Why do we do the things we do?
It’s a simple question but one with multiple answers. And that’s where it gets complicated. People have used scientific theory to try and help understand the multiple answers to this question for years.
It is also a subject that has intrigued many writers of film and theater.
Though it doesn’t always feel comfortable, it’s theater’s duty to question its surroundings, society, the world and its rules. Sometimes it provides profound answers like “it’s up to you” or “the debate will never end.” However, in some rare cases, we’ll get the answer “we just don’t know.”
Delaware Theatre Company’s production, “Heisenberg,” on stage through February 25, addresses just that. Playwright Simon Stephens uses Heisenberg’s Theory of Uncertainty to help us process life’s unpredictability, pointing and prodding at the undefinable, mocking the definable when “we just don’t know.”
Some films, like “A Beautiful Mind,” “The Imitation Game,” or “The Theory of Everything” are human dramas that have focused on the scientists more than their theories.
“A Beautiful Mind” is a 2001 American biographical drama film based on the life of John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics who develops paranoid schizophrenia and endures delusional episodes while painfully watching the loss and burden his condition brings to his wife and friends.
Others, like the play “Constellations,” make use of a character that studies the “quantum multiverse:” “Every decision you have ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.”
Why do things turn out the way they do, and what could have been different? You don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to have applied this idea to your own experience.
The play “Copenhagen” by Michael Frayn, presented at Delaware Theatre Company a number of years ago, is based on an event that occurred in Copenhagen in 1941, a meeting between the physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg.
During the play, Heisenberg and Bohr “draft” several versions of their 1941 exchange, arguing about the ramifications of each potential version of their meeting and the motives behind it. They discuss the idea of nuclear power and its control, the rationale behind building or not building an atomic bomb, the uncertainty of the past and the inevitability of the future as embodiments of themselves acting as particles drifting through the atom that is Copenhagen.
The play “Heisenberg” is a portrait of a couple acting and reacting to each other, registering the changes that occur with each encounter, each revelation, each spoken word.
No one in “Heisenberg” utters the scientist’s name. But the two characters, Georgie and Alex, articulate in their own plain-spoken languages, personal corresponding theories about the elements that combine and collide to shape their lives, including their own indeterminate selves.