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The ¿Qué onda? Moment

Dr. David Glowacki - Scientist, author, philosopher, and inventor discusses process that led to Hidden Fields.

Anybody that studies another language usually finds that learning new concepts and structures provides fresh insight into your own language.

A friend of mine from Mexico City recently passed through the UK for a visit. When I saw her, she gave me a standard Mexican greeting: ¿Qué onda? (pronounced “Kay Own·da”) In English, this is usually translated as “What’s up?” However, “onda” means “wave”, so the literal translation is “What wave?” When she greeted me, I didn’t think twice. I’ve been speaking Spanish for a long time, and I’ve encountered ¿Qué onda? plenty.

But a few days later, I was in the pub chatting with a friend of mine. I was rattling on to him about what I find to be one of the most fascinating concepts in quantum mechanics: something called zero point energy. Don’t be scared off. It’s an easy concept to understand. Zero point energy is the absolute minimum amount of energy that anything can have, and it’s not zero. It means that every particle in the universe is always moving, vibrating, wiggling, and shaking. Even at a temperature of “absolute zero” (where all motion is supposed to stop), zero point energy means that stuff will still keep vibrating. As I like to say, no matter how cool you are, you can’t get cooler than zero point energy. Its vibes never stop.

So what’s this got to do with ¿Qué onda?

Well, vibrations can be described as waves: they’re periodic – i.e., they repeat themselves every so often. Periodic motion is observed at every level of matter, from tiny molecular structures, to cells, to the way the sea moves, to air moving in the atmosphere, to the motion of planets and galaxies. Periodic motion even occurs on a human level. Think about your own life – waking up, going to bed, waking up, going to bed… or your heartbeat, or your breath.

So the standard old greeting ¿Qué onda? (What wave?) suddenly seems pretty deep. It hints at the fact that – in the perpetually unfolding present – we’re riding the cusp of an unfolding set of interlaced waves, spanning every lengthscale and timescale imaginable, from atoms to galaxies. So think about the question now: ¿Qué onda? What wave?

Studying another language has a refreshing way of throwing these sorts of things at you, forcing you to “unlearn what you have learned” (to quote Yoda). My simple story about rediscovering meaning in a common greeting is not too different from the process that led to Hidden Fields – a performance that is trying to visualize how our own energy and vibrations interacts with the invisible energy fields and particles around us.

Hidden Fields is the result of taking a physicist (myself), a choreographer, an electronic musician, an artistic programmer, some dancers, and tossing them in a room together to collaborate. There’s been plenty of ¿Qué onda? moments along the way. More often than not, you find yourself re-evaluating things you thought you knew the meaning of. For example, I was shocked (and reassured) to find that, in their language, dancers and choreographers describe dance as a manipulation of time, space, and energy… basically the same three things that modern science language is hung up on. And I know for certain that the dancers have undergone a dramatic unlearning process. Rather than thinking about themselves as bodies (a torso connecting a set of arms and legs to a head) they’ve started thinking about themselves as energy fields.

Hidden Fields (and the danceroom Spectroscopy technology it uses) is lots of things at the same time: it’s fresh, energetic, subtle, fun, spacious and meditative. It appeals to all kinds. Kids, teenagers, grown-ups, and pensioners all like it. Techies and artists like it. And I have little doubt that people like it because it works across so many different languages: dance, digital art, music, math, performance, physics, computer science, choreography, and chemistry. Perhaps most important is that it’s a catalyst for exploring the interfaces between what are often perceived as separate and entrenched areas.

So what waves are you riding? Are they obvious, or are they hidden? Or should I ask instead ¿Qué onda?

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