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jerryking : expeditions   7

Opinion | Useless Knowledge Begets New Horizons
Jan. 3, 2019 | The New York Times | By Bret Stephens, Opinion Columnist.

Fundamental discoveries don’t always have practical uses, but they have soul-saving applications......In October 1939, as Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin were plunging the world into war, an American educational reformer named Abraham Flexner published an essay in Harper’s magazine under the marvelous title, “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge.”

Noting the way in which the concerns of modern education increasingly turned toward worldly problems and practical vocations, Flexner made a plea for “the cultivation of curiosity” for its own sake.....The marriage of disinterested science and technological wizardry on the farthest-flung adventures of the human race is what John Adams had in mind when he wrote that he had to “study Politicks and War that my sons may have the liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy.” It is among the greatest fulfillments of the American dream.....Typically, we think of the American dream in materialistic terms — a well-paid job; a half-acre lot; children with better opportunities than our own. Or we think of it in political terms, as an ever-expanding domain of ever-greater freedom and equality.

But prosperity, freedom, equality for what? The deep critique of the liberal society is that it refuses on principle to supply an answer: Each of us lives in pursuit of a notion of happiness that is utterly subjective, generally acquisitive and almost inevitably out of reach — what psychologists call the “hedonic treadmill.” Religious cults and authoritarian systems work differently: Purposes are given, answers supplied, questions discouraged or forbidden, and the burdens of individual choice and moral agency are largely lifted. They are dictatorships of meaning.....Flexner’s case for such untrammeled freedom isn’t that it’s a good unto itself. Freedom also produces a lot of garbage. His case is that freedom is the license the roving mind requires to go down any path it chooses and go as far as the paths may lead. This is how fundamental discoveries — a.k.a., “useless knowledge” — are usually made: not so much by hunting for something specific, but by wandering with an interested eye amid the unknown. It’s also how countries attract and cultivate genius — by protecting a space of unlimited intellectual permission, regardless of outcome....All of this, of course, has its ultimate uses — hence the “usefulness” of Flexner’s title. Newton’s third law of motion begets, after 250 years, the age of the rocket; the discovery of the double helix delivers, several decades later, Crispr. It’s also how nations gain or lose greatness. The “reorganized” universities of fascist Italy and Germany had no place for Leo Szilard, Enrico Fermi or Albert Einstein. They became the Allies’ ultimate weapon in World War II.

Which brings us back to New Horizons, Osiris-Rex, InSight and every other piece of gear flying through the heavens at taxpayer expense and piling up data atop our already vast stores of useless knowledge. What are they doing to reduce poverty? Nothing. Environmental degradation? Zippo. The opioid crisis? Still less.

And yet, in being the kind of society that does this kind of thing — that is, the kind that sends probes to the edge of the solar system; underwrites the scientific establishment that knows how to design and deploy these probes; believes in the value of knowledge for its own sake; cultivates habits of truthfulness, openness, collaboration and risk-taking; enlists the public in the experience, and shares the findings with the rest of the world — we also discover the highest use for useless knowledge: Not that it may someday have some life-saving application on earth, though it might, but that it has a soul-saving application in the here and now, reminding us that the human race is not a slave to questions of utility alone.
breakthroughs  Bret_Stephens  broad-based_scientific_enquiry  Colleges_&_Universities  Crispr  curiosity  exploration  expeditions  free_speech  free_will  freedom  fundamental_discoveries  Joseph_Stalin  knowledge  op-ed  serendipity  soul-enriching  space_exploration  the_American_dream 
january 2019 by jerryking
Overcoming adversity: In the footsteps of polar explorer Shackleton
December 22, 2018 | Financial Times | by Sarah Gordon.

In 2013 Tim Jarvis, an adventurer and environmental scientist, re-enacted Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1916 epic journey, sailing a replica of his boat 1,500km across the Southern Ocean from Antarctica, where Shackleton’s men were stranded for more than a year, to South Georgia island, then climbing over its mountainous interior to the site of the whaling station where Shackleton finally found help.....Mr Jarvis’ team used the same rudimentary equipment, clothing, rations and technology as had been used a century earlier......Jarvis' Shackleton expedition, like the original, hit numerous hurdles:
(1) loss of a sponsor;
(2) a gruelling sea leg of their journey, navigating storms and treacherous currents to reach South Georgia;
(3) three of the six team members had trench foot and some frostbite and were unable to embark on the next phase, the mountain climb across the island.

Jarvis coped by “trying to take a leaf out of Shackleton’s book”, keeping people busy, staying completely focused himself and “not even entertaining” the thought of stopping. He and the other lead climber, former Marine Baz Gray, isolated themselves in order to stop others’ negativity clouding their judgment before tackling the mountains ahead. There were no rows, says Mr Jarvis, but there were tears......“If you feel that at some level the risk and the fear are worth it, you will overcome it.”.....Choosing the right team for a challenge as extreme as this required unorthodox methods. For Mr Jarvis, the best team is about people whose skills complement one another rather than just the best individuals. But he also needed to make sure that team members could really do what they said they could....You don't want “employees”. “When the chips are down, you want someone who feels that they’ve invested a lot in [the expedition] and it’s theirs . . . ”Jarvis believes the expedition taught him how to set a positive example, how to recognise which buttons to press to get people to apply themselves more, and how to deal with “multi-dimensional” challenges, not just physical, but reputational and financial. “On the sea I wasn’t the best sailor. On the land I wasn’t the best climber. All you’ve got is your leadership, your conviction that you can pull it off, your bloody-minded determination to continue.”
adversity  Antartica  Ernest_Shackleton  expeditions  explorers  leadership  multidimensional  negativity_bias  obstacles  pessimism  teams  re-enactments  selection_processes  South_Pole  torchbearers  unorthodox 
december 2018 by jerryking
RIM co-founder Jim Balsillie put Franklin ship hunt in motion - The Globe and Mail
JOHN LORINC
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Sep. 12 2014

The risk of having another country locate the vessels “was an enormous concern. We needed to be the nation that finds them,” Mr. Balsillie recalled Wednesday of that initial eye-opening journey in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

Upon his return, the Research In Motion co-founder began to work behind the scenes to ensure that a Canadian search team would make that discovery – a five-year project that culminated with this week’s find....Through the Arctic Research Foundation, a charity he helped establish with veteran Arctic expert Martin Bergmann, Mr. Balsillie put up funds to buy a dedicated search vessel and state-of-the-art search equipment. (Mr. Bergmann died in a plane crash in 2011.) Mr. Balsillie and other foundation officials also pressed news organizations to pay more attention to the search efforts.

Most crucially, Mr. Balsillie used his contacts with the Prime Minister’s Office to persuade Ottawa to commit additional naval and coast guard ships capable of travelling longer distances, as well as technical support from hydrographic and satellite-mapping scientists. “Let’s just be professional and take a systematic approach,” he told top officials in the Conservative government. ... his view of the mission goes far beyond the curiosity value of locating a missing shipwreck.

He said that he has long seen “parallel narratives” between the way the British viewed the Arctic in the mid-19th century and the issues facing the region today. Then and now, scientific, commercial and geopolitical questions hover over the fate of the Arctic, which has been deeply affected by global warming, receding sea ice and the race to tap new energy resources on the ocean floor. “It’s remarkably similar,” observed Mr. Balsillie, whose interest in global governance issues led him to begin thinking about the Arctic in 2007.

Echoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he also sees the Franklin find as a “nation-building” exercise, something he feels is lacking in the country these days, apart from projects such as Own the Podium.

“I don’t think we do enough of it.”
John_Lorinc  Jim_Balsillie  expeditions  Franklin_expedition  Artic  sovereignty  history  nation_building  philanthropy  national_identity  exploration  Canadian  systematic_approaches 
september 2014 by jerryking
Roald Amundsen, from pole to pole - The Globe and Mail
Ken McGoogan

Special to The Globe and Mail

Published Friday, Nov. 16 2012, 4:00 PM EST

Last updated Friday, Nov. 16 2012,
book_reviews  books  Artic  Norway  Norwegian  expeditions  explorers  lessons_learned  Antarctica  South_Pole  Roald_Amundsen 
february 2013 by jerryking
Leadership Lessons From the Shackleton Expedition - NYTimes.com
By NANCY F. KOEHN
Published: December 24, 2011

Consider just a handful of recent events: the financial crisis of 2008; the gulf oil spill of 2010; and the Japanese nuclear disaster, the debt-ceiling debacle and euro crisis this year. Constant turbulence seems to be the new normal, and effective leadership is crucial in containing it.

Real leaders, wrote the novelist David Foster Wallace, are people who “help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.”

Shackleton exemplified this kind of leadership for almost two years on the ice. What can we learn from his actions?...Shackleton begun the voyage with a mission of exploration, but it quickly became a mission of survival.

This capacity is vital in our own time, when leaders must often change course midstream — jettisoning earlier standards of success and redefining their purposes and plans.
uncertainty  unpredictability  leadership  expeditions  explorers  historians  lessons_learned  pivots  turbulence  constant_change  leaders  human_frailties  course_correction  arduous  Antartica  South_Pole  Ernest_Shackleton  new_normal 
december 2011 by jerryking

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