Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor of the Institute for Advanced Study since 2012, is a mathematical physicist who has made significant contributions to string theory and the advancement of science education.
He is President of the InterAcademy Partnership, past President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a distinguished public policy adviser and advocate for science and the arts.
Dijkgraaf introduces Abraham Flexner, the founding director of the Institute for Advanced Study, and his timeless 1939 essay. 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. Dijkgraaf describes how basic research has led to major transformations in the past century and explains why it is an essential precondition of innovation and the first step in social and cultural change. He makes the 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.
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