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EMBL Forum Lectures

Joe Davis

Joe Davis, MIT

Friday, 22 March 2013 at 11:00 in CNR seminar room, EMBL Monterotondo

Joe Davis, MIT, USA

Mnemosyne's Paradox


As mythical mother of the 9 classical muses, Mnemosyne was mother of all the arts and sciences. By inference, she was the founder of all language since she was said to have discovered the uses of the powers of reason and to have given names or designations to all things. Her name is the Greek word for 'memory'. The art and science of molecular biology is intrinsically connected with finding names and determinations for things never before seen or imagined. A paradox of reference is inevitably encountered because we are constrained to use concepts and vocabularies that are often inadequate to describe facts at hand. Obsolete paradigms tend to be incorporated with the very ideas that have overturned them leaving many people automatically confused. Ethical and philosophical problems stemming from inevitable misinterpretations plague artists and scientists who choose to represent a universe we cannot now and may never completely understand. An effort to sequence the genome of Malus sieversii, an apple shown to be ancestral to all domestic cultivars is presented in this context.


Joe Davis (b. 04 Dec 1950): B.A. Creative Arts, Mt Angel College, Mt. Angel OR, 1973. Undergraduate work (laser art) at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Murray Hill NJ; University of Cincinnati Medical Center Laser Laboratory (1972-74). Lecturer/Research Fellow, MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies (1981-1990); Research Affiliate, Alexander Rich Laboratory, MIT Department of Biology (1990-current); Research Associate, McLuhan Program, University of Toronto (1995 - 2008); Artist Scientist, George Church Laboratory, Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School (2010-current); Visiting Scholar, University of Washington (January 2011 - March 2011). Helped to pioneer fields in art and molecular biology and carried out several widely recognized contributions to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Created large-scale permanent public art (sculpture/fountain/pedestrian lights) in Kendall Sq., Cambridge MA (1989). Rockefeller Fellow (1986 and 2008). Awarded 'Golden Nica' in Hybrid Arts, Ars Electronica (2012).