The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge (Princeton University Press, 2017) features Institute for Advanced Study founding Director Abraham Flexner’s classic essay of the same title, first published in Harper’s magazine in 1939, with a companion essay by Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor at the Institute.
“We share the conviction of our founders that such unrestricted deep thinking will change this world, but where and how is always a surprise.”
On January 4, 1955, Edward R. Murrow visited the Institute for Advanced Study to interview J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Institute’s third Director.
Starting in late 1945, John von Neumann, Professor in the School of Mathematics, and a group of engineers worked at the Institute to design, build, and program an electronic digital computer—the physical realization of Alan Turing’s Universal Machine, theoretically conceived in 1936.
The radical nature of Flexner’s twinning of science and humanism with truth and beauty arose in part from the radical nature of his concept for a “modern” university by which he meant a university devoted exclusively to the pursuit of higher learning for its own sake and without regard to practical value.
In 1935, Professor Benjamin Meritt took the first steps to build a Repository of Squeezes—impressions of inscriptions that allow scholars to more easily study them. He wrote to Director Abraham Flexner that it “will be second only to that in Berlin.” Today, the Institute houses one of the world’s largest collections of squeezes.