review The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge 103

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review The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge 103 ´ A short provocative book about why useless science often leads to humanity's greatest technological breakthroughsA forty year tightening of funding for scientific research has meant that resources are increasingly directed toward applied or practical outcomes with the intent of creating products Nd the man who helped bring Albert Einstein to the United States describes a great paradox of scientific research The search for answers to deep uestions motivated solely by curiosity and without concern for applications often leads not only to the greatest scientific discoveries but also to the most revolutionary technological breakthroughs In short no uantum mechanics no computer chipsThis brief book includes Flexner's timeless 1939 essay alongside a new companion essay by Robbert Dijkgraaf the Institute's current director in which he shows that Flexner's defense of. Thought provoking paper with one star deducted for pretentiousness that registered off the charts

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The value of the unobstructed pursuit of useless knowledge may be even relevant today than it was in the early twentieth century Dijkgraaf describes how basic research has led to major transformations in the past century and explains why it is an essential precondition of innovation and the first step in social and cultural change He makes the case that society can achieve deeper understanding and practical progress today and tomorrow only by truly valuing and substantially funding the curiosity driven pursuit of useless knowledge in both the sciences and the humanitie. A brief elouent defensive of simple curiosity as the driving force of intellectual endeavor Flexner the founder of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton NJ provides numerous examples of how even the most practical advances grew from research conducted with not even a ghost of a thought for application Roughly as contemporary and necessary now as when it was first published in 1939

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The Usefulness of Useless KnowledgeA short provocative book about why useless science often leads to humanity's greatest technological breakthroughsA forty year tightening of funding for scientific research has meant that resources are increasingly directed toward applied or practical outcomes with the intent of creating products of immediate value In such a scenario it makes sense to focus on the most identifiable and urgent problems right Actually it doesn't In his classic essay The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge Abraham Flexner the founding director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton a. For those who care about curiosity learning and flourishing this is certainly worth a read especially given its short length The two pieces each offer something different Flexner's essay for which the volume is named makes a good case for useless knowledge pointing towards how much of our useful things in the present are predicated upon the useless knowledge And of course hearing of his experiences working to sculpt the Institute for Advanced Study left me with good feels about the joy that learning and discovery can bring to the soul Dijkgraaf's preface was also a good paired read As the current director of the IAS he sheds light on the historical context of Flexner's work and shows us how that work has blossomed into the world we know today One thought I'm left with is that the success America has seen in the past half century is owed in large part to 1 the encouragement of pursuing knowledge for knowledge's sake and 2 the pooling of scholars and researchers of varied nationalities faiths backgrounds etc In a world where we are growing increasingly focused on efficiency and protectionism this work is a good reminder that in the practices of play discovery and vulnerability we can together produce a world worth protecting and defending Some uotes I really enjoyedAs physicist Robert Wilson would testify in a 1969 congressional hearing about the possible Cold War use of the Fermilab particle accelerator This new knowledge has all to do with honor and country but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defendingThe real enemy of the human race is not the fearless and irresponsible thinker be he right or wrong The real enemy is the man who tries to mold the human spirit so that it will not dare to spread its wingsEhrlich made his way precariously through the medical curriculum and ultimately procured his degree mainly because it was obvious to his teachers that he had no intention of ever putting his medical degree to practical use Terry Pratchett vibesOver a period of one or two hundred years the contributions of professional schools to their respective activities will probably be found to lie not so much in the training of men who may tomorrow become practical engineers or practical lawyers or practical doctors but rather in the fact that even in the pursuit of strictly practical aims an enormous amount of apparently useless activity goes on Out of this useless activity there come discoveries which may well prove of infinitely importance to the human mind and to the human spirit than the accomplishment of the useful ends for which the schools were founded