Robbert Dijkgraaf

The Frontiers and Limits of Science

Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor
Institute for Advanced Study
October 17, 2012

Every day, at the Institute for Advanced Study and elsewhere, scientists and scholars are exploring the frontiers of knowledge, from the structure of the universe to the patterns of human thought. But what is the shortest path from A to B, if you do not know where B is? History teaches us that the first step is often a step sideways, away from the beaten path. Successful research is therefore an endless cycle of imagination and concentration, of playing and thinking. However, in a time that stimulates and rewards mostly short-term thinking and direct applications, the opportunity to freely explore such original ideas is getting more and more constrained. These limits to science devalue our society and hamper the long-term solutions of the world’s most pressing problems. A possible way out could be a broader understanding and appreciation of the fundamental values of the pursuit of knowledge, such as experimentation, imagination, reflection, criticism, and openness, in particular among younger generations.