Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Dogmas of Life and Death


Dismantling the Dogmas of Life and Death: How the Forgotten Prodigy William James Sidis Presaged the Quantum Undoing of Time and Thermodynamics

Dismantling the Dogmas of Life and Death: How the Forgotten Prodigy William James Sidis Presaged the Quantum Undoing of Time and Thermodynamics

“Time is the substance I am made of,” Borges wrote in his exquisite refutation of time an epoch before we time-substantiated creatures came to discover the staggering strata of scientific fact beneath his poetic truth — our entire experience of selfhood is rooted in the neuropsychology of time and the bridge to other selves that we call empathy is a kind of internal clock.

Ever since humans discerned the presently known laws of physics, a blink ago in the evolutionary history of the universe, it seemed like time was inseparable from entropy: that inescapable, irreversible dissolution of order into disorder along the arrow of time, dismantling organized matter and self-aware minds, ensuring that everything we love and are ends up “one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.” Without entropy — which anchors the second law of thermodynamics — we couldn’t tell a previous moment from the next, and so it seemed like without entropy there would be no time. To imagine otherwise — to question the dictate of irreversibility — would be nothing less than to negate the laws of physics.

Discus chronologicus — a German depiction of time from the early 1720s, included in Cartographies of Time. (Available as a print and as a wall clock.)

In the late 1920s, Arthur Eddington — whose heroic 1919 eclipse expedition confirmed relativity, vindicating Einstein — captured this long-held belief with his genial gauntlet at convention:

If… your pet theory of the universe… is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

And then, in the 2020s, things suddenly looked otherwise. As the daring new science of counterfactuals is furnishing a general theory of possibility for the physics of our epoch, new work in quantum information is rewriting the second law of thermodynamics, indicating that deep down in the quantum undertow, at the level of fundamental particles, reversing the classical laws of motion — and along with them the arrow of time — might be possible.

A century earlier, while Eddington was launching his gauntlet, the forgotten visionary William James Sidis (April 1, 1898–July 17, 1944) contoured this possibility in his 1925 book The Animate and the Inanimate (public library | public domain) — an inquiry into the origin and nature of life, which anticipated Fermi’s paradox, inspired Buckminster Fuller, and explored black holes fourteen years before the first major work on this cosmic reality that Einstein himself had theorized but ultimately dismissed as a delightful plaything of mathematics.

Every era has its Democritus and is blind to their vision, leaving posterity to vindicate it generations or centuries later as our landscape of knowledge shifts the horizon of truth.

Born in New York to a psychiatrist father with a specialty in abnormal psychology and a physician mother who had earned a degree in medicine at a time when very few women did, Sidis showed an uncommon gift for mathematics and languages from a very early age. His parents — both of whom had emigrated from Ukraine to America as Jewish refugees from the Russian pogroms — not only actively nurtured the natural gift but seemed to have expected it of him from the outset: They named their son for his godfather, their friend William James.

William James Sidis as a child

By three, he could read and write. By five, he was studying anatomy with his parents. By eight, he had learned several languages beyond English and invented one, which he christened Vendergood. His mastery of Greek and Latin was so thorough, and his mind so fertile with ideas, that soon he was writing original poetry in the ancient languages.

Harvard finally admitted him at eleven — the youngest person to study at the venerable university. His father had been trying to enroll him for two years.

Word of the boy wonder spread nationwide. “The story of this boy’s life reads like a romance,” The Philadelphia Inquirer rhapsodized four days before his twelfth birthday, “but every step of his remarkable career is vouched for by those who have watched his marvelous development.” Journalists went to see this “boy in knickerbockers” with rosy cheeks and eyes as grey as Whitman’s stand “before the savants of Harvard to lecture on mathematics.” There was something both delightful and discomposing about the majestic mind discoursing on the fourth dimension with “the clear, musical voice” of a child.

By fourteen, he was presenting his own theories and was heralded not as “a learner” but as “a diviner.”

William James Sidis, “boy wonder.”

He was also, and predictably, a highly unusual child that became an even more unusual young man — eccentric, as his era called him; neurodivergent, as ours might.

Upon graduating at age sixteen, he silenced the press fanfare by promptly declaring that he wished to live the rest of his life in seclusion — his idea of the perfect life. That lasted less than a year. (Let us suffer no Cartesian delusion — he might have had the mind of a genius, but it was coursing through the body of a teenager.)

He returned to Harvard, enrolling in its Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He was bullied and he was brilliant and he moved away.

By seventeen, he was teaching mathematics, Euclidean geometry, and non-Euclidean geometry at what is now Rice University in Texas. Within a year, he found himself so catatonically unstimulated that he left for New York City, where he took a job as an adding machine clerk making $23 a week. He entered the Harvard Law School, then dropped out and set about translating Chekhov’s pamphlet on the hazards of tobacco and refuting Freud while working out his own social and scientific theories.

William James Sidis

Two decades before the pioneering X-ray crystallographer Kathleen Lonsdale — another of the rares — was imprisoned as conscientious objector to the Second World War, William James Sidis was arrested for objecting to the First.

In the jail cell next to his was a short, feisty young suffragist and socialist named Martha, who had dropped out of college to crusade for equal rights and could recite Milton.

Naturally, he fell in love.

Both were sentenced to eighteen months at New York City’s House of Correction. Although Martha remained the light of his life until its end, his love went ultimately unrequited. (It takes a rare person to love a rare person, and by the basic laws of probability, the price of being rare is being lonely.)

Sidis never served the sentence — by his own account, his parents “kidnapped” him “by arrangement with the district attorney” and took him as far away from the state as possible: to California. A year earlier, he had published a paper correlating sun spots with social upheaval. “Revolutionary changes are taking place on a gigantic scale under our very eyes,” his father had written in the foreword, “without our realization of their trend and significance.”

Solar protuberances, observed on May 5, 1873, 9:40 A.M.
One of French artist and astronomer Étienne Léopold Trouvelot’s 19th-century drawings of celestial objects and phenomena. (Available as a print and as stationery cards.)

All throughout these restive collisions between his uncommon mind and the world, Sidis was incubating the ideas that would become The Animate and the Inanimate — ideas anchored in the audacious proposition that the second law of thermodynamics, with its almighty entropic power to transmute life into non-life as organized matter unfurls into chaos, might be reversible after all. Or, rather, that before and after — these bookends of a transmutation — are the abstractions of an organized mind that experiences the flow of time in a particular way because of its particular position in it and its degree of access to the energy of the universe.

At the heart of his theory of the origin of life is the idea that “there was no origin, but only a constant development and change in form.” The direction of change is what we call time.

Drawing on Emmy Noether’s revolutionary work on symmetry, which had shaken centuries of physics a few years earlier, Sidis considers the undeniable difference between the transformation of energy from positive to negative — from life to non-life — and its transformation in the opposite direction, deemed impossible by the laws of physics:

It might be supposed that this difference between one kind of transformation and its inverse indicates an irreversible law; and… if we give up the second law of thermodynamics, we must replace it by the statement that all physical laws are reversible. Hence it would seem as though we had arrived at an inconsistency. But, if we examine into the question, we will see that one form of transformation is not the actual reverse of the other, but that each process is symmetrical in time, and is really the reverse of itself.

Art by Daniel Bruson for “My God, It’s Full of Stars”

Sidis had been nursed on his godfather’s notion of “reserve energy.” The year his godson left Harvard, William James had delivered a rousing address to the American Philosophical Association, in which he formulated this central tenet of his philosophy:

It is evident that our organism has stored-up reserves of energy that are ordinarily not called upon, but that may be called upon: deeper and deeper strata of combustible or explosible material, discontinuously arranged, but ready for use by anyone who probes so deep, and repairing themselves by rest as well as do the superficial strata. Most of us continue living unnecessarily near our surface.

Sidis took this idea out of philosophy and applied it to physics. This is often where scientists slip and slide into metaphysics. But while there is a metaphysical feeling to Sidis’s theories, he holds firmly to the foundation of physics, aiming not to dismantle it but to repair is most rickety plank — the second law of thermodynamics, which had left generations of scientists uneasy ever since Clausius coined entropy.

Art from Russian artist and mathematician Anatolii Fomnko’s series Mathematical Impressions

Sidis proposes a model of the universe that resembles “a sort of three-dimensional checkerboard,” made of black and white “bricks” — distinct regions of positive and negative energy, in which the positive, light-emitting portions constitute the white bricks and the negative, light-absorbing portions the black. In such a universe, where we naturally fall into the positive energy regions by virtue of being alive, we would only see the white brick we are in. The surrounding black bricks would not only remain invisible — for they are absorbing the light that is the sight-sense of consciousness — but would also absorb the light from any white bricks beyond them, thus rendering them also invisible from the vantage point of our brick. And so, while energy is constantly flowing in all directions — the directional flow we call time — we can only see it vanish into our neighboring black brick.

Sidis considers the bewildering intimation of such a universe:

There is no way of telling whether we are living organisms in a positive universe, or pseudo-living organisms in a negative universe.. The difference is really one merely between the two directions of time, and, though those two directions are opposite to each other, they have no physical properties which are in any way different.

And then he offers the even more bewildering caveat of a corollary:

Perfect interchangeability is not identity. The test of identity is, not that the two things may be interchanged in any statement without vitiating the truth of the statement, but rather that either may be substituted for the other in any statement without vitiating the truth of the statement. In applying this test for identity of A and B, we should substitute A for B without at the same time substituting B for A.


An organized mind must conceive of time as flowing towards that direction in which is more reserve energy in that particular part of the universe. This may be either direction in time, either that which is, in our particular minds, forwards or backwards; but, if we conceive of past and future with this mental definition, the second law of thermodynamics follows as a necessary mental law.

This is where New Age demagogues, with their signature combination of superficial understanding of the actual science and rash readiness to hijack selective bits as affirmation of their ideas, might find a foothold. But no — Sidis is very clear in preempting the basic misappropriation by describing the experience of time as a sine wave of available energy, undulating vertically between positive and negative, while moving horizontally along the arrow of time from past to future — but moving by constant up-down fluctuation. Imagine a mythic sea serpent swimming in some direction amid a boundless ocean, its glistening body curving above the surface (let’s call this the area of positive energy), then curving below (negative energy).

A mind pinned to any point of the sine would look up to the crest of the wave and call that memory, and look down to the trough and call that time.

Vanish by Maria Popova. (Available as a print.)

A useful way to think about it might be that the sensation of having back is not something that happens behind the mind but within it — front and back are conveniences of consciousness, adapted to our particular physiology, in order to move efficiently through the particular world we evolved in.

Sidis writes:

Time, then, is a two-dimension affair, like the bottom axial line; but a mind in any part would conceive of that time as a flow towards the lower part of the curve, though that may actually take it towards the past instead of towards the future. To that mind, however, no difference is noticeable.


Hence… the second law of thermodynamics is to be interpreted as a mental law, as the law determining the direction in which a given mind will conceive of time as flowing. [And yet] time itself is not a mental phenomenon, but only the appearance of flow. There is actually no more flow in time than in space, and either direction in time may be called past and the other future, without any difference in the properties of the universe. But the actual existence of intervals of time we must assume as being a physical reality, and absolutely necessary for the explanation of physical phenomena.

Jacob’s Dream by William Blake, 1805. (Available as a print, as stationery cards, and as a face mask.)

Only forty-six years had elapsed along the arrow of time when William James Sidis undulated from the animate to the inanimate, his uncommon mind thrust into a coma by a brain hemorrhage, then extinguished. An unfeeling obituary appeared immediately in New York Times, stating that he was found in his room “in a Brookline boarding house, apparently destitute.” Unmentioned was the book in which he peered far past the era’s horizon of truth, presaging a century of physics and unmooring our millennia-deep certitudes about life and death.

Complement The Animate and the Inanimate — an extraordinary read a century later, though not for the faint of mind or for the queasy at contradiction — with Sidis’s godfather on the permeable boundary between different forms of consciousness and his contemporary Erwin Schrödinger, who would win the Nobel Prize for pioneering the quantum science that would substantiate Sidis’s ideas, on mind and matter, then revisit physicist Alan Lightman’s classic reimagining of time.

modern wonders


The 49 modern wonders of the world, as named by the experts

Authorities in various disciplines, encompassing food, design, art and more, have complied a list of must-visit places that will make your heart soar.

ByKatrina Lobley

Worth the cost overruns, perhaps: Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg.

Worth the cost overruns, perhaps: Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg.CREDIT:ISTOCK

The world is a wonderful place. So wonderful that lists of its seven wonders are ever-changing and evolving as life goes on. What happens, then, when the Magnificent Seven of world wonders morphs into the Formidable 49?

That was the task, or at least the outcome, when a septet of Australian experts across a range of cultural fields was approached by Traveller, in its endless quest to unearth the best and the most surprising places to discover around the world.

The task? Name seven wonders of the world from your specialist field and ensure that they can all be visited and enjoyed by our readers.

Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam’s crochet sculpture: “the best playground in the entire world bar none”.

Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam’s crochet sculpture: “the best playground in the entire world bar none”.CREDIT:GETTY IMAGES

David Harland, who is about to relocate from England to Australia to run Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, called the mission “a near impossibility”.

After hours of pondering and wondering about previous wanderings through many hundreds of gardens and parks, he asked “Can I have seven more, please?”

Sorry, David, thanks but no. And we see that he couldn’t resist including his new workplace while Louse Herron, chief executive, of the Sydney Opera House, did the same with her own house. Fair enough (you try corralling this erudite elite).

There were several places – such as New York’s Lincoln Centre – which received multiple nominations. It was a case of first in, best addressed, while another popular choice was Tadao Ando’s Church of the Light in Japan. Sadly, it’s not included because tours of its poignant interior are suspended, with too few volunteers available to run visits.

But if you’re headed to Japan, check out architect Sarah Kay’s extra nomination. She calls Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam’s crochet sculpture at Japan’s Hakone Open Air Museum “the best playground in the entire world bar none”.

The Museum of Australian Democracy’s Stephanie Bull, in somewhat bucking our global brief, chose to cast her eye only within Australia.

“When asked to name our favourite museums, Australians often think of great global institutions in cities like London, Paris or New York when there is so much to celebrate in our own backyard,” she says.

Anyway, here’s what our diverse Magnificent Seven proffered, with 49 eye-opening and truly eclectic wonders, all of which, true to Traveller’s mission statement, can be visited in some form or another, by travellers (and there are more than a few that our own team of experts can personally vouch for).


Sarah Kay, architect, Woods Bagot

Sarah Kay of Woods Bagot ... “renting a modernist house in Palm Springs would be my ultimate architectural holiday.″⁣

Sarah Kay of Woods Bagot ... “renting a modernist house in Palm Springs would be my ultimate architectural holiday.″⁣

Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, France

It’s nearly 20 years since I visited this building (designed by a team of architects including Jean Nouvel) but I still remember the amazing mechanised apertures for shading on the facade. It was the first attempt at sustainable architecture I’d experienced and the perfect embodiment of its vision – a dialogue between Western culture and the Arab world. See

MAC Niteroi, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

The Museum of Contemporary Art of Niteroi (MAC), designed by Oscar Niemeyer.

The Museum of Contemporary Art of Niteroi (MAC), designed by Oscar Niemeyer.CREDIT:ISTOCK

There’s so much incredible architecture in Rio De Janeiro – from the favelas to beautiful ’60s brise soleil houses – and then there’s [late Brazilian architect] Oscar Niemeyer. I think Niteroi’s contemporary art museum is my favourite of his because of its audacity. He could, so he did. See

TWA Flight Centre, JFK Airport, New York, US

TWA’s old terminal reopened as a hotel in 2019.

TWA’s old terminal reopened as a hotel in 2019.CREDIT:AP

I used to fly out of JFK regularly. Several modernist buildings stood empty behind fences – the Eero Saarinen-designed TWA terminal was one of those. I felt so nostalgic and sad that they were no longer relevant. Happily, the TWA terminal reopened as a hotel in 2019. It would be amazing to stay in such an iconic building during a JFK layover. See

Park Slope brownstones, Brooklyn, New York, US

I lived in one for three years and love the sense of community they engender: the density creates a closeness of neighbours that’s so New York. Twice a year, the block we lived on (President Street between 7th and 8th) shuts down for a street party. Staying in this part of New York is a very authentic experience. It neighbours Prospect Park, which has the same designer (Frederick Law Olmsted) as Central Park. See

Palm Springs, California, US

Ultimate architectural holiday: Palm Springs.


Renting a modernist house in Palm Springs would be my ultimate architectural holiday. I studied The Kaufmann House, designed in 1946 by Richard Neutra, at university and feel like I know it inside and out. It’s inspired every renovation and decision I’ve made about my own homes. It’s the indoor/outdoor flow that’s so relevant to today’s style of living but was so ahead of its time then. See

Suitcase House, Commune by the Great Wall, near Beijing, China

The Commune by the Great Wall hotel includes architecturally-designed villas in dense forest within walking distance of the Great Wall. One of these is Suitcase House, designed by Gary Chang. It has intricately crafted secret compartments and hidden rooms. It’s an extravagant experiment that would usually rarely get past sketch stage. See

Conference Pavilion, Vitra Campus, near Basel, Switzerland

As this is the only Tadao Ando building I’ve visited, by default it’s my favourite Ando building. The pavilion lived up to my Ando expectations. It’s on the Vitra Campus surrounded by other curious architectural delights. And Basel is the best city ever – you never know if you’re in Switzerland, Germany or France. See



David Harland, chief executive, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria

The new Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria CEO, David Harland.

The new Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria CEO, David Harland.CREDIT:TOBY WELLER

The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, UK

England’s most romantic garden tells the stories of workers not lords and ladies of the manor. According to my kids, it also has one of the best play gardens – maybe for this big kid too – and is credited as the birthplace of the game-changing Eden Project in the UK and therefore Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay (below), too. See

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto, Japan

Calm, eerie wonder: Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama.

Calm, eerie wonder: Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama.CREDIT:JNTO

Kyoto is teeming with stunning gardens – Ninna-Ji and Kinkaku-ji are particularly brilliant for stunning gardens and temples beautifully set together – and yet for calm, eerie wonder and a sublime soundscape, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is hard to beat. It brought my senses alive. See

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The Supertree Grove comes alive at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore.

The Supertree Grove comes alive at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore.

The world’s first billion-dollar garden was inspired by the Eden Project. Now more than a decade old, I find it constantly improving and better each visit. If you like your gardens futuristic, well-manicured and with plant species from every corner of the globe – plus the epic Supertrees and a city backdrop to dream of – this is for you. See

Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG), China

This has been on my bucket list for years, as had the Yunnan region. I went in 2019 and neither disappointed. The garden is rich in biodiversity and botanic tradition yet unlike traditional botanic gardens. XTBG is an east-meets-west, tropical gem of a garden – and you might even see wild elephants on your way home. See

Jardin Majorelle, Marrakesh, Morocco

Botanical garden Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh.

Botanical garden Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh.CREDIT:ISTOCK

Tossing up between Gaudi’s Parc Guell in Barcelona or the more subtle, landscape-driven paradise of Marrakesh’s Jardin Majorelle, the latter wins. While architects often take the glory, it’s landscape architects who really create “place”. A great example is this delicately designed, latterly restored garden, featuring beautiful cobalt colours alongside vibrant Moroccan tones. See

Stanley Park, Vancouver, Canada

Stanley Park on the edge of downtown Vancouver.

Stanley Park on the edge of downtown Vancouver.CREDIT:ISTOCK

It’s difficult to exclude New York’s Central Park yet Stanley Park’s 405 hectares, surrounded by water, paths, trails and calm, does it for me. You can explore it on foot or as I did on a bike, but the landscapes will make you stop and just swoon. It’s a beautiful, democratised idyll of a park in a great part of Canada. See

Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria

The ‘lungs of the city’.

The ‘lungs of the city’.CREDIT:VISIT VICTORIA

We have two gardens in one: the inner-city garden, considered the “lungs of the city”, which is more than 175 years old and the much younger, innovative, climate-resilient Cranbourne Gardens on Melbourne’s outskirts. These gardens have the best of botanic tradition and an eye on the future, demonstrating that living within the grain of nature could see us through the planetary emergency. See


Louise Herron, chief executive, Sydney Opera House

Louise Herron ... acoustic improvement.

Louise Herron ... acoustic improvement.

Danish Radio Concert House (DR Koncerthuset), Copenhagen

When we were considering the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall works (see below), I went to see this concert hall as there’s a close connection between Denmark and Australia. You would hardly know the hall is in there – it’s more intimate than ours – but it has a feeling of warmth that I wanted to replicate in ours in the best way possible. See

Philharmonie Berlin, Germany

Like the Sydney Opera House, this home for the Berliner Philharmoniker that was built in the 1960s has what’s called a vineyard concert hall with a lot of terraced seating that “catches” the music from every direction. Although I don’t have proof of inspiration from that building [for the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall], I feel it’s likely that it was. See

Four Winds, Bermagui, NSW

Natural amphitheatre Four Winds, in the Bermagui bush.

Natural amphitheatre Four Winds, in the Bermagui bush.

This venue is in the middle of the bush near Bermagui, NSW. There’s a Sound Shell at the bottom of a natural amphitheatre overlooking a lake. It’s beautifully adaptable – it can host local First Nations choirs, or you can have [Australian Chamber Orchestra artistic director and lead violin] Richard Tognetti playing. Up on the hill is the Windsong Pavilion designed by Clinton Murray – it’s a beautiful thing. See

Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg, Germany

I haven’t visited but the building (originally a 1960s warehouse) underwent a significant renovation that took years and went millions of euros over budget – it was very troubled, but it seems like it’s really worked. I’m intrigued to see it and hear it. See

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York City

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts complex features multiple indoor and outdoor spaces.

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts complex features multiple indoor and outdoor spaces.CREDIT:ISTOCK

It’s an imposing set of buildings, but my sense is that it hasn’t penetrated popular consciousness. My father gave each of us $1000 when we turned 21 and I used the money to go to New York where I’d never been before. I went and saw a Wagner opera there. I couldn’t believe how marvellous it was. See

Pershing Square Signature Centre, New York City

Signature Theatre is the resident company at the Pershing Square Signature Centre, a theatre arts complex designed by [Canadian-American architect] Frank Gehry and is in the entertainment section of 42nd Street. The centre hosts very good, more experimental theatre at affordable prices. See

Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, NSW

Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall now lives up to acoustic standards one would expect from a world-class venue.

Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall now lives up to acoustic standards one would expect from a world-class venue.

The Opera House is the symbol of modern Australia, but the Concert Hall has never lived up to the promise of the building. Acoustics are a combination of art and science, and you never know if you’re going to get it right or not. The renewal works cost $150 million. The first time the orchestra tried the hall last year, I heard the trombone play a note in the low register and a note in the middle register – and I absolutely knew it had worked. See


Andrew McConnell, chef and restaurateur, Trader House group, Melbourne

Andrew McConnell.


Tokyo, Japan

The entire city is a culinary wonder. Kappabashi Street (also known as Kitchen Town) is my first stop for the best knives and kitchen equipment, and the most useful (and useless) knick-knacks. For the ultimate in modern Japanese dining, Den restaurant in Shibuya City is where I’ll head for dinner. See

The Grill, New York, US

Located in the former home of the Four Seasons restaurant, The Grill channels its predecessor as the ultimate “power restaurant”. Today, the heritage bones are enhanced with one of the best design pedigrees you’ll ever experience. Almost as impressive are the wait staff dressed in Tom Ford suits. See

Brae Restaurant, Birregurra, Victoria

Brae Restaurant is built around an immense respect for nature and seasonality.

Brae Restaurant is built around an immense respect for nature and seasonality.CREDIT:COLIN PAGE

One of Australia’s best chefs is also one of the country’s best farmers. Dan Hunter’s approach to regenerative farming on his working organic farm that supplies the restaurant is Australian cuisine at its best – built around an immense respect for nature and seasonality. See

Basque country, Spain

Use the Camino trail as your motivation and inspiration to explore the incredible diversity and honesty of regional Basque cooking. The biggest reward is the pit stop in San Sebastian, a pilgrimage unto itself. There’s no other culinary experience quite like the bar-hopping madness of this charming seaside town. See

Paris, France

You can’t put together a culinary wish list without including Paris. Everyone has their own highlights but, if I had one day, I’d have lunch at Arpege followed by a stop at celebrated pastry chef Cedric Grolet’s patisserie Cedric Grolet Opera – a treasure trove of sculpted delicacies as beautiful to the eye as they are to the tooth. See

Mexico City, Mexico

Mole served at Pujol restaurant in Mexico City, Mexico.

Mole served at Pujol restaurant in Mexico City, Mexico.CREDIT:MAUREEN M. EVANS

This is one of the world’s most exciting and best food cities. I haven’t been yet, however, it’s high on my wish list. Peers and fellow travellers suggest hiring a guide to take you deep into the neighbourhoods to find hidden culinary gems embedded in the city. See


Champagne region, France

If the walls of Reims’ soaring chalk crayeres (cellars) could talk, they would tell tales of the underground cities that provided shelter from the devastation of war, and the streets above that hosted the coronations of kings and queens. But of course, this region is best known as the international benchmark for wine of its style – possibly the world’s most iconic drink. See


Suzanne Cotter, director of Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

Suzanne Cotter ... Guggenheim a favourite.

Suzanne Cotter ... Guggenheim a favourite.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City

The Guggenheim, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright for Solomon R. Guggenheim’s art collection and overlooking Central Park, will always be one of my favourite museums.

Perennial favourte: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Perennial favourte: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.CREDIT:ISTOCK

Combining the organic spiral of ramps, which lead you upwards towards its light-filled ocula, with the experience of viewing – both the art and of bodies viewing the art across space – embodies Wright’s vision of aesthetic communion with nature, art and ideas. See

Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France

Designed by [British and Italian architects] Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, the centre is one of the 20th century’s iconic museums. Drawing on visionary architect Cedric Price’s ideas of the Fun Palace, the museum’s inside-out architecture, flexible design, piazza and famous caterpillar escalators encapsulate the idea of the museum as public forum and civic space, while offering breathtaking views of Paris – a city that is itself a museum. See

The Beyeler Foundation, Riehen, Switzerland

The Beyeler Foundation: home to one of Europe’s most stunning private collections.

The Beyeler Foundation: home to one of Europe’s most stunning private collections.

Nestled into the outskirts of Basel, the Beyeler Foundation is another Renzo Piano masterpiece. It houses one of Europe’s most stunning private collections of modern art alongside a savvy contemporary art program. The horizontal planes of the surrounding grounds and water basins, the building’s light-infused transparency and the bucolic views of grazing Swiss milk cows make for stunning conditions in which to contemplate art. See

Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto, Portugal

Built within an 18-hectare park comprising formal gardens and an Art Deco villa, Serralves is one of Europe’s most beautiful museums of contemporary art. Every aspect of the museum, from the way its architecture reveals itself, the framing of nature through windows and viewpoints, the fittings and furniture, have been conceived as a harmonious procession of art and bodies in space and time. See

The Shed, Hudson Yards, New York City, US

The Shed: the building can expand or contract thanks to a telescoping outer shell.

The Shed: the building can expand or contract thanks to a telescoping outer shell.CREDIT:ISTOCK

The Shed, which opened in 2019 within a stunning context of the High Line aerial pedestrian artery, the high-density drama of New York City’s built environment and the Hudson River, commissions and presents ambitious contemporary art and performance. As well as hosting stellar exhibitions and performances, the building can expand or contract thanks to a telescoping outer shell that glides along rails into the adjoining plaza. See

MASP, Sao Paulo, Brazil

A masterpiece: MASP, Sao Paulo.

A masterpiece: MASP, Sao Paulo.CREDIT:ISTOCK

A masterpiece of Brazilian architecture, Lina Bo Bardi’s majestic and publicly porous modernist building houses the remarkable Chateaubriand collection of European old and modernist master paintings. It was also her idea to display works in individual, free-standing glass easels anchored into concrete blocks – one of the most iconic approaches to museum display revered by curators and artists the world over. See

M+ Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

Located in the West Kowloon Cultural District, the much-awaited M+ museum that opened in 2021 has one of the best collections of Chinese contemporary art (the Sigg Collection) and a growing collection of 20th and 21st-century art and design. The building itself is an event, with a “playscape” incorporating works from sculptor Isamu Noguchi and a sensationally scaled LED screen projecting works over Victoria Harbour. See



David Flack, Flack Studios, designer of Ace Hotel Sydney

Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, UK

Designer David Flack, founder of Australian design firm Flack Studios.

Designer David Flack, founder of Australian design firm Flack Studios.

I love visiting the homes of architects and designers as they’re often the most experimental examples of their ideas realised. Sir John Soane built his house-museum as a laboratory for his ideas, referring to its rooms as “studies for my mind”. It’s been left as it was at his death in 1837. It contains art, antiquities, furniture and architectural models, and it’s a bit chaotic, like a treasure box. One of his innovations is the Picture Room where he used moving “picture planes” to hang a tiny room with 118 paintings. See

Le Corbusier’s apartment-studio, Paris, France

The interiors shed insight into the architect’s own experimentation.

The interiors shed insight into the architect’s own experimentation.CREDIT:FONDATIONLECORBUSIER.FR

Another great example of the architect’s own experimentation, this building is visionary and unique in its use of materials, volumes and function. Sitting atop the Molitor building designed between 1931 and 1934 by Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, the two-storey studio apartment is open, fluid and bathed in light. To step inside is to physically experience his iconoclastic architectural language in its purest form. See

Eames House, Los Angeles, US

Designed and built in 1949 by husband-and-wife duo Charles and Ray Eames as their home and studio, this Pacific Palisades dwelling is also known as Case Study House No 8. It was part of The Case Study House Program designed to address a looming housing crisis created by millions of returning World War II soldiers. Although designed to maximise utility through the most minimal use of materials, interiors are richly detailed and layered as a consequence of their attitude that life itself is an act of design. See

Casa Luis Barragán, Mexico City, Mexico

Built in 1948, the intentionally anonymous home has been faithfully kept just the way it was when inhabited by its maker until his death in 1988. Always sensitive to the relationship between the built form and its surrounding landscape, the building’s humble facade belies the spacious volumes contained inside. The experience of the interior spaces is beautifully articulated through the bold but constrained use of colour and materials. See

State Library Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria

State Library of Victoria: the domed reading room is cathedral-like.

State Library of Victoria: the domed reading room is cathedral-like.

My favourite part – the domed reading room – was completed in 1913. Close to home, I often go there to be enveloped in the expansive sense of possibility and freedom presented by uninhibited access to so much wisdom. Public libraries hold a special place in my heart as I love books. My studio’s ever-expanding library holds more than 850; we reference them daily during the design process. See

Villa Necchi Campiglio, Milan, Italy

This villa, designed by architect Piero Portaluppi in 1935, is my favourite place in Milan. Immersed in an exquisite garden that includes a pool and tennis court, it would have been an absolute vision in the 1930s. The spaces are timeless with beautiful use of stone, metal and timber that feels completely contemporary all these years later. It’s a constant source of inspiration. See

Georgia O’Keeffe Abiquiu Home and Studio, New Mexico, US

Now a National Historic Landmark and integrated into the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, this space immerses you in a profusion of natural light. The delicately restored home remains true to its original materiality and setting. It’s a truly captivating encounter – a tranquil sanctuary that played a pivotal role in inspiring O’Keeffe’s paintings. See



Stephanie Bull, director, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, Canberra

Director of the Museum of Australian Democracy, Stephanie Bull.

Director of the Museum of Australian Democracy, Stephanie Bull.

National Holden Motor Museum, Echuca, Victoria

Run by volunteers, this Echuca museum is one of my favourites. It tells the story of Holden, an Australian icon. The vehicles, dating from the 1940s-2000s, share stories of life in Australia from our big cities to rural centres. They also tell of national resilience, innovation and our love of the open road. See

Ross Female Factory Historic Site, Tasmania

A highlight of the Ross Heritage Trail is the Ross Female Factory, Australia’s most archaeologically intact female convict site. Some of the site’s original remains can be seen above ground and the museum is housed in the Overseer’s Cottage. It brings to life stories of hardship and the strength of women who were incarcerated as convicts. See

Australian Silo Art Trail

 Artist Geoffrey Carran’s silo works in Goroke, Victoria.

Artist Geoffrey Carran’s silo works in Goroke, Victoria.

The richest stories are those told by community. The Australian Silo Art Trail began in Western Australia in 2015 with a vision to bring art into rural areas. Today, it spans the country, linking more than 60 small towns. Grain silos and water towers have been painted with images that reflect their community. One of my favourites is in Goroke, Victoria. Artist Geoffrey Carran depicts a kookaburra, magpie and galah in a stunning rural landscape. See

Valley Heights Rail Museum, Blue Mountains, NSW

This is where pilot or assistant engines were added to trains needing an extra boost to make it up the Blue Mountains. Train enthusiasts should also visit the Zig Zag Railway near Lithgow. The region is steeped in locomotive lore – find out why two trains became known as “The Fish” and “The Chips”. See

Jewish Museum, Melbourne, Victoria

Museums offer a chance to explore widely: to learn about history, modern life and the diverse experiences of all Australians. A perfect example of this is Melbourne’s Jewish Museum. Its collection includes fine art and photography, along with letters, diaries, books and everyday objects that tell stories of hope, migration and global connection. See

Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, NT

Visitors can learn about Aboriginal art with an artist.

Visitors can learn about Aboriginal art with an artist.CREDIT:TOURISM NT/SHAANA MCNAUGHT .

Yirrkala, 700 kilometres east of Darwin, is renowned in Australia and across the globe as a centre of First Nations cultural innovation, producing art, music and dance. It’s also home to the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka precinct, which includes the Mulka Museum, Buku Art Centre and Yirrkala print-making studio, representing more than 300 Yolngu artists from Yirrkala and surrounds. See

Jack Point Pelican Observatory, Coorong, South Australia

Coorong National Park’s Jack Point Pelican Observatory Walk takes visitors along a winding track through sand dunes to a viewing deck offering incredible views of Australia’s largest pelican breeding colony. What makes this experience so magical is the trail’s thought-provoking signage and interpretation, where visitors learn about the birds, conservation and beauty of Australia’s environment. See