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Debra Satz
Richard Morgenstein

Summer 2022 H&S E-Newsletter for Faculty and Staff

august 4, 2022

Thinking Otherwise

One way to describe our faculty is as people who “think otherwise.” While this can sometimes be a challenge for university administrators(!), this tendency to think otherwise is what makes our faculty great scholars. It leads them to take a critical view of common-sense assumptions and received, popular opinion and to strike out in new directions. Great faculty see the social and natural world—and indeed the whole universe—with a “thinking otherwise” angle of vision.

Here are some wonderful examples of recent H&S faculty research that illustrates this inclination to swim “against the current”:

Ran Abramitzky (Economics) along with co-author Leah Boustan (Princeton University, Economics) recently published Streets of Gold: America’s Untold Story of Immigrant Success, which argues against widely held misperceptions about immigrants. Contrary to popular opinion, today’s immigrants are as upwardly mobile as previous generations of immigrants and the percentage of immigrants in the country has not significantly gone up over the last century. Read the New York Times story with data visualizations.

Jennifer Eberhardt (Psychology) has been moving the needle on our understandings of racial bias. In her groundbreaking book Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, she measures and scientifically demonstrates how pervasive unconscious bias is, despite frequent denials of its existence. At the same time, she also shows that bias can be overcome in a great many cases, challenging pessimists who think such bias is a permanent feature of our societies.

Jonathan Gienapp (History) challenges the conventional story and understanding of the Constitution in his first book, The Second Creation: Fixing the American Constitution in the Founding Era. He shows how many of the nation’s founders initially understood the Constitution as a flexible system of governance that comprised precedents and statutes and that evolved over time. This understanding was eventually displaced by an originalism that holds the Constitution as a fixed document.

Vedika Khemani (Physics) was part of a team that discovered a new form of matter, dubbed a time crystal. Unlike conventional crystals where atoms are arranged in patterns in space, time crystals are arranged in both space and time. This form of matter was thought impossible but turns out to be possible in non-equilibrium states of matter. This exciting, unpredicted discovery opens new possibilities with respect to quantum information.

Ian Morris (Classics) recently published Geography Is Destiny: Britain and the World: A 10,000-Year History in which he argues that Brexit is connected to events in 6000 BCE when melting glaciers raised sea levels to separate England from the rest of the continent. At that point, England became an island while remaining incredibly close to Europe. This fact has set up England’s complicated and conflicted relationship with other European nations. At the same time, changing technology has sometimes reshaped geography in ways that push certain relationships forward while hindering others. (Consider Britain’s ability to close the English Channel to Napoleon’s armies.)

Adrian Daub’s (German Studies and Comparative Literature) What Tech Calls Thinking traces and critically assesses some of the ideas that form the intellectual bedrock of Silicon Valley. Daub shows that the roots of the Valley’s supposedly new and original thinking originated in the ideas of Martin Heidegger and Ayn Rand. A New York Times review noted: “In Daub’s hands, the founding concepts of Silicon Valley don’t make money; they fall apart.”

These are just a few examples of H&S faculty thinking otherwise: There are hundreds of other examples of your research from which I could draw. Imaginative, contrarian, constructive, deep, curious—this is what makes H&S such an inspiring place to be.

All my best,

Debra

Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences
Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society
Professor of Philosophy and, by courtesy, Political Science