“We explore because we are curious, not because we wish to develop grand views of reality or better widgets.”
The precise purpose of and drive for science has been debated by some of history’s greatest minds. In The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen, physicist Brian Cox offers this beautiful window into the heart of science:
Science, of course, has no brief to be useful, but many of the technological and social changes that have revolutionized our lives have arisen out of fundamental research carried out by modern-day explorers whose only motivation is to better understand the world around them. These curiosity-led voyages of discovery across all scientific disciplines have delivered increased life expectancy, intercontinental air travels, modern telecommunications, freedom from the drudgery of subsistence farming and a sweeping, inspiring and humbling vision of our place within an infinite sea of stars. But these are all in a sense spinoffs. We explore because we are curious, not because we wish to develop grand views of reality or better widgets.
Of course, Richard Feynman knew this. And Neil DeGrasse Tyson knows it. And every successful creator, whether in science or in art, knows that curiosity is the habit of mind most essential to producing ideas. Because science, after all, is fueled by ignorance, by defetishizing the right answers and instead turning a curious eye to the right questions.