Ideas

Explore firsthand accounts of research and questions posed by IAS scientists and scholars. From art history to string theory, from moral anthropology to the long-term fate of the universe, contributions span the last decade to the research of today.

The Zaydi Manuscript Tradition

By Sabine Schmidtke

The Yemeni manuscript collections constitute a unique treasure trove for large segments of the Islamic intellectual tradition—Sunni as well as Shii—much of which has not survived anywhere else in the Islamic world.

Dynamics on the Moduli Spaces of Curves

By Maryam Mirzakhani

The Institute is deeply saddened by the passing of Fields Medalist Maryam Mirzakhani, former Member in the School of Mathematics (2015), seen here giving the first of three 2012 Marston Morse Lectures. 

The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

By Robbert Dijkgraaf

Abraham Flexner’s perspective on the “usefulness of useless knowledge” has only gained in substance and breadth since his time. Fundamental inquiry moves exploration as far up to the headwaters as possible, producing ideas that slowly and steadily turn into concrete applications and further studies. 

In Search of an Identity

By Angelos Chaniotis

There is no such thing as a homogeneous European culture, with which the Bosnian Muslims, the third-generation Turks in Germany, the Greeks, the Roma, the French Jews, the Basques, and the Laps––not to mention the Indians and Pakistanis living in London––can identify themselves.

Fall at the Institute

By Erika Michael

In the ambient flow of Fuld Hall Commons at Tea —the gathered minds’ ruminations on lapsed and present time glowed like past light striking one flame

Imposter Syndrome

By Dan Burt

An hour south of Wall Street,  past tulips, toddlers on swings, cyclists, runners, Frisbees tossed by girls in shimmering orange shorts, I walk to the Institute library to borrow the Shorter O.E.D.

The (Bio)technological Sublime: From Nature to Technology and Back

By Jos de Mul

In a world in which the computer has become the dominant technology, everything—atoms, genes, texts, organizations— becomes a relational database, a collection of (re)combinatory elements.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

By Freeman J. Dyson

I do not take the Prisoner’s Dilemma seriously as a model of evolution of cooperation, because I consider it likely that groups lacking cooperation are like dodoes, losing the battle for survival collectively rather than individually.

How Our Brains Operate

By John J. Hopfield

Tornadoes are a high-level description of the motions of enormous numbers of interacting molecules. We want to understand how mind emerges from brain, just as we understand how tornadoes emerge from molecules.

Security vs. Civil Liberties and Human Rights

By Daniela Luigia Caglioti

The outbreak of the war transformed them––independently of their personal story, feelings, ideas, and sense of belonging––into enemy aliens, accused of posing a threat to national security. As the war went on, the campaign against enemy aliens extended well beyond individuals who had originated from an enemy country. The loyalty of groups of citizens was questioned based on ethnic origin, religious belief, or former nationality.

From a War on Terrorism to Global Security Law

By Kim Lane Scheppele

More than a decade after 9/11, global security law is still setting the framework for some of the most worrisome legislation around the world. 

Terrorism and Just War

By Michael Walzer

What is wrong with terrorism? How is terrorism chosen—picked out of all the possible political strategies? How ought we to fight against terrorism? Or better, what are the moral limits that anti-terrorists ought to recognize?

The Shape of Data

By Michael Lesnick

The basic goal of TDA is to apply topology, one of the major branches of mathematics, to develop tools for studying geometric features of data. . . . I’ll describe one application of TDA to oncology, where insight into the geometric features of data offered by TDA led researchers to the discovery of a new subtype of breast cancer.  

Quanta, Symmetry, and Topology

By Frank Wilczek

On the extraordinary potential of quantum engineering (the size and nature of Hilbert space); efforts to harness it through topological quantum computing; and ultimate prospects for quantum minds.

How is Topology Applicable to the Real World?

Throughout most of its history, topology has been regarded as strictly abstract mathematics, without applications. However, topology is now beginning to come up in our understanding of many different real world phenomena, from our understanding of evolution and disease to the relationship between topology and liquid crystals.