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.
Since the late 1990s, I’ve been doing research and writing books about the experiences of ordinary people who lived through the end of the Cold War in Eastern Europe. My work endeavored to capture a recent past, one that would soon fade and be forgotten. But 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?
In 1956, at a high-energy physics conference at the University of Rochester, my father met J. Robert Oppenheimer, then Director of the Institute. Oppenheimer inquired about my father’s plans for the future, and my father replied that he would like to visit the Institute. Within a few months, my father received an invitation to come for the academic year 1957–58. The visit was a turning point in his career.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the rise of antiquarian knowledge—from archaeological relics to genealogies, epigraphical evidence, and numismatics, among others—ushered in a new type of history. Might we not say that the twenty-first-century historian, armed with scientific data, can also produce new histories and venture to answer old and new questions with unprecedented assurance?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
One of the surprising things about chaos is that it took so long for physicists to appreciate how common it is. This is despite the fact that people seem to come naturally programmed with intuition for the basic phenomenon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.