AHC Quotations


In order to give an impression of the atmosphere and style of the After Hours Conversations, here are a few quotations from  various speakers during the academic year 2011/2012.  Since most speakers were also frequent listeners during talks given by others, they give us an impression of both sides of the AHC experience, speaker and audience.
Attending the After Hours Conversations at Harry’s Bar was certainly one of the memorable experiences of my time at the Institute.  These gatherings were unique, in the sense that it added the idea of social gathering to an immensely intellectual environment -- only time I could meet scholars across many fields in a relaxed setting, and engage in conversations on such interesting topics as "Scientist As Sorcerer," "The Stamp Collector," to name a few.  On invitation from Professor Piet Hut I also gave a talk, which I had originally titled "From Kolkata to Kaktovik: A Journey from Tropic to the Arctic." But on the morning of the talk I realized I had already given four talks on the Arctic at the Institute and Princeton University; so I decided to share something different.  Instead I talked about subjectivity/objectivity in landscape photography of the 20th century, and related it to a talk Peter Galison had given at the Institute the week before.  Wonderful conversation followed, as it always did after every talk that I attended.
Subhankar Banerjee, Director's Visitor
Talk Title: From Kolkata to Kaktovik: A Journey from Tropic to the Arctic
Thanks for your message.  I hugely enjoyed the occasion when I gave my After Hours Conversation and, more generally, I think it is a terrific format in which an intense, concentrated enjoyable discussion can take place and, moreover, it is between Institute members from different disciplines and with different perspectives, who can also meet and mingle.  In my case, I got some great questions, from scientists and from historians.  I got the impression that what I was saying about (social and political) power was genuinely new to at least one of the questioners (a scientist).  But mostly it was fun and some of the things people said (including Piet Hut's reference to Taoism) were quite unexpected.
Of the other After Hours Conversations I attended I found most compelling and illuminating the talk about the Oberammergau passion play, when the speaker brought to bear both a vivid personal experience and some genuinely interesting reflections about its contradictory mission today, both exemplifying and rejecting antisemitism, that were pursued further in the discussion.  Also it was good to hear the Director making a farewell appearance in this informal setting.  Another example was the talk about science and stamp collecting, which I also enjoyed and where I learned more than I ever need to know about stamp-collecting.
Steven Lukes, School of Social Science
Talk Title: How to Think About Power
I had great fun doing this; in fact I think it would be a great opportunity for all scholars at IAS to give one of these Conversations. The format is great in its stringency, it's challenging and interesting to do, and I also found it extremely pleasant to attend. Please stick to the 10 minutes! This is what gives it the spin. I actually prepared for this more than I would have for a standard 30 or 50min lecture, and it was fun to do. I felt that the audience was very interested, positive and welcoming, both during my talk and when attending others.
I think that the format is perfect as it is; many thanks to you and the other organizers for keeping a schedule of these interesting events!
Elke Markert, School of Natural Sciences
Talk Title: To Treat or Not to Treat: Dilemmas in Prostate Cancer
I really enjoyed giving the talk.  In addition to having the chance to show off, I got to meet some really nice people I never talked to before at the institute.
Boaz Katz, School of Natural Sciences
Talk Title: What Does Special Relativity Mean?
Let me first remark in general on the "After Hours Conversations".  When I started to attend this series, I realized the difference between this series and other public popular science presentations.  The "After Hours Conversations" -- ten minutes of novel ideas are very compact, allow ample time for Q&A and moreover, it is an in-house activity, by our own members.  In many instances, the induced discussions lasted days and weeks following the presentation, as one can keep talking to the lecturer over lunch, over tea.
My own "After Hours Conversations", "Math and Beauty -- The Other Direction" induced very interesting questions and remarks (I thank the audience for this discussion) but I would like to mention in particular the questions and remarks by Prof. (emeritus) Irving Lavin, an Art Historian from the School of Historical Studies.  Lavin mentioned that I followed in the footsteps of Leonardo da Vinci (!) who had a classification of linguistic description of beauty (in Italian of course).  He also told about Leonardo's Braids collection -- which was very exciting for a  mathematician specializing in braids techniques -- like myself.  It was very enlightening and I will pursue it further.
Mina Teicher, School of Mathematics
Talk Title: Math and Beauty -- the Other Direction
Although After Hours Conversations presentations are quite short, mine was one of the most challenging talks I've given. It is also one of the best of my memories from my time at the Institute. The short length made talking about work in progress feel feasible, and ensured that the audience maintained interest. The opportunity to talk about ideas with interested experts -- including some truly renowned -- from other fields is not something I'm likely to forget.
Charles Sanft, School of Historical Studies
Talk Title: Using Game Theory to Think About Chinese Characters 
The After Hours Conversations series provides an enriching highlight to each week.  There is not a lot of natural interdepartmental mingling at the IAS, and After Hours Conversations allows people in our community to hear something about the intellectual lives of people in other disciplines -- and I even found that it sometimes gave me a unique take on what people just down the hall in my own department (Astrophysics) think about.
David Spiegel, School of Natural Sciences
Talk Title: Life on Other Planets
I found the "After Hours Conversation" a rather fascinating enterprise, both as a speaker and as a listener.  Even though my experience is limited, attending a total of three Conversations, I trust that my statement is representative for the whole series.  What I found most satisfying is the fact that the audience gets a lot of stimulation from the speaker but learns from other participants in the audience -- this, I gathered, was probably the original idea. 
Jochen Bruening, School of Mathematics
Talk Title: The Scientist as a Stamp Collector
Ernest Rutherford believed that any theory you can't explain to a bartender isn't likely to be a very good theory.  The audience at Harry's Bar is as sophisticated as any, but the 10-minute, no-notes presentation format encourages a direct approach in the same spirit as Rutherford's adage.  The After Hours Conversations also offer a valuable opportunity to discuss questions at the boundary of one's discipline.
Philip Ording, Program in Interdisciplinary Studies Visitor
Talk Title: What is Mathematical Style?
I started going to the After Hours Conversations mostly because I was going to give one later in the first semester, and I wanted to see what they were like.  But after the first one, I was hooked!  Ten minutes of hearing a world expert speak, even, or perhaps especially, about areas of knowledge I knew nothing about, was completely seductive.  And my expectations, which were high, were always surpassed.  I also got to be friends with some of the other colleagues who were regular attendees from other schools, which was an unexpected benefit.  As for my own talk, it was one of the highlights of my stay here.  One of the attractions of being at the IAS was the chance to talk to the widest possible audience, and the day I spoke there were members of the Board of Trustees as well as IAS colleagues, so it was more than academics.
Marjorie Woods, School of Historical Studies
Talk Title: Hard Feelings: Manufactured Emotions and Creativity in the Classroom