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The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge


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Table of Contents

The World of Tomorrow - Robbert Dijkgraaf 1 The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge - Abraham Flexner 49 About the Authors 89 Further Reading 91

About the Author

Abraham Flexner (1866-1959) was the founding director of the Institute for Advanced Study, one of the world's leading institutions for basic research in the sciences and humanities. 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 cochair of the InterAcademy Council, a global alliance of science academies, and former president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.


"[Flexner's] 1939 essay ... advocates for unfettered inquiry that, paradoxically and unexpectedly, has often resulted in extraordinary utility... Dijkgraaf ... weaves Flexner's personal story together with compelling new examples that support Flexner's thesis... [He] beautifully expounds on Flexner's view of the lengthy and often unpredictable research path."--Craig Tovey, Science "[R]eaders will discover a timeless essay by Abraham Flexner written in 1939 on the Usefulness of Useless Knowledge and a companion essay ... by [Robbert Dijkgraaf] which shows that Flexner's vision is perhaps more relevant today... During recent decades, scholarship and funding for STEM education have reached a critical stage that was foreseen by Flexner. [Dijkgraaf] states that scientists and scholars have a role to play in educating the public on the value of useless knowledge."--Jean Worsley, NSTA Recommends "Flexner's essay needs to be reread, not just by government officials and business leaders but by scientists and voters as well."--Gillian Tett, Financial Times "There is a timeless relevance about Flexner's words in this essay written 78 years ago."--Wan Lixin, Shanghai Daily "A small and hugely powerful book."--Karen Shook, Times Higher Education "The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge is a book that should be in the library of all those who undertake any manner of inquiry, be it scientific or humanistic, amateur or professional. Furthermore, it should not be read only once but turned to again and again for inspiration, for motivation, and indeed, even for comfort. For in a world so relentlessly focused on tangible achievement and commercialization, the reminder that there were, and continue to be, those in who knew and still understand the importance of unbridled curiosity to the health of the human mind and spirit is of inestimable importance."--John E. Riutta, Well-Read Naturalist "[L]ively, powerful, and surprisingly timely."--Donald L. Drakeman, Public Discourse

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