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The Usefulness of Useless Education

John Ewing, President of Math for America, writes in the Huffington Post:

The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge was recently republished along with a companion essay, The World of Tomorrow by Robbert Dijkgraaf, the current director of the Institute for Advanced Study. Dijkgraaf’s essay amplifies Flexner’s, frames the argument in modern terms, and provides many more examples. The two essays are a powerful, poetic expression of scientific wisdom, and they provide an especially timely reminder today. American investment in research has declined as a fraction of GDP, and basic research—often seen as the ultimate useless knowledge—has declined the most. Industry and government are increasingly focused on practical research, meant to produce immediate benefits. They have forgotten Flexner.

. . . Flexner and Dijkgraaf point out that the process of discovery cannot be tamed. It’s unruly, often serendipitous, and frequently surprising. The quest for knowledge is best driven by intense curiosity rather than utility. It requires not only structure but also passion. And as Flexner pointed out, what seems useless today frequently turns out to be exactly what one needs tomorrow.

Read Ewing's full article here.

July 31, 2017