The Glass Bead Game and a High School Fantasy | Leonardo/ISAST

The Glass Bead Game and a High School Fantasy

By Margot Knight
Let the cerebration begin! I have only experienced 3 of the first 72 hours of Scientific Delirium Madness but the words and ideas and laughter are flying. A dream since I first took this job, since I first met Carl Djerassi (the Program's founder), since I first experienced the work of Nina Wise and Ralph Abrams vis The Kepler Story, I was overwhelmed by emotion during yesterday's orientation.  So many thanks to Roger Malina and the board and staff of LEONARDO, to the perspicacious, brilliantly abstract random Piero Scaruffi and to the board and staff of Djerassi Resident Artists Program who graciously threw themselves into this wild idea that artists and scientists living communally for 30 days was a idea worth executing.  And to the project's patrons and funders:  National Endowment for the Arts, Lava Thomas and Peter Danzig and Fellowship Partners Pat Bashaw and Eugene Segre.  But this dream has a longer history. An Army brat finding myself at a new high school, I did what many brats do--I made as many friends as quickly as possible.  I had jock friends, theater friends, cracked-their-SAT-genius friends, hippie friends (this WAS 1967) and "collegiate" friends (I think you'd call them preppies now).  I also had a few "bloc" friends, which is what the greasers were called at Crossland HS in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC.  And I was in love with authors Colin Wilson, Thomas Disch, Harlan Ellison, George Gamow, Ray Bradbury and Herman Hesse.  To this day, I dream glass bead game dreams.  The Glass Bead Game (or Magister Ludi) was a novel about a utopian but flawed future. Hesse's last novel, he described the game that underpins the society thusly: "Under the shifting hegemony of now this, now that science or art, the Game of games had developed into a kind of universal language through which the players could express values and set these in relation to one another. Throughout its history the Game was closely allied with music, and usually proceeded according to musical and mathematical rules. One theme, two themes, or three themes were stated, elaborated, varied, and underwent a development quite similar to that of the theme in a Bach fugue or a concerto movement. A Game, for example, might start from a given astronomical configuration, or from the actual theme of a Bach fugue, or from a sentence out of Leibniz or the Upanishads, and from this theme, depending on the intentions and talents of the player, it could either further explore and elaborate the initial motif or else enrich its expressiveness by allusions to kindred concepts. Beginners learned how to establish parallels, by means of the Game's symbols, between a piece of classical music and the formula for some law of nature. Experts and Masters of the Game freely wove the initial theme into unlimited combinations." I wanted to play that game.  I was fascinating with linking music with science with poetry with math.  My father played 16 instruments and calculated the trajectories of  howitzer shells for a living.  He had me playing Bach, working a sliderule and shooting at the rifle range when I was five.  Integrating and learning from the process of integration was not only possible, but desirable. Social failure and the unique brand of high school humiliation soon grounded me.  I had a big party on New Year's eve and invited ALL my friends.  My mom made fondue.  I was eager for my friends to get to know one another--to cross social and intellectual boundaries.  Wouldn't school be better without the cliques of collegiates, blocs, hippies and the occasional tensions these artificial groupings provoked?  To their credit, people showed up.  But it wasn't a crowd.  My livingroom and kitchen was a sea of unique conversational pools.  There was no mingling, no networking, no bridging across the divide, just a bunch of people I liked who couldn't/wouldn't talk to one another.    I was heartbroken.  But I never stopped trying to connect people. Fast forward 44 years.  Last night's dinner table was practically levitating with ideas. Strangers-no-more bonded over chaos, fracking, life on Mars, acoustics, pattern recognition and 3-D television.   For thirty days we will promote our core value to TRUST artists and scientists.  To let them BE, to ramble unfettered through our 583 acres of redwoods and the geography of their own minds.  There are NO work requirements.    But history has shown us to expect the unexpected.  Collaboratives will be formed.  Life-long friendships will be created.  Residents will be transformed.  It's what artists for the past 35 years have called the "Djerassi magic". I hope the readers of this blog will take the time to be part of this delirious Djerassi glass bead game.  Read about the 12 participants (see Pat Bentson's excellent introduction with the link) and throw in your own ideas.  Subscribe to the blog, to the Djerassi and Leonardo newsletters.  Tweet and retweet (@artsandsky @leonardoisast and #scimad).   Tell others. Mark your calendars for Sunday, July 27  for a special LASER  day (Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous)  during our annual Open House/Open Studios.  Learn more at   Help write and refine the dictionary of Herman Hesse's fictional universal language.  Help make it real.