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The origins of it all: Symposium ends with 'jam session'

April 09, 2009

Symposium ends with 12-hour scientific ‘jam session’ at ASU

More than 70 of the world’s leading scientists and public intellectuals – including eight Nobel laureates, anthropologists, historians, journalists and best-selling authors – discussed and debated the origins of everything during a four-day Origins Symposium at ASU. The event, which was accessible to viewers worldwide via a live captioned webcast, kicked off the Origins Initiative at ASU.

Nearly 3,000 students and members of the public packed ASU Gammage on the last day – April 6 – for a 12-hour “jam session” with scientific standouts, including a “virtual appearance” by Stephen Hawking, who often is described as the world’s greatest living scientist.

A chest infection prevented Hawking from appearing in person to deliver a digitally recorded lecture he prepared especially for the audience at ASU. Instead, a surprise guest – his daughter, Lucy, a former journalist and book author – flew to ASU to bring a message from her dad. She also provided additional discussion and commentary during a panel on science and culture.

Others on the star-studded lineup included Nobel laureates Baruch Blumberg, David Gross, Walter Gilbert, Sheldon Glashow, John Mather and Frank Wilczek.

Also appearing on stage and taking the audience through a series of thought-provoking questions and answers that covered origins on both the micro and macro level were:

 • Steven Pinker, an evolutionary psychologist at Harvard University.
 • Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist at Columbia University.
 • Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and popular science writer, who was the first Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford.
 • J. Craig Venter, who in 1998 founded Celera Genomics to sequence the human genome.
 • Hugh Downs, one of the most familiar American figures in the history of television.
 • Ann Druyan, the last wife of Carl Sagan, and co-author of the “Cosmos” series and book, along with Sagan and Steven Soter.
 • Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.
 • Claudia Dreifus, who writes about the lives of scientists in a column in the “Science Times” section of the New York Times.
 • Donald Johanson, a paleoanthropologist and founding director of the Institute of Human Origins at ASU.
 • Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist at ASU, and organizer of the Origins Symposium.

“We have arguably the greatest collection of scientists and public intellectual on one stage at one time,” Krauss said.

ASU President Michael Crow, who provided a welcome at the evening session, told the audience that “the Origins Symposium was intended to bring together great intellects from around the planet to think about, and to get our juices flowing, about those most fundamental questions of origins.”

It was planned as a major event “that would kick off our intellectual curiosity” and the Origins Initiative at ASU.

Crow described Krauss, who is director of the Origins Initiative at ASU, as someone who is known throughout the world as a person “who can translate between what a scientist can do and what the rest of us can understand.”

Krauss is “a master scientist, master teacher, master translator, and the perfect person to lead our Origins Initiative,” Crow said.

Video archives of the April 3-6 Origins Symposium at ASU will be accessible online at They will include the digital lecture by Stephen Hawking, and the two-hour live broadcast of Nationl Public Radio’s “Science Friday” with host Ira Flatow.

The video archive also will include the weekend panel discussions, which were originally accessible via the live captioned webcast. Topics covered the universe, multiverse, physical laws, the galaxy, planets, life, the origin of species, evolution and human origins. Another session of four different panels, which were moderated by Roger Bingham, co-founder and director of the Science Network, led participants from consciousness, complex cognition and language, to culture – cooperation, morality and institutions.

The Science Network was a sponsor of the Origins Symposium at ASU.

Among other ASU faculty members participating on the panels were Ariel Anbar, Philip Christensen, Paul Davies, Jürgen Gadau, Kim Hill, Kip Hodges, Bert Hölldobler, William Kimbel, Manfred Laubichler, Curtis Marean, George Poste, Everett Shock, Sander van der Leeuw and Rogier Windhorst.