Spring 2019 Catalina Student Retreat: Entropy and Stability

March 22, 2019 - March 24, 2019
When: 12:00am - 11:45pm
Friday, March 22, 2019

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

See below for application - due Wednesday, February 20, 2019

[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.


“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, yet we find ourselves truly fascinated by it only from a safe distance. Chaos is our favorite drug of fantasy--stability is our favorite drug of reality.


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.”



Please design a document of your own containing the information below and your responses to the following questions. Send it, in PDF format, to Karin Huebner at khuebner@usc.edu by Wednesday, February 20, 11:59pm; title the file in the following way: LAST NAME, FIRST NAME_2019 Catalina Retreat. The questions are entirely open-ended and intended to allow for creativity. Do not feel compelled to meet the word count limit, just keep it under the maximum allowed. Most importantly, have fun!  More information about the Harman Academy and the student retreat is available on our website at polymathic.usc.edu. We will inform you of our decision by February 28.


Full Name:


Student ID:






Expected Graduation:




1.  You wake up tomorrow in 2119. What has remained stable, and what has changed dramatically or fallen into disarray? Do we have the same institutions, the same cities, the same form of government, the same systems of religious belief? Why or why not? 250 words or less.


2.  What would you like to get out of attending this retreat, and what are you prepared to give? 200 words or less.


3.  Tell us about a time you were faced with an opposing viewpoint that forced you to shift your position. What did you learn from that experience? 250 words or less.


4.  Describe an experience or moment where your life tended toward entropy. What, if anything, did you do to impart stability on the situation? Did you emerge from your experience with any new insights or outlooks? 250 words or less.