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Encountering Scripture In Overlapping Cultures: Early Jewish, Christian And Muslim Strategies Of Reading And Their Contemporary Implications

[RG #121] Encountering Scripture In Overlapping Cultures: Early Jewish, Christian And Muslim Strategies Of Reading And Their Contemporary Implications

September 1, 2010 - February 28, 2011


Meir Bar-Asher (The Hebrew University)
Mordechai Cohen (Yeshiva University)

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Contemporary critical theory, which highlights the creative dimension of the reading process, is increasingly reorienting the study of the history of scriptural interpretation, situating it within the flux of literary and cultural movements at large. This international research group brings together scholars of Jewish, Christian and Muslim interpretation to conduct a close comparative analysis of shifting encounters with Scripture in three overlapping cultures. Drawing upon diverse yet complimentary perspectives, the participants in this group will investigate five fundamental subjects:

a. The critical role that interpretation played in the formation of Sacred Scripture;

b. Changing conceptions of the "plain sense" of Scripture;

c. The ways in which classical rhetoric and poetics informed scriptural interpretation;

d. Tensions created by the need to transplant Scripture into new linguistic media;

e. The ways in which the Bible has been reconfigured in literature, art and scholarship.



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Algorithmic Game Theory: The Next Decade

[RG # 123] Algorithmic Game Theory: The Next Decade

March 1 - August 31, 2011


Michal Feldman (Tel Aviv University)
Noam Nisan (The Hebrew University)

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The last decade has seen the emergence and growth of a new interdisciplinary field of research often termed "Algorithmic Game Theory". This field lies at the crossroads of computer science, game theory, and economics; a combination which is necessary for addressing many of the challenges posed by the Internet. Not only is this field full of intellectual excitement internally, and not only has it already begun to intellectually influence the three parent disciplines, but it also has significant implications for the Internet, as evidenced by the large number of researchers in the field hired by Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft.

At the approximate age of ten years, it seems that the field of Algorithmic Game Theory is maturing. The goal of this group is to elucidate the main challenges of the field and attempt to chart the future course of the field for the next decade.

Some research topics that will be explored:

- Networks with contagious risk, the different aspects of how the evaluation of the Generalized Second Price mechanisms are used for selling ads on the Internet, and the understanding of the performance of simple auctions and modeling auctions used in practice (Eva Tardos)

- Interviewing in stable matching problems and cost-sharing mechanisms (Nicole Immorlica)

- Sketching valuation functions, the equilibria of simple market mechanisms, and optimal multi-item auctions (Noam Nisan)

- Auction design for agents with uncertain, private values (Anna Karlin)

- A general framework for computing optimal correlated equilibria in compact games, computing Nash equilibria of action-graph games via support enumeration, mechanical design and auctions, and computational equilibrium analysis of voting games (Kevin Leyton-Brown)

- Envy-free mechanisms for multiunit auctions with budgets, cost sharing games with capacitated network links, and game theoretic perspectives of the facility location problem (Michal Feldman)

- Bargaining in networks (Amos Fiat)


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Computation and the Brain

[RG # 124] Computation and the Brain

March 1 - August 31, 2011


Eli Dresner (Tel Aviv University)
Oron Shagrir (The Hebrew University)

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The concept of computation plays a major role in the current research of brain function. As Peter Stern and John Travis wrote in "Of Bytes and Brains" in Science (2006:75), "Computational neuroscience is now a mature field of research. In areas ranging from molecules to the highest brain functions, scientists use mathematical models and computer simulations to study and predict the behaviour of the nervous system". Another typical statement of the centrality of computation to the study of the brain can be found in Christof Koch's introduction to his book, The Biophysics of Computation: "The brain computes! This is accepted as a truism by the majority of neuroscientists engaged in discovering the principles employed in the design and operation of nervous systems".

However, the instrumental and explanatory role of the notion of computation in neuroscience is still in need of analysis and clarification. There are various different ways in which computational models and the notion of computation are applied in the study of the brain, and it is important for these to be distinguished and assessed. For example, as attested by the two quotations in the previous paragraph, the term "computational neuroscience" may refer to two different enterprises: Stern and Travis talk of the extensive use of computer models and simulations in the study of brain functions, while Koch gives expression to the view that the modelled system itself, i.e. the brain, computes. Both perspectives are part of what is one of the major scientific projects of our time -- the effort to explain how the brain, as a physical systme, works. However, together these two perspectives manifest a duality that is not found in other sciences, where e.g. stomachs, planetary systems, and tornadoes are studied through the use of computational models and simulations, but are not perceived as computing systems.

Thus what is called for is a systematic, philosophical analysis of the role of computation in neuroscience. What is the exact role of computer models and simulations in brain research? What is the explanatory role of the view that the brain itself performs computations? How are the two enterprises (of using computer models in brain research, and of viewing the brain as a computer) related: Do they employ the same concept of computation? Are they components of a wider exaplanatory framework? These are the questions that our research group set out to consider, discuss, and offer answers to.


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Cultural Archaeology of Jews and Slavs: Medieval and Early Modern Judeo-Slavic Interaction and Cross-Fertilization

[RG # 125] Cultural Archaeology of Jews and Slavs: Medieval and Early Modern Judeo-Slavic Interaction and Cross-Fertilization

March 1-August 31, 2011


Alexander Kulik (The Hebrew University)
Moshe Taube (The Hebrew University)

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The aim of the group is to bring together historians, philogists and scholars of comparative religion to help bring down disciplinary barriers and to show how the Slavic and the Jewish cultures can be revealed, each one of them respectively, as unique repositories of the lost texts, sensibilities, and traditions of the other's culture. It seeks to examine, on the one hand, unique data which Slavic cultures preserve on Medieval and Early Modern East European Jews, and on the other hand, key elements of Slavic cultural traditions preserved by Medieval and Early Modern East European Jews.

We will explore cultural exchange within the Khazarian-Slavic, Judeo-Greek-Church Slavonic, Old Russian-Jewish, early modern Polish-Jewish, and other cultural realms from the late 9th - early 10th celturies to late 17th - ealry 18th centuries. The topics are not limited to direct Judeo-Slavic contacts, but include, inter alia, issues such as Slavic reception of ancient Jewish sources, Slavonic Bible and pseudepigrapha, Slavonic Josephus, Biblical iconography, etc.


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Sovereignty, Global Justice and The Ethics of War

[RG # 126] Sovereignty, Global Justice And The Ethics Of War

March 1, 2011 - August 31, 2011


Eyal Benvenisti (Tel Aviv University)
Yitzhak Benbajo (Bar-Ilan University)

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In an era of globalization and massive institutional change in the international community, developing a workable set of ideas about global or international justice is one of the most important tasks facing philosophers, political theorists, lawyers and economics. Current events raise imperative political and moral questios concerning the moral standing of states and ethnocultural communities, states' rights against interventional in their internal affairs, their right to use force to protect their territorial integrity, and their right to protect their citizens or to protect citizens of other states.

Similarly, the growing interdependence among states introduces an entire set of concerns regarding global distributive justice, whereas the histories of relationships among states (colonialism, wars, secessions, etc.) suggest concerns regarding global corrective justice. These questions focus on the duties of affluent states to aid poor countries and refugees, the duties of colonial states to compensate their former colonies, the just treatment of statelessness and the just distribution of cultural rights, citizenship, residency, wealth, and the world's natural resources. These ample practical applications of global justice are what make it one of the most viable and increasingly important subfields of political philosophy.

Some of the most fundamental themes of global justice have been widely discussed in the context of just war theory. 

The research group will study three areas:

(1) The morality of the laws of war, with special attention to the institutional arrangements recommended by the statist and the cosmopolitan competing theories of just wars

(2) The statist and cosmopolitan theories of global justice, mainly distributive, but also corrective

(3) How debates between statists and cosmopolitans in these two fields -- international justice and just war theory -- are related, and how morality and the laws of war are implemented in the different conceptions of international justice.



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The Migration of Criminal Law Principles from National to International Law

[RG # 127] The Migration of Criminal Law Principles from National to International Law


Miriam Gur-Arye (The Hebrew University)

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International criminal law (ICL) is a unique branch of law, as it addresses the gravest crimes of concern to the international community as a whole through the imposition of criminal responsibility directly upon individuals (rather than upon states). ICL has become more prominent in recent years. New institutions have been created (most notably, the International Criminal Court [ICC]) and a growing number of international norms have penetrated national laws and are now applied more frequently by national courts (e.g., through the universal jurisdiction doctrine). Still, the theoretic basis of international criminal law is weak and its relationship to national criminal law is less than clear.

The aim of the research group is to examine closely the development of criminal law principles and basic notions in order to evaluate the process of migration of criminal law norms from national to international law. Our hope is that the research will provide a better understanding of the potential and shortcomings of international criminal law at the beginning of the 21st century, and serve as the basis for normative and institutional proposal reforms.


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Practical and Theoretical Rationality: A Comparative Study

[RG # 128] Practical and Theoretical Rationality: A Comparative Study


Ruth Weintraub (Tel-Aviv University)

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Theoretical and practical rationality are concerned with reasons, and aim to respond to normative questions: "What ought one to believe?" and "What should one do?". Theoretical rationality answers its questions by assessing and weighing reasons for beliefe and the (internal) relations among the beliefs. Arguably, theoretical reason aims at the truth of propositions. Accordingly, reasons for belief are considerations that speak in favour of propositions being worthy of acceptance insofar as one's aim in belief is the truth.

The reasons which practical rationality invokes are considerations that speak in favour of performing particular actions or adopting particular intentions and ends. And the internal relationships it appeals to are thos between means and ends on the one hand, and intentions and actions on the other.

Philosophers have always studied theoretical and practical rationality, and both topics continue to present vexing and philosophically significant questions. Many suggestive comparisons and distinctions between the two can be found in the philosophical literature. However, these insights are usually random and piecemeal; a sustained study of the relationships and differences between the two kinds of rationality is rarely conducted. Our aim is to study the similarities and differences between the two areas in a systematic way, so as to apply insights gleaned from one realm to the other, and gain a better understanding of the relationship between them and of the nature of reason in general.



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Jewish Physicians In Medieval Christian Europe: Professional Knowledge as a Cultural Change

[RG # 129] Jewish Physicians in Medieval Christian Europe: Professional Knowledge as an Agent for Cultural Change

March 1, 2012 - August 31, 2012


Gad Freudenthal (CNRS Paris, University of Geneva)
Reimund Leicht (The Hebrew University)

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During the Middle Ages, in Christian Europe, the religious and linguistic borders between Jews and the surrounding Christian culture always remained less permeable than those in Muslim countries, and very little knowledge was appropriated from the neighbouring Scholastic Christian culture. in the Midi (the southern area of contemporary France) hardly any philosophical or scientific works were translated from Latin into Hebrew. One could perhaps even go so far as to speak of a "Latino-phobic attitude on the part of medieval Jews of the Midi in general.

However, the field of medicine is an exception to this generalization. As far back as the 12th century, and again in the 14th and the 15th, scores of medical works were translated from Latin into Hebrew. Jewish and Christian doctors frequently cooperated with each other and treated patients together. Our research group is focusing on the macro-phenomenon of the role played by medieval doctors in bringing about a cultural transfer from Latin into Hebrew cultures, or from Christians to Jews.

Doctors hold a singular position within the social system of knowledge, since all members of all religions and cultures have similarly constructed human bodes, and all human beings, regardless of their religious and cultural backgrounds, suffer from similar illnesses and seek to be healed from these illnesses. Patients always attempt to seek out the best possible medical treatment, thus putting the Jewish doctors in constant and direct competition with the environing non-Jewish health system. Therefore, medicine was usually a unified knowledge system in which Jewish doctors were compelled to keep up with the tendencies of medicine in the host societies and "modernize".

The study of the history of "Medicine and the Jews" as part of the development of Jewish culture in its Christian European environment is much more than the study of the appropriation of professional and scientific knowledge by one specific socio-religious group. It is rather a comprehensive enquiry into the catalytic role Jewish physicians played in the processes of change which Jewish cultures underwent in southern Europe during the Middle Ages.


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Bounded Rationality

[RG # 130] Bounded Rationality: Beyond the Classical Paradigm 

March 1 - August 31, 2012


Elchanan Ben-Porath (The Hebrew University)

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The classical model in economic theory assumes that the economic agent is fully rational. In particular, it is assumed that the agent is aware of the set of actions that is available to him and has a correct model of the environment in which he is operating. In particular, he understands the relationship between his actions and outcomes. Any calculation or consideration that is relevant to achieve this complete understanding of the environment can be done without mistake, with no delay, and without cost. In addition, the agent has a complete and consistent preference over the set of possible outcomes and chooses the action that leads to the best outcome with respect to his preference.

This model is clearly unrealistic. A human agent is often unaware of actions, contingencies, and considerations that are relevant for the decision problem that he is facing. He often finds it difficult to form a preference (for example, to determine his trade-off between price and quality, or the trade-off between current pleasure and future welfare), and there are specific limits on his ability to process information (specifically, attention, memory, and thinking are bounded and costly). Economists have of course realized that people are subject to these limitations; however, until they were exposed to the research in cognitive psychology they did not have a concrete sense of the systematic deviations of human decision making from the rational model.

The research agenda of our group consists of two main components:

(1) Studying models of decision making that depart from the standard model and in particular take into account cognitive limitations and non-standard preferences.

(2) Studying the implications of bounded rationality in multi-person interactions, in particular, games and market economics.



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Integrability and Gauge/String Duality

[RG # 131] Integrability and Gauge/String Duality

March 1 - May 31, 2012

Matthias Staudacher (Humboldt-University, Berlin)
Romuald Janik (Jagiellonian University)

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The focus of the group is on a currently intensively-studied model in theoretical physics, which has been termed by some the "hydrogen atom of the 21st century". The basic idea and goal was to construct a mathematically exact solution of an, admittedly idealized, quantum field theory of the general type as occurs in the description of the forces between our universe's elementary particles, with the notable exception of the gravitational force.

Yang-Mills gauge theory is named for its inventors, Chen Ning Yang and Robert Mills. The word gauge refers to the fact that at the heart of these theories lies a certain built-in redundancy in its mathematical description very hard to eliminate, while apparently necessary in order to properly record and understand the rules of the game. The idealized system at the focus of our group is called N=4 super Yang-Mills gauge theory. It stipulates that in addition to our standard continuous ("bosonic") spacetime dimensions, certain hidden discrete ("fermionic") dimensions exist. The number N=4 refers to the fact that this model has four such curious symmetries.

The N=4 gauge model is the most beautiful and simplest Yang-Mills theory one can come up with, even though it certainly does not directly appear in nature. It is also a deeply mysterious model, and it has become clear in recent years that it possesses further hidden symmetries as well as seemingly contradictory, alternative descriptions, which promise to allow for a complete solution of the model, at least for certain quantities and in certain limits. This is precisely what we are setting out to achieve with our program at the IIAS.


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Molecular Electronics

[RG # 132] Molecular Electronics

June 1 - August 30, 2012

Amnon Aharony (Ben-Gurion University)

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Molecular electronics, one of the major fields in nanoscience, studies electronic devices based on single molecules, and on molecular networks connected to other electronic components. Its potential applications include sensors, displays, smart materials, molecular motors, logic and memory devices, molecular scale transistors and energy transduction devices. Besides being the next step in device miniaturization, molecules are able to bind to one another, recognize each other, assemble into larger structures, and exhibit dynamical stereochemistry. In addition to its technological potential, molecular electronics has raised many new fundamental questions, e.g. concerning the interactions of molecular systems with their environment and their functioning far from equilibrium.  Also, fluctuations and noise constitute an important part of the physics of such microscopic systems. At the moment there already exist several ingenious experimental realizations of transport through molecular bridges. There also exist a variety of different theoretical tools (both in chemistry and in physics) to attack the above important issues.

This group will bring together physicists and chemists, experimentalists and theoreticians, senior and young scientists, aiming to understand existing experiments, to propose new experiments (possibly combining various experimental tools) and new technological devices, using combinations of  various theoretical and experimental methods.


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Animals and Human Society in the Sinitic World

Animals and Human Society

Animals and Human Society in the Sinitic World

March 1, 2021 – July 31, 2021


Gideon Shelach Lavi (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Nir Avieli (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

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Research Group Assistant: Azri Amram

The proposed research group will fill a gap in the global history of the human interaction with non-human animals. It will examine the diverse roles that animals – real and metaphorical – have played in Chinese history, society, and culture. Bringing together scholars working in the diverse disciplines of archeology, history, anthropology, art, religious and literary studies, the group will provide a comprehensive picture of the representations, roles and attitudes towards animals in Sinitic world (including not only China proper but other regions that were in contact with it and adopted elements of the Chinese culture). Extending from prehistoric times animals, through dietary practices and sacrifice, to the representation of pets in Chinese literature and art, the research group will make multiple contributions to Chinese studies. At the same time, it will provide a crucial and hitherto neglected perspective on the human interaction with the environment. In recent decades the humanities and social sciences have become increasingly aware of the significance of the interactions between human and non-human animals.

Anthropologists have termed the growing interest in human-animal relationship the "animal turn," the "trans-species turn" or the "post-human turn." This new perspective is transforming our understanding not only of animals’ effects on the development of human society and culture, but also of the rigid hierarchy where humans are on top and the rest of the natural world is subordinate to them.

The "animal turn" has largely passed China by. We still lack detailed studies not only of the literary and artistic representation of animals but also of the roles they have played in practice during the temporally long, and throughout the geographically vast, Chinese universe. Moreover, no integrative research have been carried on the complex networks of human-animal interactions, including the influences of those interactions on the shaping of human society and culture in the Sinitic world. The proposed interdisciplinary research group will fill this scholarly lacuna.

Anthropologists and historians alike have noted that the self-definition of humans is inseparable from their conception of non-human animals. Similarly, human attitudes towards beasts all too often tell us how they perceive fellow humans. In this respect, it is important to compare the Sinitic worldview to the Western one. Unlike the monotheistic faiths that have humans fashioned in god's image, the Chinese philosophical tradition holds that humans and beasts differ in degree, rather than essence, of spirituality. Imported from India, the Buddhist theory of transmigration contributed to the Chinese tendency of minimizing the existential divide between human and non-human animals. Does this theological affinity between people and their beasts of burden have any bearing on the latter's fate in human hands? Dose it create specific types of human-animal interactions that are Sinitic and different from Western types? The research team intends to investigate these questions, which answers are likely to be complex.


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Triangulating Towards Socrates: The Socratic Circle and Its Aftermath


Triangulating Towards Socrates: The Socratic Circle and Its Aftermath

October 12, 2020 - February 11, 2021


Gabriel Danzig (Bar-Ilan University)
James Redfield (University of Chicago) 

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Research Group Assistant: Shlomit Kulik

The fourth century BCE saw a flourishing of philosophical speculation centered around the figure of Socrates. More than a hundred different Socratic compositions were produced between 394 and the middle of the fourth century. This unprecedented flourishing of philosophical literature in this period created not merely a new literary genre, but a new cultural phenomenon that eclipsed the previous intellectual traditions, both naturalistic and sophistic. It would influence the major philosophic traditions of the ancient world, not only the Platonic and Aristotelian schools, but also the Stoic, Skeptical and Cyrenaic schools; and it has had a huge influence on the modern world, including on the curricula of today's leading universities. This project aims to recover the unique features of the Socratic revolution by exploring the diversity of opinions within and around the Socratic circle. Our hypothesis is that the impact of Plato and Aristotle has effectively blocked out alternative views of the nature of virtue and the human good and reduced our appreciation of what is unique in Plato and Aristotle. In particular, we expect to challenge the Aristotelian conception of the virtues as fixed traits of character acquired through repetition and practiced with pleasure. This account of the virtues, which has become almost self-evident to scholars in all fields, does not fit well with the descriptions of virtues found in the full Socratic corpus. Xenophon, for example, believes that virtues are inherently unstable, require constant supervision and effort, and are not necessarily practiced with pleasure. This view requires the re-examination of the concept that virtues are ends in the themselves, so familiar from Platonic and Aristotelian thinking. We also find a much wider range of virtue terminology in the full Socratic corpus. Aristotle seems to restrict the virtues by schematizing them in relation to distinct emotions and behavioral challenges. By examining the other Socratic writers, we hope to be able to reconstruct an alternative account that can stand up to philosophical challenge.

In order to recover and test alternative views, we will make use of a variety of methods. Where complete literary texts remain (as in the case of Xenophon and the Platonic pseudepigrapha) we will attempt to reconstruct the author's views of the substantial issues connected with the virtues and the human good by standard literary and philosophical analysis. Work on this has been started by members of the group and others. In cases where we only have fragmentary remains we will focus on comparative semantic analysis of ethical and political terms and concepts, following principles of the history of concepts (Begriffsgeschichte) which pays careful attention to the historical and philological roots of philosophical concepts. While not a replacement for philosophical interpretation, this approach provides a necessary starting place and corrective to purely philosophical research. It will be supplemented by philosophical analysis and defense.



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