Thursday, April 20, 2017

The USEfulness of USEless Knowledge


Robbert Dijkgraaf, director of Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, gave a presentation on his short, yet provocative book about why “useless” science often leads to humanity’s greatest technological breakthroughs. The brief book, The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, includes Abraham Flexner’s timeless 1939 essay alongside a new companion essay by Robbert Dijkgraaf in which he shows that Flexner’s defense of the value of “the unobstructed pursuit of useless knowledge” may be even more relevant today than it was in the early twentieth century.  Robbert Dijkgraaf explained how basic research has led to major transformations in the past century and clarified why it is an essential precondition of innovation and the first step in social and cultural change. He made a strong case that society can achieve deeper understanding and practical progress today and tomorrow only by truly valuing and substantially funding the curiosity-driven “pursuit of useless knowledge” in both the sciences and the humanities.  
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 most identifiable and urgent problems, right? Actually, it doesn’t. In his classic essay, “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge,” Abraham Flexner (1866-1959), founding director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the man who helped bring Albert Einstein to the United States, describes a great paradox of scientific research. The search for answers to deep questions, motivated solely by curiosity and without concern for applications, often leads not only to the greatest scientific discoveries but also to the most revolutionary technological breakthroughs. In short, no quantum mechanics, no computer chips.
Robbert Dijkgraaf, a mathematical physicist who specializes in string theory, is director and Leon Levy Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. A distinguished public policy adviser and passionate advocate for science and the arts, he is also the co-chair of the InterAcademy Council, a global alliance of science academies.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Springtime in Paris


Before Sinatra did it "My Way," Claude Fran├žois did it "Comme d' Habitude" and Charles Trenet took a dip in "La Mer" long before Bobby Darin ventured "Beyond the Sea." Musical guest, Fleur Seule, treated us to a repertoire of American standards actually inspired by French songs.

The event was held at the Princeton Club and offered Salon members a view into one of NY’s exclusive university clubs. With over 200 programs a year, the Club delivers a plethora of delightful and informative experiences. We took over 4 tables and some of us even ventured out onto the dance floor and reaped the benefits of a helpful and fun lesson by Eddie & Sui.

Through it all, Fleur Seule, fronted by the lovely Allyson Briggs, transported us to Paris' left bank.