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 field of cosmology has come a long way toward understanding the universe as a physical system: we’ve mapped its history and structure in great detail, we know what it went through since a few seconds after its birth until today, we...

Two pairs of earrings, four bracelets, and a mixtape inspired me to write to this book. I was in the Stadtmuseum in the German city of Jena, peering into the various display cases of an exhibit called Freundschaft! Mythos und Realität im...

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...

Yale University Press has published A Foreign Policy for the Left, by Michael Walzer, Professor in the School of Social Science. The book, adapted from essays published in Dissent, a political...

As controversy swirls in the wake of the revelations about the abuses of women by powerful men in the arts, politics, media, academia, restaurants, and elsewhere come to light, it is important to remember that we are dealing not with exceptional...

During this public lecture held at the Institute on December 12, Yann LeCun, Director of Facebook AI Research and Silver Professor of Computer Science at New York University, explored deep learning and the principles and methods for predictive...

Ideas that originate in particle physics have an uncanny tendency to appear in the most diverse mathematical fields. This is especially true for string theory. Its stimulating influence in mathematics will have a lasting and rewarding impact,...

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,...

Deep learning, which is the reemergence of artificial neural networks, has recently succeeded as an approach towards artificial intelligence. In many fields, including computational linguistics, deep learning approaches have largely displaced...

Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism

By Kristen Rogheh Ghodsee

If the communist ideal had become tainted by its association with twentieth-century Eastern European regimes, today the democratic ideal has been increasingly sullied by its links to neoliberal capitalism. How much violence and human misery has been justified in the name of promoting democracy?

Albert Hirschman on Trespassing

Albert Hirschman, Professor in the School of Social Science, in a 1993 interview with Carmine Donzelli

A World of Prisons: An Ethnography of the Carceral Condition

By Didier Fassin

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

As controversy swirls in the wake of the revelations about the abuses of women by powerful men . . . come to light, it is important to remember that we are dealing not with exceptional cases, but—as #MeToo demonstrates—with an enduring culture of masculinity.

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.

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.

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

One of the current challenges comes from quantum physics, which indicates that space should be an emergent concept, rather than a fundamental one. To a geometer, this is rather disconcerting, like demanding that a painter start without a canvas.

Historical Studies

Genetics and Identity

By Patrick J. Geary

Is a regional identity necessarily an ethnic identity? . . . The Greek term ethnos, from which our modern ethnic derives, has a long and troubled history.

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.