Shelley Krasnow was trained as an electrical engineer and lived life with a very broad outlook. A man of many interests, he was committed to supporting basic biomedical research. As a thinker and philanthropist, Shelley Krasnow’s life-long quest for knowledge gained him a reputation as a philosopher, humorist, and advocate for fulfillment derived from engaging work.
When Mr. Krasnow died in 1989 he bequeathed a substantial portion of his extensive estate to two charities. One bequest was to the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges reflecting his long time commitment to excellence in education. The second bequest was to establish an institute whose purpose was for the general advancement of human knowledge for the betterment of mankind. From this second bequest trustees were appointed and in collaboration with George Mason University, The Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study was created.
In 1993 the work of the Institute began with a major scientific conference, co-sponsored with The Santa Fe Institute and hosted at George Mason University. This conference on The Mind, the Brain, and Complex Adaptive Systems brought together an extraordinary group of scientists including two Nobel laureates and produced exciting new approaches to this frontier.
These collaborative efforts set the Institute on the path of seeking to understand the human mind: how it came to be, how it relates to the electrochemical activities of networks of nerve cells in the brain, how it can be modeled on computers, and how it is a vital component of what we are. A second strand of inquiry also emerged: how can understanding the human mind be applied to help us in education, decision-making, and all those countless activities that define our individuality and our contribution to mankind? All of these areas of interest come together under the general heading of cognition, the essence of the Institute’s mission, and the legacy of Shelley Krasnow’s vision.
Behind the search for human happiness, satisfaction, understanding, and value, lie the timeless queries about the nature of the human mind, human thought, and human emotions. While these questions are philosophical, social, and theological, their answers rest in part on our ability to scientifically access the human mind, the human brain, and the relation between the two. It is this informed access to mind and brain that is the core of the mission of The Krasnow Institute. While our goals and tools are scientific, we also are fully cognizant of the applications of the results for the benefit of mankind, in areas like mental health, neurological diseases, and computer design. It was the enormous potential inherent in this research mission which was Shelley Krasnow’s goal in endowing the Institute. In asking the major questions we realize the necessity of being flexible, innovative, and trans-disciplinary. Therefore, we are dedicated to bringing together scholars from a wide variety of specialties and providing a milieu where they can be both productive and interactive. We will provide these researchers with the tools required to move ahead and create an environment of optimal scientific integrity coupling innovation with risk taking.
While all modern disciplines are appropriate input for our endeavors, we are especially attuned to the deep insights from evolutionary biology, which is at the root of understanding all organismic functions including cognition; computer studies of complex systems, which present a revolution in our ability to deal with the world of interactive agents; and a long history of cognitive psychology, which provides a huge data base of human abilities and responses.
In the end, we believe that there is no substitute for recruiting the very best people and turning them loose to explore the fascinating world of thought somehow emergent from our biological nature and evolution as Homo sapiens.
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