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The L.A.S.E.R.s were started by cultural historian Piero Scaruffi in january 2008 in San Francisco as a local forum for presenting art and science projects underway in the Bay Area. The first LASER was held in January 2008 at SFSU.
In February 2009 Piero also started a series in Silicon Valley, at the SETI Institute in Mountain View. In July 2009 the San Francisco series moved to University of San Francisco. In August 2011 the Silicon Valley series moved to Stanford University.
Sister series were started in 2010 in Washington DC (chaired by JD Talasek at the National Academy of Sciences), in January 2013 in Los Angeles (chaired by Victoria Vesna at UCLA), in June 2013 at UC Berkeley (chaired again by Piero Scaruffi) and in October 2013 in Santa Cruz (chaired by John Weber at UCSC).
Before the LASERs a group of artists, scientists, philosophers, historians, engineers, etc were meeting in informal salons. Piero's LASERs simply opened those salons to the general public, and, to some extent, "democratized" the interdisciplinary discussion.
The "local" mission of the LASERs is to provide the general public with a snapshot of the cultural environment of the region and to foster interdisciplinary networking.
The broader mission is to contribute to bridging the gap between the "two cultures" (humanities and sciences) of which CP Snow spoke in 1959, as well as briding the gap between these two cultures and the ordinary public, particularly at a time when science has become incomprehensible for the vast majority and the humanities seem to be mired in a permanent crisis (the "A" in LASER should really be an "H").
In general, the LASERs were born out of the belief that an interdisciplinary education provides a deeper understanding of human civilization and hopefully help us engineer a better future.
It is not a coincidence that the LASERs started out in the San Francisco Bay Area, a region that has been a model for unorthodox interdisciplinary thinking, perhaps the real well-kept secret of the success of Silicon Valley.
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