The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge
A short, provocative book about why "useless" science often leads to humanity's greatest technological breakthroughs
A 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...more
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Flexner's essay, however, is wonderful. It's interspersed with short examples of knowledge or technology we take as useful (for ins ...more
But on the whole it was a bit ... overwrought. Lots of saccharine stuff about the human spirit taking wings and soaring high over the warm brown turds of practicality. Take this passage which summarizes nicely the book's main thrust:
"The 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 wil ...more
What a perfect, tiny but powerful argument for the importance of curiosity as the essential foundation for education and discovery. ...more
A paean to freeing the human spirit by offering unfettered opportunity to pursue passions and interests, Abraham Flexner’s 1939 essay makes the case for self-directed learning that we are hearing choruses of today. He does so in the context of his experience as the founder of Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Study, an institute that housed at different times such scientific greats ...more
1. it advances knowledge for its own sake;
2. it gives us new tools and techniques;
3. it attracts smart people;
4. the knowledge created becomes public domain; and
5. it spawns startup companies.
I'm not sure all of th ...more
The distinction between the applied and not yet applied research research is nice and much wanted explanation. There are examples from various fields of Science and Mathematics - ...more
What I learned: there is applied science and not yet applied science. Flexner helped to bust up the fake medical schools, improve American education, and brought Einstein and company to Princeton. He also wanted th ...more
Definitely suggested to people in the intellectual property arena. ...more
A magnificent piece on the beauty of human knowledge, the restless nature of human curiosity, and the resulting philosophical gratification and spiritual elevation it brings from understanding nature's deepest secrets. Knowledge must be pursued to knowledge's sake, without the consideration of it's practical utility. Leave that to us engineers :) ...more
My only qualm is the lack of images, which would have been easy to add in the intro.
Overall: a small gem of a book, easy to read in one or two sittings. This would make a superb gift for any scientist, professor, or physician.
I was reminded that passion driven works bear authentic outcomes rather than need of society or understanding of our age.
Let the genuineness get engaged in deepeest understanding of their quest. let's put our expectations aside. may be what they are about to find out is overwhelmingly more profound or beautiful than our hope for future. ...more
There is enough here to get your brain spinning off, so if you're in need of some quick, light, not-so-modern-but-still-relevant inspiration/validation, this one is for you. ...more
Flexner has written about a problem we are still struggling with in our current education systems and society. We need to encourage questions and freedom to pursue curiosity. The pure pursuit of knowledge benefits us in the long-term and provides the foundation for the applied sciences.
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After founding and directing a college-preparatory school in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, Flexner published a critical assessment of the state of the American educational system in 1908 titled The American College: A Criticism. His ...more