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.

This essay was first presented in Italian in a dialogue with the physicist Tullio Regge, former Professor in the School of Natural Sciences, as the fifth episode in a television series “Dietro lo Specchio,” broadcast...

Harvard University Press has published Age of Conquests: The Greek World from Alexander to Hadrian by Angelos Chaniotis, Professor in the School of Historical Studies, which provides a compelling...

In this video, Kathleen Coleman, Elinor Lunder Founders' Circle Member in the School of Historical Studies, examines gladiatorial combat, beast displays, and staged executions in order to understand...

Half a century ago a French historian of rural Languedoc published a history of climate and people: climate changes, is subject to fluctuations, and (since history is about change) climate is the object of history.2 Le Roy...

Sabine Schmidtke, Professor in the School of Historical Studies, and Hassan Ansari, Member in the School, have coauthored Studies in Medieval Islamic Intellectual...

As recent events have demonstrated, one of the most significant phenomena of the Arab World’s modern history is the persistence and resilience of undemocratic government. Syria has enjoyed the dubious distinction of leadership in this respect,...

We are probably all familiar with the AncestryDNA advertisement for its genetic testing service in which a man states that he and his family had...

An arcane topic to most people, Syriac sources help shed a more complex light on the history of the Middle East from late antiquity to the Middle Ages. They reveal a non-imperial epoch and its rich contributions to the cultural and religious...

Monotheism constitutes one of the central doctrines of Islam. The notion is again and again voiced in the Qurʾān, thus for example in sūra 112 (entitled “Sincere Religion”) which, in the translation of Arthur Arberry, reads “Say...

To outsiders, the contentiousness, divisiveness, and downright un-neighborliness evident in the small Spanish town of Deza by the autumn of 1607 might well have seemed a tempest in a teapot. Those living in the newer Upper Neighborhood had been...

Ahmed Almheiri: From the UAE to Firewalls

By Kelly Devine Thomas

In 2012, Ahmed Almheiri, current Member in the School of Natural Sciences, coauthored a paper that confounded theoretical physicists, sparked attention from the New York Times to Scientific American, and prompted the organization of workshops and the publication of dozens of papers around the world.

Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism

By Kristen Rogheh Ghodsee

That day in Jena, I felt the past alive in the present and understood that the legacies of the fall of communism infused current European political realities. Why else would East Germans in 2016 resurrect a protest slogan from 1989?

A World of Prisons: An Ethnography of the Carceral Condition

By Didier Fassin

The correctional institution has been taken for granted and hardly made visible. An elephant in the room, it has largely been ignored by the public. In the United States, the number of people incarcerated increased more than sevenfold in four decades, reaching the impressive figure of 2.3 million inmates in the early 2010s, which made the country’s incarceration rate the highest in the world, yet without provoking a major debate.

We Have to Go Beyond Identifying and Punishing Individual Men

By Joan Wallach Scott

There seems to be a persistent belief—deeply rooted in our psyches—that men achieve recognition of their masculinity, and so of their political and social power, by exercising domination over women.

How Could Machines Learn as Efficiently as Animals and Humans?

By Yann LeCun

There has been a bit of a revolution in the last few years in what we now call artificial intelligence. . . . Although we haven’t yet figured out how the brain learns, we have been able to reproduce some aspects of it. 

The Beginnings of Authoritarian Culture in the Arab World

By Kevin W Martin

The genealogy of modern personality cults is more complex and varied than conventionally assumed. The personal histories and interests of al-Shishakli’s advisers and cult architects suggest a source of inspiration remote from the practices of Socialist regimes. All of the available evidence indicates that the cult was informed, at least in part, by the practices of American business and political culture.

For a Different History of the Seventh Century C.E.

By Muriel Debie

An arcane topic to most people, Syriac sources help shed a more complex light on the history of the Middle East from late antiquity to the Middle Ages. They reveal a non-imperial epoch and its rich contributions to the cultural and religious history of the region.

Entanglement and the Geometry of Spacetime

By Juan Maldacena

When one considers black holes as quantum mechanical objects, an important feature arises: "entangled" microstates. Can entanglement give rise to wormholes connecting far away regions in space?

Unfashionable Pursuits, Leaps in the Dark, and Detecting Gravitational Waves

By Freeman J. Dyson

Great scientists start new fields of science by making leaps in the dark. Nature decides which of the leaps is right and which is wrong. The Institute can be proud that we supported both Einstein and Joseph Weber, great scientists with their risky ventures, more than half a century before Nature proved them right and wrong.

The IAS Questionnaire

Astrophysicist David Spergel on what determines his focus, the most surprising thing he’s learned, and the questions that he’d most like answered

The Advent and Fallout of EPR

By Kelly Devine Thomas

An IAS teatime conversation in 1935 between Nathan Rosen, Boris Podolsky, and Albert Einstein, about a fundamental issue of interpretation related to entangled wave-functions, introduced an ongoing debate over quantum physics.

A New Era of Gravitational-Wave Astronomy

The first detection of gravitational waves brought with it spacetime ripples, black-hole collisions, and surprising systems.

The Astrophysics Behind LIGO’s Detection

By Doron Kushnir

Long before they reached the required sensitivity to detect a merger of two neutron stars, the LIGO detectors observed a gravitational-wave signal from a black hole–black hole merger about one billion light years away. 

The Geometry of Random Spaces

By Matthew Kahle

I sometimes like to think about what it might be like inside a black hole. What does that even mean? Is it really “like” anything inside a black hole? Nature keeps us from ever knowing. But mathematics and physics make some predictions.

Charting One’s Course through Mirror Symmetry

By Paul Seidel

Today it seems clear that, in order for geometric thinking to remain a source of new insights (in mathematics, physics, computer science . . .), geometry must continue to evolve.

My Random Walks with Pólya and Szegő

By Olga Holtz

I read the introduction to Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning and its Chapter I standing up next to the bookshelf. It read like a novel. A cerebral one alright, which made you pay quick attention. Chapter I started out in the least orthodox way, comparing mathematical induction to a domino chain. The book endeavoured to explain not only what was mathematically true but how and why. I was hooked.

Historical Studies

Genetics and Identity

By Patrick J. Geary

The imagined unity of a people could derive from shared customs, language, a common law, and a belief in a common origin, whether or not this origin was factual.

Social Science

Promoting Human Rights and Democracy in China

By Teng Biao

“Think independently!”––I can still remember well how excited I was the first time I heard this sentence.

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.

Erwin Panofsky–Jan van Eyck–Philip Pearlstein

By Irving Lavin

The portrait of art historian Erwin Panofsky, late Professor in the School of Historical Studies, installed in the Institute’s Historical Studies–Social Science Library, was commissioned from Philip Pearlstein in 1993. The portrait was the result of a series of coincidences that Panofsky liked to call “accidents on the highways of tradition,” this time involving a collision of at least a half-dozen vehicles of history.

Foreign Policy and Historical Analogy

By Jonathan Finer

Having worked closely with outstanding scientists ... I came to appreciate how essential such expertise and perspectives are to policymaking.

Natural Sciences

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.

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?

Historical Studies

Embedded Portraits: Appending a New Myth to an Old Myth

By Christopher S. Wood

The world is emergent and always unfolding in time. Painting has difficulty representing this kind of time. The portrait tries to do that, paradoxically, by representing the individual fixed in his­torical time. 

Picasso and Abstraction: Encounters and Avoidance

By Yve-Alain Bois

Picasso did not speak often about abstraction, but when he did, it was either to dismiss it as complacent decoration or to declare its very notion an oxymoron. But though he swore to never again go near abstraction, he could not resist testing his resolve.