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Support Unfashionable Ideas

See also: Pressure for Conformity

Remember, when all the “experts” are attacking something - it’s typically not because they’re right, it’s because they’re defending an old belief that’s being disproven by new events.Neil Strauss

Unless we change direction, we are likely to wind up where we are headed. Ancient Chinese proverb

Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done. Justice Brandeis

“Now my time is up, and I must keep my promise to give you some practical advice about the support of science. I am saying, both to the Institute for Advanced Study and to the Humboldt Foundation, that it is our duty and our privilege as independent organizations to be less shortsighted than our governments. Our role should be to take a longer view of science than either politicians or postdoctoral students can afford. What does the longer view of science teach us? What moral is to be drawn from the various stories that I have told? The moral is a simple one. We ought to give greater attention and greater support to unfashionable research. At any particular moment in the history of science, the most important and fruitful ideas are often lying dormant merely because they are unfashionable. Especially in mathematical physics, there is commonly a lag of fifty or a hundred years between the conception of a new idea and its emergence into the mainstream of scientific thought. If this is the time scale of fundamental advance, it follows that anybody doing fundamental work in mathematical physics is almost certain to be unfashionable. We should not stop supporting the fashionable research that keeps most of our young scientists busy and happy. But we should set aside a certain fraction of our resources, perhaps a tenth or perhaps a quarter, for the support of unfashionable people doing unfashionable things. We should not be afraid of looking foolish or even crazy. We should not be afraid of supporting risky ventures which may fail totally. Since we are independent, we have the right to take risks and to make mistakes. Organizations which only support research where there is no risk and no chance of mistakes will in the end support only mediocrity. If we proceed with good sense and courage to support unfashionable people doing things that orthodox opinion considers irrelevant or crazy, there is a good chance that we shall rescue for science an occasional Sophus Lie or Hermann Grassmann, people whose ideas will still be famous long after our contemporary fashionable excitements are forgotten.”Dyson in “Unfashionable Pursuits” (1981); published in the essay collection “From Eros to Gaia”

For a fundamental breakthrough, I believe that we need more mathematicians, more open positions, more passion, and less dogmatism.

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solutions/crazy_ideas.txt · Last modified: 2017/12/10 10:09 by jakobadmin