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.

Angelus Novus was painted by Paul Klee in 1920 using an oil transfer technique he had invented. It was purchased the following year by Walter Benjamin, who had it hung in the successive places where he lived and found in it an...

On April 5th, 1841, a young woman stood beneath an elm tree in far western Illinois. This was Louisa Beaman, twenty-six, and at this point in her life an orphan. Her father had died in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1837; her mother, only a few months before...

The five versions of the same volume presented here in French, English, German, Italian, and Spanish, could serve as a pretext for a reflection on the work of translation—not only of words, but also of ideas, contexts, and images.

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This article is a slightly edited excerpt of the lecture given on the occasion of the awarding of the Edgar di Picciotto International Prize of the Graduate Institute of Geneva to Joan Wallach Scott, Professor Emerita in the...

"Life is a term, none more familiar. And one almost would take it for an affront, to be asked what he meant by it," writes John Locke. But he immediately adds: "And yet, if it comes in question, whether a plant, that lies ready formed in the seed...

#MeToo has been such a big catalyst for what looks every day more like the emergence of a new feminist movement, because it speaks to women across the class, race, and sexuality divides. The movement points to the fact that sexual harassment and...

If American citizens are good democrats, they will always be suspicious of government officials, and that will make them receptive to the information that whistleblowers provide. But they ought to be suspicious of whistleblowers, too. Citizens...

We can respect the right of free speech without having to respect the ideas being uttered. Critical thinking is precisely not a program of neutrality, not tolerance of all opinion, not an endorsement of the idea that anything goes. It is about...

Didier Fassin, James D. Wolfensohn Professor in the School of Social Science, has authored Ragione umanitaria. Una storia morale del presente (DeriveApprodi, 2018), an analysis of the premises, tensions,...

In Por una repolitización del mundo. Las vidas descartables como desafío del siglo xxi (Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 2018), Didier Fassin, James D. Wolfensohn Professor in the School of Social Science,...

Social Science

By Joan Wallach Scott

Why—despite decades (indeed centuries)—of social protest, policy initiatives, educational reform, nongovernmental organization activity, national and international legislation—does gender inequality persist? 

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.

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 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. 

Natural Sciences

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.

Historical Studies

By Patrick J. Geary

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

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?

Natural Sciences

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?

By Nicola Di Cosmo

Seen in the light of the antiquarian precedent, there is reason to believe that the contribution of the sciences of the past to historical research can help produce new histories. Yet, a word of caution is required.

By Akshay Venkatesh

Locally symmetric spaces are the home of the Langlands program—a set of overarching and interconnected conjectures connecting representation theory to number theory, first proposed in 1967 by Robert Langlands, now Professor Emeritus in the School of Mathematics. These spaces have become a crossroads for many different strands of mathematical thought.

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.

Mathematics

By Ana Pires

During the winter of 1924–25 at the University of Göttingen, David Hilbert gave a series of lectures about the infinite in mathematics, physics, and astronomy.

Natural Sciences

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.

Mathematics

By Robbert Dijkgraaf

It is difficult to convey the enormous impact of his revolutionary idea. Langlands showed how the same formula can originate from two entirely different worlds of thought. To employ another metaphor: it is as if two chefs cooking with two entirely different recipes, ingredients, and methods of preparation, produce exactly the same dish.

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.

Social Science

By Didier Fassin

In France, the expansion of the prison population with its socioracial component occurred at the very moment when socioeconomic inequalities started to deepen after a long period of contraction and when ethnoracial minorities became the target of stigmatization campaigns from right-wing parties. The penal state has definitely been a way of governing the poor.

Historical Studies

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.

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

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 Yve-Alain Bois

There is an obvious playfulness in the way Picasso constantly shifted his artistic identity when least ­expected. 

Natural Sciences

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 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 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. 

Historical Studies

By Yve-Alain Bois

I think there is no better introduction to Kelly’s work than his earlier years in Paris, especially when it comes to understanding why things that look apparently very simple are in fact much more complex than they seem.