July 27, 2010
Kosslyn appointed director of Stanford's CASBS
While preserving the center as an intellectual retreat, the incoming director wants to create a relationship with Silicon Valley's innovators and leaders.
By Adam Gorlick
The Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) is a quiet, isolated retreat overlooking Stanford's campus where social scientists and humanities scholars think, write and develop ideas that shape their fields.
Stephen Kosslyn, the center's incoming director, wants to connect the hilltop haven with some of the creative bustle in the valley below.
"Web 3.0 is going to be the next big thing. It's going to personalize online interaction," he said. "In order to do that right, you need to know a lot about people and how they behave. The center is the preeminent place for behavioral science, so it makes sense that we have a connection with Silicon Valley."
Kosslyn, one of the world's leading psychologists and currently Harvard's dean of social science and John Lindsley Professor of Psychology in Memory of William James, is slated to take the top administrative role at CASBS on Jan. 1, 2011. He succeeds pediatrics Professor Emerita Iris Litt, who has provided invaluable service to the center on an interim basis since Claude Steele left the post last summer.
While Kosslyn is thinking of ways to make the research being done by CASBS fellows relevant to real-world situations, he is adamant about keeping the center's "unique atmosphere that encourages creative productivity."
"I want to play a role in nurturing the best scholars and researchers in behavioral science," he said. "I'm hoping to preserve what's best about the center's past but have it move into the 21st century."
Kosslyn's new job marks his return to Stanford, where he received his PhD in psychology in 1974. He began his teaching career as an assistant professor in psychology at Johns Hopkins later that year, then joined the faculty at Harvard in 1977. Kosslyn became a pioneer in the field of cognitive neuroscience, focusing much of his work on visual mental imagery, visual perception and visual communication.
"Stephen Kosslyn is an ideal leader for CASBS at this point in its history he is a distinguished scientist who understands the opportunities for new directions and innovation in contemporary behavioral sciences and he has a compelling vision for the center" said Ann Arvin, Stanford's vice provost and dean of research. "Cognitive neuroscience is an area where Stanford is very engaged and Stephen's own scholarship fits very well with our programs in psychology and social sciences."
CASBS was founded in 1954. While its bucolic campus on Alta Road is on Stanford property, the center was independent from the university. That changed in 2008, when the center's financial and administrative operations came under Stanford management. The center still picks its own fellows the social science and humanities researchers who spend a year pursuing their ideas and interests.
"It's important to keep a central focus on the fellowship program," Kosslyn said. "But we can also have social engagement programs that include the community around us."
Jonathan Cole, chairman of the CASBS board of directors, said Kosslyn's "extraordinary curiosity and intellectual energy" put him in a perfect position to lead the center and forge relationships with the innovators and business leaders who are its neighbors.
"Stephen's knowledge of the space between traditional behavioral science and work related to innovation and the biological and other sciences and engineering will allow him to create fruitful intellectual connections with institutions in the Bay Area, including those in Silicon Valley," Cole said.