First, something for all of those who think that knowledge is valuable only for its current utility. From this nice book review on a new history of science:
But as we read of the tentative steps of the pioneers we are led to wonder again that science ever emerged in human culture. It had to run the gauntlet of practical men and women who jeered at the scientists' obsession with footling things – minuscule animals seen through the microscope, for instance. All of the knowledge that had sustained human society until that point – processing raw food into bread, cheese, beer and wine, tilling the ground, building cathedrals, sailing across the oceans – had been the work of skilled craftsmen, uninformed by any scientific principle whatsoever.Secondly, from the same review, a reminder of reality for those that tout the notion of 'ancient wisdom'.
As Ball puts it, the complaints of the naysayers can be summed up as: "small and distant things were small and distant precisely because they were not meant to concern us." So much for the plague bacillus that was wreaking havoc in London when the Royal Society was born, so much, ultimately, for DNA and the computer chip. What was meant to concern us, according to this view, was the scriptures and the received wisdom of the ages. Now the power of those small and distant trifles is everywhere apparent and the wisdom of the ancients stands revealed as a tissue of arbitrary fabrications.And finally, for all my friends in the UK, a reminder that this is what summer looks like.