The Institute Letter Spring 2017

Includes a variety of articles by Faculty and Members exploring the history and ethos of the Institute, black holes and quantum gravity, the role of gender in French politics, emotions of Greek history in art, and the usefulness of useless knowledge.

In recent months, the Institute for Advanced Study has issued public statements in response to the original and revised executive orders that restrict travel from predominantly Muslim countries. The orders, currently suspended, cause us great...

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: that small changes to...

Abraham Flexner’s perspective on the “usefulness of useless knowledge” has only gained in substance and breadth since his time. First and foremost, as Flexner argues so elegantly, basic research clearly advances...

The Institute for Advanced Study came into being at the most inauspicious of times. Founded in the early years of the Great Depression, it took shape during the buildup to the Second World War and under the growing shadow of authoritarian regimes. Its first Director Abraham Flexner published his manifesto on the “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge” in October 1939, barely a month after the outbreak of hostilities in Europe. Surely this was a daunting moment to defend “the fearless and irresponsible thinker” and advocate for the free expression of knowledge and curiosity. 

 For my husband, Ernest A. Michael 1925–2013


and we bopped to a sync of dry leaves’ kick and crackle
with the Skip-To-My-Lou of daughter Hillary hailing
Princeton’s pre-school bus that mustered those...

In November 1954, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to a magazine in which he declared that, were he a young man again, he would not try to become a scientist: “I would rather choose to be a plumber or a peddler in...

To Albert Einstein, she was “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.” More straightforward in his praise, Einstein’s fellow Professor at the...

In 2007, when Ségolène Royal announced her candidacy to the Socialist primary for the presidential election, Laurent Fabius, former prime minister under President François Mitterrand, ironically commented: “But who will take care of the kids?” an...

On a beautiful overlook near the university, a middle-aged man is enjoying the view of the majestic Fjord. Judging from his clothing, he is a stonemason from the quarry just below him. But actually, he is a professor at the university who often...

An hour south of Wall Street,
past tulips, toddlers on swings,
cyclists, runners, Frisbees tossed
by girls in shimmering orange shorts,
I walk to the Institute library
to borrow the Shorter O.E.D.
laid by to welcome...

Few twentieth-century historians deserve a full-scale biography more than Ernst Kantorowicz (1895–1963) on the basis both of “work” and “life.” More than fifty years after his death Kantorowicz remains one of the most influential of all medieval...

Emotions penetrate every aspect of our lives. Interwoven with memory, attention, cognition, and decision-making, they determine our interpersonal relations, our private life, the public sphere, and religious worship. Emotions are the background...

Reducing the intellectually rich and diverse Islamic literary heritage to a bare minimum of what is seen as allegedly authentic is a strategy that is characteristic of Wahhabism, Salafism, and jihadism and their respective proponents. Whatever...

As Alastair Hamilton stated in 2008 in The Forbidden Fruit: The Koran in Early Modern Europe, “few books were as feared and coveted, as abhorred and desired, as the Qurʾān in early modern Europe.” Religious polemics, trading activities,...

Some of the ideals of the far left are ideals that many people still cherish—the end of exploitation, racial and ethnic equality, the emancipation of women, national self-determination, etc. Believing that workers should be paid more or that...

Such an unanticipated change in government in the United States for all its undoubted strength cannot, of course, alter overnight the entire course of international relations. The overwhelming fact is that the substance of change must answer the...

We are a nation shaped by immigrants, as the Statue of Liberty reminds us, but now, horrifyingly, immigrants are increasingly subjected to prejudice for both their ethnic identity and their religion. Older and equally repellent anti-Semitism and...

In November, out of the blue, I received a letter from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Nothing about the envelope suggested that the letter inside would be important. It was an ordinary white office envelope with Institute for...

One rarely finds [a eunuch] who has, like him, an open forehead, a well-made nose, large, clear eyes, a small mouth, rosy lips, dazzlingly white teeth, a neck of exact proportion without wrinkles, handsome arms and legs, all the rest of his...

When two vaccines appeared on international markets in 2006–07 to protect adults from selected infections that can lead to cervical and related cancers, they were seen as tools of cancer prevention and soon taken up by many countries (Bruni et al...