Copenhagen

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Copenhagen was always a fascinating play to me. When I first saw the play in London I was asked by BBC Radio 4 to engage in a debate with John Godbar of the Hull Truck Theatre Company as to whether ‘science could only ever be educational, rather than entertaining’. I was so seriously disappointed with the question that I started to think about it. What is it about this play that makes it so compelling? After all – we are asked to listen to rather a lot of physics and much conversation. For me the play is in fact not about science, just as ‘Art’ isn’t about art and ‘The Lesson’ is not about lessons. We are involved precisely because we are absorbed by the idea that one small encounter could have such huge consequences. Could a meeting like this between two people affect the lives of so many others? Did Frayn pick up on a crucial moment in history? If he did, and this meeting actually had a profound influence on the outcome of the war and our future, we become seriously concerned. We realize that there is a potential of scientists and engineers to actually become like God, to have the power of making decisions about who lives and who dies and how that happens. Who lets this happen? How do we allow our society to develop in such a way that so few people have this supremacy over others? As we speak, scientists are developing increasingly clever ways of killing people in the name of ‘defence’. Even if we stay away from war and focus on our everyday existence, we realize that very few of us have any say over how many pesticides we consume, the level of pollution in our environment, the drugs we take or have access to. And the poorer we are, the less access we have to knowledge of any undiluted, publicly cleansed variety. Uncertainty we are not allowed to see, for fear that we will become nervous. After absorbing Copenhagen on this level, after considering the implications in your own lives, I invite you to question the appearance of certainty in the knowledge about science and technology affecting you. Welcome uncertainty and trust your judgements. No one should have that much power. Performed at the Integrated Learning Centre, Queens University, Kingston, Canada, Sept. 2004

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