Activities in 2006-2007

From the Report for Academic Year 2006-2007
of the Institute for Advanced Study

PIET HUT divided his time between his astrophysics research and his role as the Head of the Program of Interdisciplinary Studies. The latter program had two year-long visitors, Hyun Ok Park in historical sociology and Dejan Vinkovic in astrophysics, as well as eighteen short-term visitors, with stays ranging from days to weeks, in fields including physics, mathematics, computational science, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, philosophy, and media.

Prof. Hut's main project in astrophysics is the Art of Computational Science, centered around a combination of research and education aimed at encouraging collaborations of computational scientists in the development of virtual laboratories. This project extends the notion of `open source' to that of `open knowledge', in which not only the software is freely shared, but also the background knowledge, represented in the form of dialogues between the researchers developing the software, on their web site http://www.artcompsci.org.

A different activity with roots in astrophysics, but with a broadly interdisciplinary character is the B612 Foundation, with web site, http://www.b612foundation.org. Founded by Prof. Hut and colleagues in 2002, B612's stated goal is "To significantly alter the orbit of an asteroid, in a controlled manner, by 2015." The motivation is to stimulate the development of techniques to protect the Earth when an asteroid is detected that is on collision course with our planet.

As another widely interdisciplinary activity, Prof. Hut has developed a web site, Ways of Knowing, or WoK for short, at http://www.waysofknowing.net, in collaboration with Steven Tainer, a logician, philosopher and teacher of Eastern contemplative traditions, at the Institute for World Religions in Berkeley, California. They now offer a large amount of material, in the form of transcripts of discussions, interview, essays, as well as many contributions by volunteers involved in joint research projects.

In the spring of 2007, Prof. Hut explored virtual worlds, such as Second Life, as a new medium for organizing research activities in computational astrophysics as well as in interdisciplinary studies in general. He started by giving a series of lectures in the VR3D world of Videoranch, and continued by setting up two separate virtual communities in Qwaq Forums. He reported on the latter in an invited talk at a symposium in Capri, Italy, organized by the International Astronomical Union.