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.

Who makes a paper every week,
and every month a new technique,
and founds new branches every year,
and does not know the sense of fear?
And legends—whom d'you hear about?
And if you met him you'd be proud.
Of course...

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There are two labyrinths of the human mind: one concerns the composition of the continuum, and the other the nature of freedom, and both spring from the same source—the infinite. —Baron von Leibniz...

I think many of the people who are interested in congratulating me on the Abel Prize are doing so because I’m a woman and I’m the first woman to get it. 

And I can’t help resist telling the...

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On March 19, 2019, the IAS community gathered to celebrate 2019 Abel Prize laureate Karen Uhlenbeck with a reception in her honor.

Listen to remarks on Uhlenbeck's work and influence made by speakers...

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On February 22, 2019, Visiting Professor in the School of Mathematics Sanjeev Arora hosted a day of talks titled "Deep Learning: Alchemy or Science?"...

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On November 8, 2010, Sir Michael Atiyah, Professor (1969–72) in the School of Mathematics, gave a seminar on "Beauty and Truth in Mathematics: A Tribute to Albert Einstein and...

In 2017–18, I led a special program about analysis and topology on locally symmetric spaces as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in the School of Mathematics. Locally symmetric spaces are the home of the Langlands program—a set of...

"It's kind of like physics in its formative stages—Newton asking what makes the apple fall down," says Sanjeev Arora, Visiting Professor in the School of Mathematics, trying to explain the current scientific...

Published here are three slightly edited excerpts from "Mathematics and Computation," a new book by Avi Wigderson, Herbert H. Maass Professor in the School of Mathematics, soon to be published by Princeton University Press (...

Robbert Dijkgraaf, Richard Zemel, and Sanjeev Arora in a panel discussion

As part of the 2017–18 Theoretical Machine Learning Lecture Series at IAS, Visiting Professor in the School of Mathematics Sanjeev Arora organized a public lecture series, which included talks by him and...

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By Graham Farmelo

One of the biggest leaps forward in our understanding of these scattering amplitudes took place at the Institute for Advanced Study in the fall of 2003, when Edward Witten discovered a new approach to the subject, based on Roger Penrose’s twistors. They had yet to become part of mainstream physics, and most theorists regarded them as merely a mathematical curiosity. Witten’s work propelled them into the mainstream of theoretical physics, generated new lines of research, and opened up new ways of thinking about scattering in the subnuclear domain. 

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Watch talks from some of the world’s foremost science communicators on the close relationship between mathematics and physics.

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By Alexander Gamburd

Baron Bourgain is one of the most original, penetrating, and versatile analytical minds of our troubled times, justly celebrated and revered without reservations. 

I met Jean in September 2005, six months after my daughter was born, while visiting IAS... I do not remember the precise date but do remember the hour: it was between 2 and 3 a.m. After changing my daughter’s diapers, I could not sleep, went to Simonyi Hall, and ran into Jean walking to the library. It was in this discombobulated state that I was free of fear to speak to him. By dawn, the problem which had been resisting my protracted attack for a decade was vanquished in Jean’s office.

Ideas

By Robbert Dijkgraaf

From the perspective of gravity, [a black hole] is the simplest object we know of, no more than a hole in space. At the same time, according to quantum theory, it is the most complex object, the most compact way to store matter and information.

Social Science

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By Didier Fassin and Anne-Claire Defossez

How could a leaderless grassroots movement, involving often quite small groups of protesters, monopolize the national news, capture the attention of the wider world, and destabilize a government that had swept to power by a landslide victory in 2017? As Jacques Rancière has suggested, it is as difficult to understand why some people mobilize when confronted with situations they regard as unacceptable, as it is to understand why others in similar or even worse circumstances do not. 

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By Angelos Chaniotis

The developments that Alexander’s campaigns set in motion ultimately led to the creation of a complex network of political, administrative, economic, and cultural connections that came close to the modern phenomenon of globalization. 

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By Sophia Rosenfeld

Could empirically minded, plain-speaking, fact-checking journalists, bulked-up suffrage, court and educational systems, a tradition of street demonstrations, and the development of a new kind of First Amendment jurisprudence that paid more attention to maintaining facticity and reversing silencing techniques be enough to revitalize the democratic take on truth? Could any of the elements of the democratic imaginary, including liberty, equality, and dignity as well as truth become, once again, a widely shared goal? It is hard to say yes to either question as long as people seem to be living in such different worlds, economically and psychologically.

By Francesca Trivellato

The Promise and Peril of Credit examines key episodes in the West’s millennium-long struggle to delineate the place that finance ought to occupy in the social and political order. It does so by introducing readers to modes of thinking about the morality of credit that have become increasingly alien to us even as the questions that animated those early modern discussions remain as vital now as they were then.

By Karen Uhlenbeck

It's not so easy being a role model. One of the things you learn when you’re going through life and so forth is that you need role models, but you don’t need perfect role models. You need role models who fall down and pick themselves up. You need role models who show how even though you can’t do everything, you can do some things. You need role models to keep you going.

By Peter Coviello

The unceasing attacks on Mormonism, and the specific terms in which they were prosecuted, bring into exceptional focus a contrary rendering of secularism as, rather, a "normative sociality" and "disciplinary structure," one intimately involved in the harnessing of the terrain of ritual, practice, belief, and spirit to the imperatives of a settler colonial empire coming to understand itself more and more entirely in the framework of a redemptive liberalism.

Historical Studies

On April 26, the Institute celebrated the life and work of Irving Lavin with an all-day event that began with a series of scholarly discussions in the morning, followed in the afternoon by personal remembrances from friends and colleagues, including architects Frank Gehry and Phyllis Lambert.

Ideas

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By Alice Crary, Johan Heilbron and Ian Jauslin

The Institute’s endeavors to support individuals hampered in their work by political obstacles has extended not only to endangered scholars but to scholars confronting structural forms of bias—including bias that is gender-, race-, class-, and geography-based—and who are for this reason at risk of exclusion from the pursuit of knowledge. 

In 2016, the Institute celebrated the work and impact of Professor Jean Bourgain. One of the most prolific and important mathematicians of our generation, Bourgain had an extraordinary ability to bring new perspectives to longstanding questions in number theory, probability theory, and statistical physics.

By Juan Maldacena

What if black holes behave like ordinary quantum mechanical objects—and information about them is not lost, as previously thought, but retained on their horizons?

Natural Sciences

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.

Natural Sciences

The Institute Letter interviews Juan Maldacena on quantum information, spacetime, and efforts to understand how the view of black holes as a quantum computer is consistent and compatible with black holes from Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

By Juan Maldacena and Douglas Stanford

Black holes are spacetime geometries where the flow of time is distorted in a major way. What type of resource is a pair of entangled black holes? 

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.

Historical Studies

By Konrad Schmid

In light of more than two hundred years of scholarship, the most precise answer to this question still is: We don’t know. The tradition claims it was Moses, but the Torah itself says otherwise.

Historical Studies

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. 

Social Science

By Joan Wallach Scott

Some of the reasons usually offered to explain the persistence of gender inequality include large abstractions: patriarchy, capitalism, male self-interest, misogyny, religion. These are, of course, useful categories to work with, but none of them can account for how deep-rooted these inequalities are in our psyches, our cultures, and our politics. 

By Myles W. Jackson

My work in the history of science probes the porous boundaries between science and culture over the past two centuries. Much of it gestures toward the role of history in public policy. I am interested in having the historian at the table while a scientific controversy is ongoing. We historians are rather good at illustrating that controversies have histories: how we arrived at where we are today is very informative. There have always been, and always will be, alternatives. 

Social Science

By Didier Fassin

Cyclical movement of nature and worldly events, biology and biography: these are the two series that make life an entity at once overdetermined in its material dimension and indeterminate in its course . . . Can this binarism be resolved? Is it possible to think of life as biology and life as biography together?

Mathematics

"It's kind of like physics in its formative stages—Newton asking what makes the apple fall down," says Sanjeev Arora, Visiting Professor in the School of Mathematics, explaining the current scientific excitement about machine learning.

Mathematics

By Avi Wigderson

In stark contrast to the elegant, concise algorithmic gems, which were man-made, many new algorithms simply “create themselves,” with relatively little intervention from humans, mainly through interaction with massive data.

Historical Studies

By Patrick J. Geary

Using next-generation sequencing, it is possible to examine past populations in their complex genetic heterogeneity.

Historical Studies

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.

Historical Studies

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By Kevin W Martin

After seizing power on his own behalf in December 1949, Army Colonel Adib al-Shishakli effectively ruled Syria for much of the next five years, during which he wrought long-term changes in Syria’s political culture and initiated a host of policies and practices subsequently adopted by Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser, Syria’s Hafez al-Assad, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, and other authoritarian rulers.

Historical Studies

By Yve-Alain Bois

There is an obvious playfulness in the way Picasso constantly shifted his artistic identity when least ­expected—­and the title of the show, “Picasso Harlequin,” was meant to reflect that: he was like Harlequin, a character with whom he identified all his life and of whom he drew and painted many versions in various, often incompatible, styles.

By Hugh Gusterson

In 1987, in my third year as a graduate student in anthropology, I arrived in the small California town of Livermore, host to one of two nuclear weapons design laboratories in the United States. . . . intent on understanding the culture of the scientists, mainly physicists, who worked on the most powerful weapons on Earth.

By Freeman J. Dyson

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

By Myles W. Jackson and Arnold J. Levine

What can the history of science contribute to two controversial aspects of biomedical research: gene patenting, and race and genomics?