“Usefulness of Uselessness” and How It Serves Modern Society

On the face of it, usefulness seems more definable in the fields of science, where it can be expressed in theses, discoveries, inventions and products. But even here usefulness can be elusive.

In his article “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge” (contained in the titular book by Abraham Flexner, with a companion essay by Robbert Dijkgraaf, current IAS Director and Leon Levy Professor), Flexner (1866-1959) argues that “useless” knowledge can be a major engine of technological and societal progress. Flexner was the founding Director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and the man who helped bring Albert Einstein to the United States.

Read more from Wan Lixin of Shanghai Daily, who writes "there is a timeless relevance about Flexner’s words in this essay written 78 years ago . . ."