Call for 2019 Catalina Student Retreat Applications

Spring 2019 Catalina Student Retreat: Entropy and Stability

Friday, March 22 – Sunday, March 24 on Catalina Island


Applications available at:

Application due date has been extended to Wednesday, February 20th.

[all expenses are covered by the Harman Academy]


The Harman Academy for Polymathic Study announces an exciting opportunity for intellectually curious and creative students. The retreat is a three-day student initiated and designed workshop held at the USC Wrigley Institute on Catalina Island. A student cohort in collaboration with invited faculty engage a topic from multiple, polymathic modes and perspectives.


“[S]tability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt…”

-- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World


“I don’t know just where I’m going / But I’m gonna try for the kingdom, if I can…”

-- The Velvet Underground, “Heroin”


“The chaos is all around us, and it grows. It can be very overwhelming. It can deaden your senses to what's important. But if we impart order on that chaos, everything changes. You can find peace.”

-- Joshua Edward Smith, Entropy


To be human is to search for stability in a world that tends toward entropy. In every facet of our lives, we are surrounded by narratives of instability and disorder - the financial systems poised for collapse; the political machine careening off course, the driver asleep at the wheel; the metallic arms of automation that lurk in plain sight, threatening enormous displacement of working-class laborers; the fires and storms and crashing surf that, year by year, erode away at our collective complacency. Entropy is so central to our lived experiences that we toe the line of romanticizing it: as Aldous Huxley notes, instability is “spectacular,” glamorous, having a certain “picturesqueness.” The same itching curiosity toward the appeal of the chaotic that prompted generations past to listen to Charlie Parker or read Slouching Towards Bethlehem drives today’s mass-marketed appeal for Kanye West’s Ye or for Fire and Fury, which depicts a pandemonious White House in its worst moments. Yet, as much as we romanticize entropy, we find ourselves fascinated by it only from a distance. We would rather ingest and examine the litany of chaos that is Lou Reed and Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain than live out those self-destructive impulses ourselves. Chaos is our favorite drug of fantasy--stability is our favorite drug of reality.

Drawing upon voices from every end of the interdisciplinary spectrum, we will explore toghether the questions posed by stability and entropy and their coexistence. Why are we so fascinated by entropy? Why do we desire stability? Can stability become its own kind of chaos? Are stability and entropy necessarily opposed?

At this year’s Catalina Student Retreat, we will explore the theme of stability and entropy in its relation to the fundamental and deeply personal questions of our time. What does religion have to say about stability and entropy? How do the two inform our personal and political philosophies? How does education, especially as a social and emotional process, explore the questions and tension of chaos and constancy? How do we explore and represent chaos and structure in art and literature? Is technology a force for stability or entropy – or both? How are the two concepts politically, sexually, and racially coded? How do the two inform our relationship with our environment?

Join us for a weekend of insightful conversation, reflection, and connection as we explore these questions and test the bounds of Heraclitus’ famed words: “No man ever steps in the same river twice.