genius to Bismarck's portraits, hit upon the public taste of that period. His portraits, which were marketed, so to speak, in the form of postcards and albums, alluded to the political greatness of a great man from a great era.

However, as of 1900, artistic tastes ("Kunstwollen"), as defined by Riegel, headed in a completely different direction. With the emergence of a new generation of artists and paintings by Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka, the French Fauve painters and the "Brücke" artists from Dresden with Ernst Ludwig Kirchner at the fore, portrait painting experienced a renaissance and developed a quality that set it apart from photography, which at that time still only afforded very limited possibilities. The most innovative artist within this genre was Picasso, who experimented with every option possible in portrait painting, and came up with such diverse creations as his 1906 portrait of Gertrude Stein and his 1941 portrait of Dora Maar.

The extent of the difficulties that the demise of realism spelt in general for panel painting as a medium of representation can be seen by taking a look at Georg Meistermann's portrait of former Chancellor, Willy Brandt. The painting constitutes a critical form of the representative portrait insomuch as it is representative of the artistic tastes of a particular period, but it provides virtually no recognisable feature of the person being portrayed and fails to reflect his standing. At any rate, and this was the noise coming out of Willy Brandt's inner circle at that time – he in fact never officially commented on the portrait — , his blood-red, virtually abstract portrait meant little to him. His successor, Helmut Schmidt, had the portrait removed from the gallery in the Chancellery, and Helmut Kohl replaced it with a realistic portrait of Brandt.

Fig. 7 [click to enlarge]
Barely any recognisable features of the person being portrayed: Portrait of Willy Brandt by Georg Meistermann, 1978, Landesvertretung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Berlin

At the same time that Meistermann was putting the finishing touches to his unpopular portrait of the Chancellor, Andy Warhol was reinventing the portrait genre by developing a technique that combined the technique of the photographic image with silkscreen printing and acrylic overpainting techniques. His works, which bestowed an icon-like aura upon the people he portrayed, became the authoritative portrait mode of a new international community of celebrities.

Warhol was particularly interested in how reality was reflected in the visual world of the mass media. Warhol had a special interest in the legends of Hollywood stars of past and present, such as Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor und Marilyn Monroe, which the young, smalltown boy had grown up with. The visual repertoire of the celebrity cult first emerged in the 1930s with the emergence of the new stars of talking movies, such as Greta Garbo, Marlene Dittrich or Jean Harlow. Warhol was fascinated by the uniformity of the make-up and presentation of star portraits, and how, apart from minor changes, this has remained the case right up until the present day. Warhol got the pictures he used to create his silkscreen prints from film posters, illustrated photos and the photo pages of tabloid newspapers, which reported on the most recent events in the lives of the film stars of that era.

Fig. 8 [click to enlarge]
Iconic portrayal of an actress in the 1930s: Greta Garbo on the poster for the film "Mata Hari", 1931

Fig. 9 [click to enlarge]
The staged portrait of a star as an ageless creation: a film still of Greta Garbo playing Mata Hari

Fig. 10 [click to enlarge]
Revival of the star portrait using modern technology: Greta Garbo as Mata Hari by Andy Warhol, 1981, silkscreen print with acrylic overpainting

The iconic portraits, in the style of star portraits, which Warhol made of internationally renowned celebrities, were extremely popular. Warhol had evidently tapped into the pulse of the age. The way in which he portrayed people using technology also had a great influence on advertising.

The urge for visual representation has remained right through to the present day. However, visual arts and painting no longer play an important role. For members of the media society the only question of importance is: "How often do I appear in the media, in which ones, and how often am I quoted?" The whys and wherefores of this can vary greatly. An actor's photo is placed on the front cover of a TV magazine in order to increase the audience ratings of a given programme. A politician, who is in the public eye thanks to his appearances on a host of talk shows, is interested in enhancing his own popularity ratings. An author, whose latest novel is discussed on a book programme, hopes that this will lead to more copies of his novel being sold.

Andy Warhol had a profound conviction that "Images need to be shared". The better known your face is in the new economy of attention seeking, the higher your market value and your personal rate of return. "How many entries in Google do you have?" is a question that today's twentysomethings ask each other in order to check how important they are.

The aim of other questions, such as "How many people read my weblog and respond to it?" or "How many photos are there of me on the Flickr platform?" is to ascertain how one's role and standing are being portrayed and relayed. In fact, the search engine A9 contains a tool that enables you to find all the written content and images that have been published about you by online newspapers and magazines.

The boundaries between the public and private spheres are becoming increasingly blurred. New media are thereby able to take over old functions, such as the large advertising billboards with portraits of famous personalities splashed across them that can be seen in all major cities across the globe. One can, with a bit of imagination, see in this trend a continuation of the mural paintings of the Renaissance, with the notable difference that today's images generate advertising revenue. The portrait photo of prominent figures has become an advertising medium that draws our attention towards a brand or a product and makes them more valuable and desirable.

During the 2006 Football World Cup, the sportswear firm Adidas, which makes the German football squad's strip and is one of the main sponsors of the World Cup, showed portrait images of the football stars on its payroll, such as Michael Ballack, Oliver Kahn und David Beckham, on TV, in print and online media and on huge outdoor billboards. The estimated cost of 500 million euros to run this campaign shows how much influence prominent figures are deemed to have on the image and turnover of a brand nowadays.

Fig. 11 [click to enlarge]
Image campaign using portraits of prominent figures: Outdoor advertisement for Adidas featuring Oliver Kahn, 2006, Munich Airport
[photo credit: German News Agency "ddp"]

More than two thousand years after a ruler, Augustus, used for the very first time the minting technique to bring his face to the people, the possibilities for getting one's picture shown in public have increased many-fold. Print media, TV and the Internet have teamed up and have made the motto of the hippie generation of late 60s San Francisco — "Expose yourself!" — a reality.

Nowadays anyone who wants to draw attention to themselves can. The Internet enables us to become multi-media media producers. Since it started up a year ago, over 50 million people have already uploaded personal short videos onto the video platform YouTube.com. The portrait which enabled the new middle-classes of the 15th century, following their rise in status, to fulfill their desire for representation, has experienced many changes over the centuries. These have related on the one hand, to developments in society and, on the other, to technological innovations. However, the claim to representation made by the aspiring classes has remained and can serve as a marker for the development of portrait forms over the course of the 21st century.

[1] Methoden der Kunstgeschichte — Zu drei Vorträgen von H. Sedlmayr, in: Salzburger Museumsblätter Jg. 36, Nr. 2, Juni 1975, 15f.

[2] Hans Belting, Christiane Kruse: Die Erfindung des Gemäldes, München 1994, 151

[3] Hans Belting, Christiane Kruse, op. cit., 51

[4] Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat: Rembrandt und der bürgerliche Subjektentwurf: Utopie oder Verdrängung? In: Bilder der Nation. Kulturelle und politische Konstruktion des Nationalen am Beginn der europäischen Moderne, hrsg. von Ulrich Bielefeld und Gisela Engel, Hamburg 1998, 5 [www.uni-ak.ac.at/kunstgeschichte/lehrkoerper/hammer]


Aesthetic arguments, while useful as development tools, especially when there are no observations to guide the effort, made me uneasy—seemed a throwback to Greek reasoning about the celestial spheres. More recently, I came to realize that Einstein based special relativity not on pure thought alone but upon a great deal of physical observation and codifying theory—in particular, electromagnetism and the theory of light via James Clerk Maxwell's equations. Einstein was certainly aware of Lorentz's work, but was coming from the Maxwell side, not the Michelson-Morley results. He was reducing these ideas down to two essential postulates added onto the existing physics: (1) The speed of light is definite and independent of the speed of the source or of the observer, and (2) the laws of physics are the same in every inertial frame. From these two postulates and thought experiments, one can derive all the consequences of special relativity, including the Lorentz transformations, time dilation, length contraction, loss of simultaneity, E=mc2, and the lot!

By George Smoot, Recipient, The 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics


Last month, Edge contributor Berkeley astrophysicist George Smoot was awarded the Nobel prize in Physics (along with Nasa's John Mather). In 1992, Smoot made headlines around the world with his images of the birth of the universe, the beginning of time itself, taken with the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) space probe. Backed by a large team, Smoot used COBE to pick up the faint whispers left by the cosmic explosion of creation almost 14 billion years ago, revealing embryonic structures in the baby universe. When he announced their astonishing find, Stephen Hawking said it was "the discovery of the century, if not all time."

Ever since, there has been increasing recognition of the importance of his work. Cobe was followed by WMap, and "Plank" will launch in 200x. Also, next year the Large hadron Collider (LHC) launches at Cern. Smoot's  Nobel prize is the confirmation of the importance of his work that has led to the elevation of cosmology to a precision science. Smoot's research stands at a momentous intersection of the empirical and the epistemological: by confirming the reality of the Big Bang with precise calculations, we have entered a new age, the golden age of cosmology.Last year Smoot was honored as the Albert Einstein scientist. he also wrote the following essay, "My Einstein's Suspenders" which was recently published in My Einstein.

GEORGE F. SMOOT is the leader of a group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that conducts experiments observing our galaxy and the cosmic background radiation. The best known of these is COBE (the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite), which has shown that the cosmic background radiation intensity has a wavelength dependence precisely that of a perfectly absorbing body, indicating that it is the relic radiation from the Big Bang. For this work, has been awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize for physics. He shares the award with John C. Mather of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The citation reads "for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation."

He is the author (with Keay Davidson) of Wrinkles in Time.

George Smoot's Edge Bio page


Albert Einstein is such a towering figure that he long ago achieved the status of public icon. Once, needing suspenders for a tuxedo, I went shopping and found a limited choice of patterns: boring geometric, Marilyn Monroe, and Albert Einstein. After much thought, I settled on the last.
Here's one of the ubiquitous anecdotes I heard many years ago and particularly appreciate now. It became a tradition in Einstein's later years for him to grant interviews to the press on his birthday. One year a reporter asked him whether he could imagine having lived a different life. Would he have been happy in another profession? After a moment of reflection, Einstein replied, "I think I would have enjoyed being a plumber." After this remark was reported, the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union AFL in Washington DC voted to grant Einstein an honorary membership, and later a New York plumbers' local presented him with a gold-plated set of plumbers' tools. Einstein was said to be highly pleased. One day, Einstein's neighbor, a younger physicist, came over and asked to borrow a pipe wrench because his kitchen sink was leaking. Einstein replied, "Sure, if you'll let me help. You don't know how long I have been waiting to use it!" 

As a do-it-yourselfer myself, I like to picture Einstein with his gold-plated wrench and his legs sticking out from under the sink, dirty water dripping on him as he tries to get the connection properly fitted without skinning his knuckles. Einstein was not known as a hands-on physicist—that is, an experimentalist—but as a thinker, a theoretician. When I was a neophyte physicist, my primary scientific hero and role model was Enrico Fermi, who was superb both as a theorist and an experimentalist. From several people I have heard the story of his stunning insouciance on the day in 1942 when the world's first nuclear reactor, which he and his team had built at the University of Chicago, was ready to be tested. Just before it was to go operational for the first time, he called a break for lunch. Only after lunch did the team return and successfully initiate the first sustained nuclear reaction. Fermi went on to Los Alamos as one of the leaders in the Manhattan Project, but he wasn't just a tinkerer. In the 1920s, he and Paul A. M. Dirac worked out the quantum behavior of half-integral spin particles. In this period, Einstein developed the ideas of Satyendranath Bose to understand the statistics of integral spin particles.  Fermi was nicknamed the Pope by his colleagues, because of his reputation for scientific infallibility.

In the early phase of my career, my research was influenced almost equally by the work of Fermi and of Einstein. There were times, however, when I felt that Einstein was getting more public attention and credit than was warranted, relative to the scientific contribution of others. The press, and thus the public, will often focus on an individual, especially one who captures the imagination and seems accessible. Einstein had an attractively human side, as his plumbing aspirations indicate; perhaps on the day he confessed them to the press he was wistfully hoping for a chance to lead a normal life of independence, such as a plumber might. Fermi, outstanding in both experiment and theory but not as iconic a public figure, seemed like a better role model to me at the time, a sentiment shared by a number of my colleagues. We made much of our scientific lineage, tracing it back through our PhD advisors to Fermi, and on back to Galileo. It was through this handing down of training, technique, and scientific attitudes that we felt we had become genuine research scientists. Einstein's approach and Einstein's history seemed at odds with this idea of a scientific lineage. His image was that of the outsider, the solitary genius whose startling new ideas burst from an unexpected quarter.

Later, as science and my career advanced and changed, I found my daily life, both research and teaching, more and more directly affected by Einstein's work. Much of Fermi's theoretical efforts were absorbed into the fabric of a larger model of physics. Einstein's relativities, special and general, continue whole cloth. For many decades, most physicists have treated them as effectively sacrosanct. There were those who were disturbed by the implications and tried to modify or subvert relativity theory; they were regarded as misguided and off track. The several early experimental verifications aside, the theories' beauty and intrinsic symmetry alone seemed a powerful indication of their correctness. Ultimately, in physics, observation and experiment are the final arbiter, and in the last decade there has been a shifting of attitude toward general relativity and a growing acceptance of the idea that it will eventually be supplanted by a more advanced theory, much as Einstein's relativity theories supplanted Newtonian physics.

When you are young, you want to learn the work and theory that has preceded you, and then you want to go beyond. As you get older and have done research and taught for a while, you develop an interest in understanding the thought processes of your predecessors in physics and the trial and error aspects of their work. You see that rarely does an idea or result leap full-blown from the mind, like Venus rising from the sea. Much more often there are starts and stops, blind alleys, and a lot of plain, dull work before things emerge or the epiphany occurs—prolonged labor before the actual birth. I have often wondered what special abilities and circumstances led Einstein to his breakthroughs in the miracle year of 1905. When I taught special relativity to my physics students at Berkeley, I tended, like many of my colleagues, to follow a well-worn path: first, the Michelson-Morley experiment ("The most important thing that ever happened in Cleveland"), with its null result on the motion of Earth through the so-called luminerifous aether (thought to be the medium carrying light waves) and its demonstration that the speed of light is constant. Then the hypothesis put forth by George Fitzgerald to account for this result: that lengths contract in the direction of motion. Then the work of Hendrik Lorentz, who produced the formulas that connect space and time in one frame of reference to another moving at a velocity. Then Einstein's revelation of a whole new perspective, through the transformations we call special relativity. This made a nice logical, pedagogical chain and helped students to understand and accept special relativity as grounded in experiment.

The flaw in this beautiful account was that Einstein had often denied knowing about the work of A. A. Michelson and Edward Morley; his ideas came from thinking about what it would be like to ride along on a beam of light. It would seem that we were misleading the students to the right conclusions. This discrepancy disturbed me, and I finally searched out an obscure report of an interview with Einstein in Japan in which he remarked that he had indeed heard of the Michelson-Morley result before1905. Why was this remark buried beneath his other widely covered comments that he had come to special relativity by what appeared to be pure thought? Einstein had certainly known of Lorentz's work, and by implication that of Michelson and Morley.

Though much of his other work is an interpretation of observation (the photoelectric effect, atomic and molecular sizes, Brownian motion), Einstein's relativities do in fact both appear to have come in large part from thought and aesthetic considerations. This reliance on thought alone seemed to me, increasingly, to be setting a bad example for budding physicists, especially aspiring theorists, who all seemed to want to be the next Einstein. Of course, I might have been biased, because almost all my own work was experimental and observational, and it was my firm belief that the integrity and power of science came from probing nature, not from divine insight. This was the experimentalist's canon, capital letters and all:

1) Discover an Important Effect or New Thing Never Before Thought Of;

2) Disprove an Important Theory to Show That New Science Is Needed;

3) Confirm a Great New Theory;

4) Disprove a Competitor's Experimental Results—or—;

5) At least Confirm a Competitor's Experimental Results!

While it's easy to see the personal-reward priority in the list, all of these items are valuable and essential to the progress of science—indeed, they are the only way to keep the system self-correcting. Appealing to the beauty and purity of a thought to judge the correctness of science is not at all as robust a path to a correct theory. Einstein himself provides examples of this lack of robustness:

1) The cosmological constant, which he famously referred to as "my greatest blunder." He added it to his general relativity equations in order to produce a static universe. At the time, the universe was presumed to be static, but a decade later Edwin Hubble showed that it was expanding. The cosmological constant was seen to be unnecessary—although it has lately been invoked to accommodate what appears to be an accelerated expansion. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

2) In a letter to Max Born (December 4, 1926), Einstein made this famous declaration: "Quantum mechanics is very impressive. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory produces a good deal but hardly brings us closer to the secret of the Old One. I am at all events convinced that He does not play dice." And yet quantum mechanics continues to be validated by experiment.

3) The role of der Alte is summed up in another pair of quotes: "When the solution is simple, God is answering." And this comment, after Arthur Eddington's eclipse expedition confirmed the (corrected) prediction of general relativity, to the effect that Einstein would feel sorry for God if the confirmation had not been made, because "the theory is correct." 

Aesthetic arguments, while useful as development tools, especially when there are no observations to guide the effort, made me uneasy—seemed a throwback to Greek reasoning about the celestial spheres. More recently, I came to realize that Einstein based special relativity not on pure thought alone but upon a great deal of physical observation and codifying theory—in particular, electromagnetism and the theory of light via James Clerk Maxwell's equations. Einstein was certainly aware of Lorentz's work, but was coming from the Maxwell side, not the Michelson-Morley results. He was reducing these ideas down to two essential postulates added onto the existing physics: (1) The speed of light is definite and independent of the speed of the source or of the observer, and (2) the laws of physics are the same in every inertial frame. From these two postulates and thought experiments, one can derive all the consequences of special relativity, including the Lorentz transformations, time dilation, length contraction, loss of simultaneity, E=mc2, and the lot!  Structured in this way, special relativity is a theory of great beauty and one with surprisingly great implications. It was the reinterpretation of special relativity in 1907 by the mathematician Hermann Minkowski that made its calculations straightforward and helped us realize that we live in four dimensions, three of space and one of time, known colloquially as the spacetime continuum. This is the starting point for an understanding of general relativity.

In the spring of 2003, I was contacted by Peter Minkowski, Hermann's nephew, who informed me that I would be the recipient of the 2003 Einstein Medal, to be awarded in Bern in June by the Einstein Society.  I was greatly honored: Such a named medal is instantly recognized and the previous winnersStephen Hawking, Ed Witten, and John Wheeler among themwere illustrious.  It was all the better that the medal would be awarded in Bern, where Einstein was living when he published his famous 1905 suite of papers.  I was then teaching a senior course in relativity and enjoying it more than usual, since I was paying extra attention to the background of Einstein. The chance to see Bern and to think about how Einstein lived his daily life during the time he was so productive and innovative was exciting to me.

A high point was a private visit to the Einstein Haus at 49 Kremgasse, which is maintained and being restored by the Einstein Society. It is in the center of the city, on a main street, one floor above a restaurant that spills out onto the sidewalk—the apartment where Einstein lived from 1903 through 1905, when he was developing and publishing those five remarkable papers. Though the ceremony, the talks at the University of Bern, and the dinner were all wonderful, being in Einstein's home and seeing pictures of his family and associates and material about what was going on in physics at the time had the greatest emotional effect on me—an effect all the more heightened because I was allowed to roam through the apartment alone. It seemed a very nice one—cosy, with a nice fireplace, hardwood floors, and many architectural details—for a struggling young man with a wife (Mileva Mari?) and a new baby (Hans Albert was born in May 1904), though the family did have to share a  bathroom with a family in an adjoining apartment. The living room has two large windows with flower boxes and a good view of the street below, high ceilings, elegant wall paper and plenty of room and comfort for his friends and colleagues who gathered there. Einstein, who had hoped for a position at the university, first supported himself and Mileva by a temporary position as a mathematics teacher at the Technical High School in Winterthur. Another temporary position teaching in a private school in Schaffhausen followed. In 1902 he obtained the job as a patent clerk that provided stability and allowed them to have the apartment. He must have had a burning desire to do physics, what with the distractions of the job and family and the need to finish his PhD thesis. Yet he managed to meet regularly to talk physics with his friends and he found the time to write his papers.

I spent some time going around the city, which is little changed since Einstein's day, taking in the shops and cafés, walking to the University, enjoying Bern, and imagining what Einstein's life might have been like. How and how much did his surroundings affect him? Where and how did he get and develop his ideas? Was it the quiet time in the patent office or the conversations with his friends, going to talks at the University, doodling on napkins at a café? Did the pace of life and the intellectual exposure with time to think make it possible? On the weekend, I took a train from Bern to the Alps and hiked above the Lauterbrunnen valley, across from the Jungfrau, as I guessed Einstein might have done. I wondered if the beauty of nature and the physical monotony of walking had freed his mind to new ways of looking at old things. I found that I was distracted much of the time. But if you prepare yourself well, with what is known to be valid, perhaps Einstein was right: Careful thought is the way to new understanding.

Beginning in 1905, Einstein embarked on a journey that no one since has equaled: a decade-long run at the cutting edge of physics. This is what we celebrate a century later. I wear my Einstein suspenders with pride.

[Reprinted with permission from My Einstein: Essays by Twenty-Four of the World’s Leading Thinkers on the Man, His Work, and His Legacy, Edited by John Brockman. New York: Pantheon Books.]