With the slew of reporting on Jeffrey Epstein’s recent arrest on federal charges for sex trafficking of minors, many sordid details of the money manager’s wrongdoings have been revealed. However, few reports have focused on the fact that Epstein has funded some of the most famous scientists in the world. If we look closely at his role as a science philanthropist, Epstein’s more pernicious political significance becomes clear and gives us all reason to reflect on the values of the Western civilization in crisis that his worldview represents.
Epstein’s Science Philanthropy Empire
The Jeffrey Epstein VI Foundation was established in 2000 with the stated mission of “supporting innovation in science and education.” In 2003, the Foundation pledged a $30 million donation to establish the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard University, where Epstein had already been a “long-time, low-profile” donor. This graduate department studies the “fundamental mathematical principles that guide evolution” and, according to Epstein’s website, also investigates topics such as “population structure, prelife, eusociality, [and] evolutionary economics.”
Despite pressure to return the gift after Epstein’s initial charges for soliciting sex from prostitutes in 2006, Harvard refused to do so. Former president Derek C. Bok weighed in, questioning why “Harvard should have an obligation to investigate each donor and impose detailed moral standards.” After orchestrating a plea deal in 2008 with the help of Harvard law professor and well-known apologistfor Israel’s war crimes, Alan Dershowitz, Epstein maintained his friendly relationship with Harvard, where he continued to sit on the board of the Harvard Society of Mind, Brain, and Behavior. As of 2014, he was also “actively involved” in the Santa Fe Institute, the Theoretical Biology Initiative at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and the Quantum Gravity Program at the University of Pennsylvania.
Besides his Ivy League connections in the United States, Epstein has recently poured money into Artificial Intelligence research abroad, namely the OpenCog research group in Hong Kong and MicroPsi Project 2 in Berlin. Forbes reported in 2013 that this AI research was targeted at the development of “radical emotional software.”
In addition to these larger projects, Epstein has funded a laundry list of the world’s most famous scientists including Stephen Hawking, Marvin Minsky, Eric Lander, Stephen Kosslyn, Martin Nowak, George Church, and Nobel laureate physicists Gerard ’t Hooft, David Gross, and Frank Wilczek. The full extent of his donations is not known since the Foundation avoided making its financial details public despite pressure from the New York Attorney General’s Office in 2015. In addition to his much publicized interactions with politicians, Epstein has taken a personal interest in many of these scientists, prompting one leading Harvard researcher to proclaim that Epstein “changed my life.”
Indeed, New York Magazine reported in 2002 that Epstein “brings a trophy-hunter’s zeal to his collection of scientists.” He flew Hawking to his personal island for a conference with 20 more of the world’s top physicists, spoke with Director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, Martin Nowak, once a week on the phone and flew him around the country for lectures, and went personally to Harvard psychologist Stephen Kosslyn’s lab to observe experiments conducted on Tibetan monks, the latter whom Epstein reportedly described as “so stupid.”
The Reactionary Politics of Scientism
Epstein’s diverse science philanthropy credentials may seem arbitrary to highlight, but, upon closer scrutiny, it is clear that his donations served a consistent purpose of upholding Western political and scientific dominance over the world.
Epstein subscribes to a scientistic worldview, which sees not politics, economics, or religion as a driving force of history but, rather, evolution. He spoke fondly of E.O. Wilson’s famous evolutionary determinist theory of “sociobiology” in 2002 and founded the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics the following year. What is the cause of Epstein’s attraction to evolutionary thinking about human social development? In a word: money.
Epstein stated, “If we can figure out how termites come together, then we may be able to better understand the underlying principles of market behavior – and make big money.” For Epstein, markets are not the product of human creation but, instead, evolutionally hard-wired systems that can be understood in terms of biology. This is all, of course, malarkey, but demonstrates that financial capitalists like Epstein see science not as a way of expanding human knowledge for the good of all; rather, it is, at best, an outlet for bogus theorizing about the so-called natural laws of the economy and, at worst, an unabashed intellectual justification for the wealth of key market players like himself.
This brings us to Epstein’s generous funding of top AI research scientists, with whom he has enjoyed close personal relationships. In 2013, he was reported to fund “the first humanoids” and “first free thinking robots,” which are designed to move beyond robots as “clunky machines that relied on deterministic algorithmic pathways” toward emotional human-like creatures with “responsive facial expressions, synthesized rubber skin, called frubber and delicate features.”
These are reminders that scientific research and technological development are not separate from politics. Indeed, Epstein has not only served on the boards of numerous science institutes, but also on those of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. The Council on Foreign Relations was founded in 1921 to advance US foreign policy interests in the wake of World War I and the Russian Revolution. Later on, the Council’s study groups developed the Cold War doctrine of “containment” and laid the foundations for NATO.
The Trilateral Commission was founded by David Rockefeller in 1973 to advance the interests of North America, Western Europe, and Japan. In the words of a 1975 document produced for the Commission, it was concerned about a lapse in “the indoctrination of the young” and called for “more moderation in democracy” in the wake of the revolutionary social movements of the 1960s and 1970s.