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ABOVE: Superimposed on an early map of the New World are, from the top, a circuit board, an artist’s concept of the space telescope to be used in NASA’s Space Interferometry Mission, and CERN’s Large Hadron Collider housed under a mountain in Switzerland.

Images courtesy freephoto.com, NASA/JPL, and Yale University Press
Contact: Mary Ann Meyers, Ph.D., Senior Fellow

Mhe purpose of this symposium is to provide the John Templeton Foundation with strategic ideas for developing a research agenda on the culture, workings, dynamics, and effective structuring of exceptionally creative domains. The particular focus of the conversation at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton is on institutions and organizations linked to science and technology that are responsible for new discoveries and insights. Of special interest is the subset effective in generating a high flow of technology transfer, where novel ideas are transformed into wealth-creating companies through an entrepreneurial process—and on the geographical regions that seem to foster the concentration of these highly creative technological industries. Key questions include: What characterizes a creative environment? What environments most effectively nurture the highest levels of scientific creativity? What is the sequence and range of steps leading to the creation of a high-creativity institution? What are the “dynamics of success”? Do structures like organizational governance and operating principles matter? To what degree is autonomous self-governance in research institutions important? What effect does government funding and regulation have on creativity? To what extent does freedom of inquiry matter? The study of failures and declines, as well as successes, will be highly illuminating. What are the dynamics that portend fiascos in attempts to build creative institutions? When and how does an institution lose its creative edge? How do geographically large, amazingly creative domains such as Silicon Valley come to be and how can they be developed elsewhere? How are gifted young people most effectively encouraged and prepared to pursue careers in math, science, technology, or technologically-based industry that are marked by exceptional creativity? The symposium is designed to illuminate how we can best inspire, encourage, and build the culture of innovation that will produce highly creative scientific enterprises leading not only to new tools for examining the world but also new ways of looking at the world. The Templeton Foundation hopes to develop a research funding project in this area that will promote novel forms of multidisciplinary scholarship and could lead to a deepening of extant analyses of the kind of creativity associated, for example, with regions of the world such as Budapest in the “golden years” between 1900 and the outbreak of the First World War and the southern part of the San Francisco Bay area beginning in the mid-1950s, with companies such as Bell Labs and Genentech, with research institutions and universities such as the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen between World Wars I and II and MIT and Stanford today, and with laboratories such as the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, the IBM Zurich Research Laboratory in Rüeschlikon, Switzerland, and The Whitesides Research Group at Harvard. The discussion taking place at one of the world’s leading centers for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry is the starting point for a possible new philanthropic initiative. Among the bold entrepreneurs and reflective scholars gathered together in Princeton is a long-time Institute faculty member, Freeman Dyson, a working physicist “more impressed by our ignorance than our knowledge,” who has written that “during the last hundred years we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of nature, but there is no reason to fear that our progress is coming close to an end.”

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