New Yale course: Cinema and Physics (PHYS337 - APHY337 - FILM337 - HUMS359)

November 10, 2020

YQI Member Michel Devoret and Professor of Film Studies Francesco Casetti are offering a new Yale course this Spring 2021 called Cinema and Physics. This brand-new course was sparked by their common passion and complementarity of competences, and both intructors believe it is possible to bridge the two cultures of humanities and science:

Francesco CASETTI (Media and Film Studies Program): film theory and film semiotics.

Michel DEVORET (Yale Quantum Institute):  quantum and statistical physics, relativity.

What this lecture course will convey are two thought-processes, each one developed in its own domain, about how to represent and explain the reality in which we live.  Film segments will be shown and explanations of modern physics questions will be given. The course aims at developing a dialogue between two fields of knowledge rather than to create an illusion of overlap: it does not pretend to build strict parallels between film theories and scientific theories; neither it will explain the practice of cinema with experimental physics and vice-versa. 

Film has been, among all the arts,  a special territory where to question our perception of reality. Hence from the beginning of the 20th century, film has been a front-runner and a point of encounter.  Some of the main topics that will be discussed are: space and time, reversibility of motion, the role of observer and the materiality of information. Here are simple and obvious examples of how film addresses these topics, connecting consciously or unconsciously cinema and sciences: Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames; the cartoons by Tex Avery; La Jetée by Chris Marker; Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock or Inception by Christopher Nolan. But the course will also bring to light other, less expected confluences.
The first part of the course (weeks 1 to 6) will explore the stylistic and narrative strategies of early cinema, in their attempt to depict a new reality of the world inspired by modern physics paradigms. The second part (weeks 7 to 12) will introduce and discusses concepts  of contemporary physics echoed in films. A 13rd week will offer a synthesis of debated ideas and will provides  conclusion. See complete syllabus on Canvas.
This course is particularly suited for students pursuing a double major in STEM and in Humanistic disciplines. It does not require detailed knowledge of calculus. Prerequisite: high-school physics. 
Please note that PHYS/APHYS majors planning to take this course and make it count as one of their electives should get in touch with the instructors  and with the  relevant DUS’s.