Cambridge Nights: Late Night TV-Style Show Takes Deep Look at Scientific Thinking

Cambridge, Massachusetts is one of the world’s great intellectual crossroads. With Harvard University at one end of town and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the other, many of the most influential thinkers of our time either work there or visit. That gave César Hidalgo an idea.

Hidalgo is a professor at M.I.T., where he studies the relationship between physics, network science and economic development. Building on his own interdisciplinary curiosity, Hidalgo thought it would be interesting to share a little of Cambridge’s intellectual wealth with the outside world, so in October he and the M.I.T. Media Lab launched a series of informal Web interviews called Cambridge Nights: Conversations About a Life in Science.

Cambridge Nights is a little like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, if Leno talked about things like fractal geometry in the metabolic theory of ecology. That’s the subject of the discussion above featuring the renowned physicist Geoffrey West, professor and past president of the Santa Fe Institute, who gives a fascinating account of the universal scaling laws that pervade all life, from single-celled organisms and complex species to whole ecosystems.

What sets Cambridge Nights apart from other Web forums, like BigThink, is that guests are under no pressure to compress or “popularize” their ideas. “We invite them because we want to hear what they have to say, and we want to give them the time to say it comfortably,” writes Hidalgo. “There are many high-speed formats out there. Cambridge Nights is an alternative where thoughts can be developed and reflected upon without the need to rush.”

In the first season, Hidalgo talks with six scholars from fields spanning the natural and social sciences, including physicist and network scientist Albert-László Barabási, biologist Marc Vidal and international development expert Lant Pritchett. A number of guests are already lined up for Season Two, including experimental psychologist Steven Pinker.

To view all six videos from Season One, and to learn more about the project, visit the Cambridge Nights website.

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via The New York Times


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  1. John says . . . | January 24, 2012 / 8:31 pm

    Find a better sound man. I was very interested in this interview, but the hissing in the background makes this unbearably difficult to listen to

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