The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge
by Maria Popova “The real enemy is the man who tries to mold the human spirit so that it will not dare to spread its wings.” In an age obsessed with practicality, productivity, and efficiency, I frequently worry that we are leaving little room for abstract knowledge and for the kind of curiosity that invites just enough serendipity to allow for the discovery of ideas we didn’t know we were interested in until we are, ideas that we may later transform into new combinations with applications both practical and metaphysical. This concern, it turns out, is hardly new. We hear it said with tiresome iteration that ours is a materialistic age, the main concern of which should be the wider distribution of material goods and worldly opportunities. Mr. Flexner goes on to contend that the work of Hertz and Maxwell is exemplary of the motives underpinning all instances of monumental scientific discovery, bringing to mind Richard Feynman’s timeless wisdom. This lament, alas, is timelier than ever.
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