In every department of every university the goal of research and teaching is understanding. We understand a thing when we can explain it. Explanations come in different kinds, however. The most familiar sorts of explanation are those that draw upon or attempt a universal theory couched in general principles, the paradigms of which are found in theoretical physics. In a great many cases, however, the understanding we seek cannot be framed as a universal theory but is instead fundamentally historical in nature. In these cases, we seek to explain not through general principles but through an understanding of origins.
CSO is part of the campus-wide Grand Challenge Initiative (GCI). GCI includes projects in Earth and space science, which are two of CU’s areas of greatest strength, as well as the study of origins. The origins project is unique in its inclusiveness, however. While connecting with important issues in Earth and space science, such as historical explanations for changes in Earth’s climate over the past 500 years and the fate of the ancient Martian ocean, CSO brings together researchers from the social sciences and humanities, as well as the natural sciences, to investigate an underappreciated but important issue, namely, the diversity, nature and justification of hypotheses and theories about the past and how they inform our understanding of the present and the future.