Walking in the Institute woods

Spending some days at The Institute (when they don’t specify which institute, people whose lifepath somehow crosses this place know it is -of course- the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton / they also know this is the place where Gödel spent decades after leaving Vienna, where Einstein and Oppenheimer and Panofsky and von Neumann and Emmy Noether and André Weil and many other 20th century luminaries landed (or visited for a short period))…

I really am switching back and forth from New Brunswick – where the main Rutgers [the State University of New Jersey] campus is, and where Shelah works for two months every year and Princeton, and seeing different faces of New Jersey, of academia, getting to see two very different and very interesting avatars of academic life, along the way.

The Institute has some impressive features (especially the library, the lecture series, etc.) but another extremely inspiring aspect [in addition to the atmosphere of extreme intellectual freedom – kindled of course with a high, probably excessive, degree of purpose – I’ve come to feel during these few days] is nature.

The Institute has large woods – apparently owns them – behind, shielding it from the usual North American series of strip malls and turnpikes. The name is as simple as befits: the Institute woods.

Last Sunday morning, during a walk in those woods, I took these:

3 thoughts on “Walking in the Institute woods

  1. Very nice. I guess black and white fits the season. In Istanbul I haven’t got far to go to see water; woods are something else.

    Since you are at the Institute, and I was recalling Feynman’s words about it recently, I wonder what you think of them:

    “When I was at Princeton in the 1940s I could see what happened to those great minds at the Institute for Advanced Study, who had been specially selected for their tremendous brains and were now given this opportunity to sit in this lovely house by the woods there, with no classes to teach, with no obligations whatsoever. These poor bastards could now sit and think clearly all by themselves, OK? So they don’t get an idea for a while: They have every opportunity to do something, and they’re not getting any new ideas. I believe that in a situation like this a kind of guilt or depression worms inside of you, and you begin to worry about not getting any ideas. And nothing happens. Still no ideas come.”

    (A longer selection is is my post )

    1. I’ve been thinking about your comment ever since you posted it, almost a month ago! Arrival back to Colombia was an abrupt landing in “reality” after those weeks spent between the Institute and Rutgers, between those woods and lectures and work with Shelah and conversations with many other mathematicians.

      I read your post, of course, and I thought a lot about the situation with those woods and the library and the utterly incredible situation there. And I think I mostly agree. A short visit (a couple of weeks) is a fantastic respite from “reality” and does seem to enhance creativity in an incredible way. But living there… I don’t know.

      A few years ago I spent about half a semester at the Mittag-Leffler Institute in a Stockholm suburb, during a semester-long program dedicated to “Large Cardinals and Abstract Elementary Classes”. There were some similarities with the Institute of Advanced Studies: no teaching of course, few lectures, an absolutely marvelous library, woods and (there) the small inlets of the Baltic Sea in a beautiful residential area (mansions, mostly). After a while some people seemed to become nervous and restless. It was on the one hand the pressure of being surrounded by such great minds (Shelah, Magidor, Woodin, Todorcevic, etc. were during part of the semester there) but also that sort of strange emptiness one experiences in such settings. Ali Enayat was there and he described it perfectly: “here [at Mittag-Leffler] you are pushed to your own limits, you have no excuse, no too-much-teaching, no too-many-responsibilities or students or meetings – free of worries, you are pitted against yourself, and that is not always easy”. You may discover your limits were far beneath your dreams.

      Anyway, these weeks since being back from the US I have been extremely busy of course, partly with the organization of DiPriscoFest, partly with a lot of worries about our country. Colombia is in full-fledged upheaval these days. Mostly, I think, in a very positive way – this was long overdue. But it is also quite stressful. Today was a particularly difficult day (riot police attacked students who were demonstrating peacefully)…

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