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The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

Much more I am pleading for the abolition of the word ‘use,’ and for the freeing of the human spirit. To be sure, we shall thus free some harmless cranks. To be sure, we shall thus waste some precious dollars. But what is infinitely more important is that we shall be striking the shackles off the human mind and setting it free for the adventures which in our own day have, on the one hand, taken Hale and Rutherford and Einstein and their peers millions upon millions of miles into the uttermost realms of space and, on the other, loosed the boundless energy imprisoned in the atom. —Abraham Flexner, IAS founding Director, in The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

In The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, originally published in the October 1939 issue of Harper’s, American educator and the Institute's founding Director Abraham Flexner explores this dangerous tendency to forgo pure curiosity in favor of pragmatism—in science, in education, and in human thought at large — to deliver a poignant critique of the motives encouraged in young minds, contrasting those with the drivers that motivated some of history’s most landmark discoveries.

Read more at Brain Pickings.

 

Date
May 18, 2012