Friday, September 27, 2013

advanced study

Waiting around for a medical 'procedure' yesterday, I picked up Forbes magazine and skimmed through an article about the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. I can't find the article to reference and I can't say that I read it all that carefully, but what I gathered was that this was a place whose
history was littered with Nobel Laureates and other very smart people ... Einstein and Oppenheimer come to mind. I do recall as well a wistful and somewhat mournful thread in the article suggesting that the thrust and importance of the place was being eclipsed by new, get-it-now, instant-gratification studies.

Wikipedia says of the institute:
There are no degree programs or experimental facilities at the Institute, and research is funded by endowments, grants and gifts — it does not support itself with tuition or fees. Research is never contracted or directed; it is left to each individual researcher to pursue his or her own goals. (Italics mine)
No degrees. No prizes, No well-defined goals. No outcomes assured. Just slow and patient and prolonged digging that may lead no where. One (wo)man, one effort and the result may turn out to be bupkus. On the other hand, one (wo)man, one effort and the result may turn out to be E=mc2.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I think everyone, at one time or another, enters -- with or without iPad -- a world of advanced study, a world in which the outcome is entirely unknown and yet the field or question positively demands examination ... slow, patient, particular and sometimes agonizing examination. It has nothing to do with money or elevated intellectual capacity and everything to do with personal commitment and courage.

And I think, as perhaps Forbes suggested, that there is something sad about an unwillingness to honor and support those who embark on a course whose result is purely unknown.

It's nice to succeed, to achieve a targeted result that was known or posited from the get-go.

But how much richer and more daring to achieve what was unknown from the get-go. Even if it's bupkus.

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