The five founding members of Kira - Piet Hut, Roger Shepard, Steven Tainer, Bas van Fraassen, Arthur Zajonc - began with the question, "Starting with Science, `what else is true?'" They started from science for two reasons. Firstly, science offers a successful example of detailed and verifiable knowledge built up in a coherent fashion over many generations. Secondly, science offers a standard description of reality used in contemporary culture.
They arrived at their common "what else" question from different backgrounds, namely astrophysics, physics, cognitive psychology, philosophy of science, and comparative religion. Individually
and as a group they were exploring where this question would lead them. What aspects of art, philosophy, contemplative approaches, and other ways of knowing can be considered `true' and in what way? What are the empirical or experiential roots that give rise to forms of knowing that can truly inform us and help us live more meaningful lives?
Their "what else" inquiry took on a more concrete form in a series of yearly summer schools in which they discussed these issues with graduate students from various scientific disciplines. Alumni from these summer schools continue to form a support group that helps us sustain our explorations. In 2008, following the retirement of some of our founding members, we constituted a new Board, bringing in new Kira Faculty from diverse areas including space exploration, medicine, sociology, and education. Immediately thereafter, Kira opened its virtual campus in Second Life, providing a far more efficient medium for the Kira alumni to stay in touch with each other, and to invite new activities as well.
Central among these new initiatives was the founding of the Kira Cafe, in the center of the virtual Kira Campus. In the fall of 2008 we have started a series of lectures, panel discussions, and other events, all of which have their bearing on our "what else" question, in broad and playful but also very serious ways. In addition to the Cafe, we have built a serious of smaller workshop and lecture rooms for more specific programs and activities, more in philosophical and contemplative directions. We are also currently developing a Kira Science Park, in which we will conduct both research and education in various fields of science, while keeping an open eye to science in context.
The notion of `science in context' is our latest exercise in approaching the "what else is true" question. Within the context of the virtual world of Second Life, professionals and serious amateurs can freely mingle, and both can cross disciplinary boundaries far more easily than in Real Life. In this way, they can get much more of a sense of the broader context of the work traditionally done in each separate discipline. And within this open context, the "what else" question naturally offers itself both as a rallying point for discussions and as a center of further inquiry.