Do new ideas arrive when their time has come, as the old phrase has it? Or can they be summoned up by scholars funded for the task? Light on both matters could come from Harvard's new ''distinguished scholar fund'' to ''enhance the invention of new questions, the creation of unconventional wisdom.''
The first participants are working on the subject of crime, where certainly the old questions and conventional wisdom have displayed their shortcomings. The results can't come too soon.
Meanwhile, it is interesting to contemplate that the need for fresh thought has reached a point where Harvard's president says this: that his venerable institution's greatest impact may eventually come not from success in solving society's problems but from the scholar's historic role of ''redefining old questions and inventing new ones.''