Lectures by Faculty

Measuring Shape With Homology

Robert MacPherson
Institute for Advanced Study
April 7, 2010

The ordinary homology of a subset S of Euclidean space depends only on its topology. By systematically organizing homology of neighborhoods of S, we get quantities that measure the shape of S, rather than just its topology. These quantities can be used to define a new notion of fractional dimension of S. They can also be effectively calculated on a computer.

Celestial Mechanics and a Geometry Based on Area

Helmut Hofer
Institute for Advanced Study
March 10, 2010

The mathematical problems arising from modern celestial mechanics, which originated with Isaac Newton’s Principia in 1687, have led to many mathematical theories. Poincaré (1854-1912) discovered that a system of several celestial bodies moving under Newton’s gravitational law shows chaotic dynamics. Earlier, Euler (1707–83) and Lagrange (1736–1813) found instances of stable motion; a spacecraft in the gravitational fields of the sun, earth, and the moon provides an interesting system of this kind. Helmut Hofer, Professor in the School of Mathematics, explains how these observations have led to the development of a geometry based on area rather than distance.

Critique of Humanitarian Reason

Didier Fassin
Institute for Advanced Study
February 17, 2010

Humanitarianism, which can be defined as the introduction of moral sentiments into human affairs, is a major component of contemporary politics—locally and globally—for the relief of poverty or the management of disasters, in times of peace as well as in times of war. But how different is the world and our understanding of it when we mobilize compassion rather than justice, call for emotions instead of rights, consider inequality in terms of suffering, and violence in terms of trauma? What is gained—and lost—in this translation? In this lecture, Didier Fassin, James D. Wolfensohn Professor in the School of Social Science, attempts to comprehend humanitarian government, to make sense of its expansion, and to assess its ethical and political consequences.