Basic research provided the very basis of the Enlightenment: it presupposes both critical thinking and freedom of thought. Through basic research fundamental knowledge of the world advances, and most scientific ideas and new ways of thinking derive from it.

CAS offers curiosity-driven exploration initiated by its researchers. Curiosity-driven research is otherwise challenged in the current academic milieu, where researchers are under immense pressure to present quick, intelligible results, and where evaluation may come down to numbers of articles published.

However, some of our latest discoveries derive from basic research and from researchers’ own curiosity to explore—one being the ground-breaking discovery of the brain’s GPS by the Nobel Prize Laureates of 2014—Professors May-Britt Moser, Edvard Moser, and John O’Keefe. As part of the Hippocampus project, John O’Keefe was a researcher at CAS on several occasions in the late 1990s. Working together with Per Andersen, Richard Morris, David Amaral, and Tim Bliss, the foundation of recent advances in understanding the workings of the brain was laid in our seminar rooms. 

Consider the invention of the World Wide Web, which permeates many of our everyday lives. Consider also Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis, who, after several failed attempts to understand why so many women died of puerperal fever, finally discovered the importance of hand washing. Today, we know the magnitude of these discoveries, but none of them were hailed as brilliant at the time.

When Tim Berners-Lee proposed the foundation of the Internet, his ideas were, according to the World Wide Web Foundation, ‘vague, but interesting’, and Semmelweis lost his job trying to convince other doctors to change their hygiene routines.

CAS offers the unique potential for scholars to explore the research they are curious about, to engage in basic research, and to increase our knowledge of the world while accumulating new knowledge and new ideas.

At the core of the CAS concept is the firm belief that bringing together people from different backgrounds and with different perceptions creates new synergies. Interdisciplinary research is often the most innovative.   

Hence, to reach the full potential of basic research, CAS hosts internationally formed interdisciplinary groups to carry out basic research.

Interdisciplinary and international

Research groups hosted at CAS seldom represent only one discipline. Many are composed of different disciplines within, and sometimes across, the broad intellectual landscape of the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

Novel ideas are often born from gaps in established ways of thinking. Whilst valuing highly the expert knowledge each researcher brings, CAS also values—and facilitates—the exchange of knowledge and communication across research fields. We believe that collective thinking and engagement may push inquiry further than individual fellows can accomplish on their own. CAS creates a unique intellectual space dedicated to deep reflection and critical dialogue amongst scholars who spend a year in one another’s company. This opportunity for concentration and interdisciplinary conversation is rare in the present climate of academia, where teaching and administrative duties fragment the time left for research. Each discipline has become an island unto itself with few bridges left to other areas.

Not only is CAS Norway’s only national arena for interdisciplinary research, it is also the first to place scholarly excellence of an international standard as the rationale for its existence. 

CAS believes that bringing together researchers with different cultural backgrounds and academic knowledge optimises both our research and the CAS environment. To this end, our researchers come from all over the world. 

As an independent institution, CAS plays a significant role in keeping alive the ideals and the long history involved in the formation of knowledge and, thus, the accumulation of wisdom.

Deeply embedded in the research agenda at CAS, the key notions of broad awareness, freedom of thought, and critical reflection are crucial if we are to tackle the major challenges and uncertainties of the future, whether local or global.