Not What We Think: What We Haven't Thought Of

President Charles M. Vest's keynote address at the Jerome B. Wiesner Symposium on the Future of the Government/University Partnership, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, February 26, 1996.

© Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1996. To reprint or excerpt for publication, please contact the MIT News Office at, or (617) 253-2700.
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Executive Summary

The remarkably beneficial partnership of the federal government and our research universities has weakened. This is not surprising in a time of enormous change. It is less surprising still in a highly politicized, economically troubled period in which distrust of institutions is widespread and short-term thinking is continually rewarded.

The stresses in research universities are, however, symptomatic of a broken system: our national innovation system. It must be fixed.

The life and career of Jerome B. Wiesner are well worth contemplating as we strive to construct sound science policy and manage change in our universities. Certain principles, especially the integration of teaching and research, must be maintained. Experimentation and diversity of institutional goals should be encouraged.

We must more effectively communicate to the public what we do and what is at risk, and advocate strong federal support. We must shape new partnerships with both government and private industry. But above all, we must hold to our primary mission: to set the right questions and pursue the unknown.

Reflections on Jerry Wiesner

It is really quite wonderful to be back at Michigan. In 1990, Becky and I left Ann Arbor, after 27 years, to continue the great adventure of our life in new roles at MIT. We had arrived here in 1963, driving in the then-obligatory Volkswagen Beetle. In two weeks, we had graduated from college, married, honeymooned and then enrolled in the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. Little did I know that Michigan would become the core of my professional and personal life for nearly three decades. Still less did I suspect that on the basis of the education, life experience, and opportunity that Michigan would afford me, I would someday have the privilege of becoming president of MIT.

I am very honored to be asked to give this lecture at the first Jerome B. Wiesner Symposium. This symposium is devoted to exploring a topic about which I am passionately concerned. It is dedicated to a man I revered, a man who five decades ago also took his Michigan education and trekked to Cambridge to build a career at MIT.

As we begin this symposium, you need to know something of this man. Because in searching for answers to the problems that perplex us today, we can do no better than to reflect on his life, which ended in 1994--all too soon.

The New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis said at Jerry's memorial service, "There are any number of intelligent people in the world. There was only one in my experience who combined a brilliant intellect with the modesty, the humor, the patience, the humanity, and the commitment to bring reason to an often stubbornly irrational world. That was Jerry Wiesner."

If I could say one thing to sum up Jerry Wiesner's life, it is that his was a life well-lived. His was a life that drew deeply on science and engineering, but also demonstrated a profound humanistic impulse, educational leadership, artistic sensibility, and statecraft of the highest order.

Although Jerry's life took form from--and gave form to--MIT, his life and career are an example to us all:

Over the course of his career, he helped shape fields, departments, schools, and the Institute itself. And he extended this reach to corporations, foundations, and community organizations, through service on their boards.

A scientist and electrical engineer, he promoted the growth of the humanities, the arts and the social sciences in our midst.

He co-founded the Media Laboratory to explore the outer reaches of human and societal implications of emerging information technologies.

He led us in bringing women and minorities into the academy.

He reveled in discourse with everyone--students, trustees, staff, faculty, alumni and alumnae, artists, corporate leaders, politicians, poets-- and he delighted in bringing people from different worlds together. In the 1970s, it was Jerry who convened informal and impassioned dialogue among government officials and student protesters.

And he maintained an international perspective and world view in all that he did. Indeed, Jerry Wiesner was a citizen of the world:

He was science advisor to two U.S. presidents.

During the Cold War, he was a guiding light of the Pugwash Conference and movement that sustained discussion across national and political boundaries.

And he worked tirelessly to awaken the world from the nightmare of nuclear standoff.

Yet throughout this life on the world stage, he lived quietly and simply with his beloved wife Laya in Watertown, Massachusetts, and on Martha's Vineyard.

And through it all, he spoke his mind. Listen to what--in part--America's great poet Archibald MacLeish said of Jerry Wiesner:

A good man! Look at him there against the time!
He saunters along to his place in the world's weather,
lights his pipe and hitches his pants,
talks back to accepted opinion.

Congressional Committees hear him say:
"Not what you think: what you haven't thought of."
He addresses Presidents. He says:
"Governments even now still have to govern:
no one is going to invent a self-governing holocaust."

The Pentagon receives his views:
"Science'" he says, "is no substitute for thought.
Miracle drugs perhaps: not miracle wars."

Advisor to Presidents, the papers call him.
Advisor, I say, to the young.
It's the young who need competent friends, bold companions,
honest men who will not run out,
won't write off mankind, sell up the country,
quit the venture, jibe the ship.

How does this life relate to a seminar on the future of the American research university, and the role of the federal government?

We--all of us--must nurture, support, and build our institutions for the future, as Jerry did. We must keep alive the joy, excitement, beauty, rationality, and creativity of science and technology, deeply understood, as Jerry did.

Yet we must understand the power and potential of science and technology to provide the means for harm as well as for great good. In other words, we must never cease to consider the context in which the powers of science and technology are applied. And we must strive to integrate the understandings of humanists and artists with those of scientists, engineers, managers, architects, planners, and social scientists, as Jerry did.

We must strengthen America's great research universities. We must shape them, change them, steer them, so that future generations will benefit as greatly from them as did the generations that came before. We must not, as MacLeish says, "sell up the country, quit the venture, [or] jibe the ship."

We need to ask, "What would Wiesner do?"

A World of Change

Jerry came to MIT during World War II--at the beginning of the second of the great watersheds in the development of the nation's universities, a time that led to the forging of a common vision and sense of partnership between the nation's universities and the federal government. The first watershed, of course, was at the time of the Morrill Land Grant Act in 1862. We are now at the third great watershed-- a time when the value of higher education and research to the nation is being questioned. That is why we are here today--to take stock of where we are and where we want to go.

As research universities, who we are, what we do, and how we do it are changing very rapidly. It is a time of change, and indeed it is a time for change. The accessible base of science is expanding, bringing new possibilities, flexibilities, and techniques to engineering. Just scan last September's issue of Scientific American, which is devoted to key technologies for the twenty-first century. You'll find things like wireless networks, all-optical networks, intelligent software, high-speed rail, new spacecraft concepts, gene therapy, artificial organs, self-assembling materials, microscopic machinery, high-temperature superconductivity, industrial ecology, sustainable agriculture, and the information economy. We really are in for a very exciting time.

But this is not the whole story. We inhabit a world with a rapidly expanding population, a threatened physical environment, and a set of nations and societies with disparate cultural values. Economically, we compete against every other country and company. Corporations are continually merging and dividing, employment is in flux. Intellectually, disciplines are increasingly irrelevant. And in all of this--thanks to the powers of information technology--distance and time are being compressed at an astonishing rate.

In such a world, we succeed by our wits rather than by our power and resources. Social, political, economic, and environmental factors appear likely to dominate over technical matters, as we have traditionally defined them.

This is the world that research universities have shaped and that we serve. Our role--once clearly defined in the public mind, and strongly supported by the public and the government--is now neither understood nor appreciated as it once was.

This country emerged from the Second World War confident that we had the strength and the vision to create a vibrant future. We had trust in each other and in our institutions. Universities benefited from the confidence placed in us by the government and by the public.

Today, our value is questioned by those who look at the cost of education and the cost of research, and look at these enterprises as just that--costs, rather than investments in the future.

Of course, to some extent, this reflects a general mistrust of institutions and concern about the future that is prevalent throughout the populace. Such attitudes notwithstanding, we are, indeed, at a watershed point in our history.

Fundamental History and the Issues

The first watershed event I alluded to--the passage of the Morrill Land Grant Act--resulted, over time, in the development of first rate universities in states all across America. The charter of MIT, which is a land grant institution, reflects the spirit of those times. At a period of rapid industrialization in this country, MIT was established to aid "the advancement, development and practical application of science in connection with arts, agriculture, manufactures and commerce." The universities were encouraged to interact with industry, and until World War II this was a central driving force in engineering and science.

During World War II military necessity drove new meldings of the professions, and new understandings about the relationship between the deepest of sciences and the most practical of applications. The Manhattan Project at Los Alamos and the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago unleashed the energy that had been locked since the beginning of time in the nuclei of atoms. This changed the nature of our world forever. And in the process, we learned that basic science, when combined with industrial and engineering knowledge and organized on a unprecedented scale, was capable of accomplishing astounding feats.

At MIT during this same period, scientists and engineers were brought together at the Radiation Laboratory for the purpose of developing radar, a recent British invention, into deployable military hardware. They succeeded, and in so doing changed forever the nature of engineering, and, indirectly, engineering education. A strong science base now undergirded practical engineering, and mathematical analysis came to the fore. During this same period, work at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and MIT laid the groundwork for the development of modern computing.

Also, during the war years, extraordinary organizational changes and unheard of levels of government-industry partnership, resulted in the development of manufacturing systems with a scale and production rate that was previously unheard of. Parenthetically, this production rate was made possible in large measure by a massive entry of women into the industrial work force.

So, World War II was a time of unprecedented transformation and accomplishment in the U.S. scientific, engineering, and industrial sectors. University faculty and administrators, and in some cases universities, as institutions, were at the core of these accomplishments.

The subsequent history of science and technology policy is well known to all of you, so I will not review it in detail. Its central feature, however, has been the realization of Vannevar Bush's vision, developed by a committee in about nine months in 1945 when President Roosevelt asked how the lessons of wartime innovation and production might be applied in peacetime. The question he put to them was how could science be applied to enhance the health and welfare of the American people.

The answer was set forth in the seminal report Science - The Endless Frontier. The main principles in this report were that the federal government had a responsibility to foster and fund scientific research and that universities should conduct most of the scientific research, thereby combining the functions of education and research. Undergirding these recommendations was a faith--a faith that fundamental scientific knowledge, developed and disseminated by faculty and students, would diffuse into industry and inevitably advance the health, quality of life, and economic vitality of America.

These two watershed events, the Morrill Act and mobilization of the science and engineering communities during World War II, shaped both our university system, and its relation to government and industry. There have been many other factors, especially the rise of academic medicine, but these two were the major sea changes. Both were stimulated by tectonic shifts in the national and world scene.

Since 1945, America's innovation system, and especially the federal-university partnership have succeeded far more than anyone could have predicted. Each of you knows this modern history well.

Now, fifty years after the Bush report, we find ourselves facing constrained budgets, and a distinct lessening of faith in the current system to provide for the nation's future. Fundamental change seems to be demanded, but its nature is unclear. As Karen Arenson titled a recent editorial in Technology Review, "Out with the Old, In with ... What?"

I don't have the answer to this question, but I would like to discuss the framework within which we might contemplate it.

A Disintegrating Innovation System?

As we enter this era, we find that our highly successful national innovation system is threatened. Indeed, it is in danger of disintegrating. What do I mean by our innovation system? I mean government, industrial and academic institutions working in at least a loosely coupled manner to produce new scientific and technological knowledge, recognize its relevance to public and commercial good, translate some of it into industrial practice, and prepare people to develop, implement, and market it.

Here is what I observe today. We have a three-tiered system of R&D:

For nearly 50 years, these three levels worked as a system that paid great dividends to our society. Why do I say this system is disintegrating? Here's why:

What is the result? The result is that the innovation system is in danger of coming apart. The bottom layer of university-based, long-range research is chunking along, despite wear, tear, and rusting bearings. The top layer is spinning fast on freshly-oiled bearings, but is using up all its stored energy for short-term optimization, and is not investing sufficiently in the future. As a result, contributions to the "middle layer" by industry are rapidly diminishing, and the upward flow from universities is rather random and less productive than it might be.

This description is oversimplified, but it gives the essence of our situation. Admittedly, this image of our national innovation system is most accurate for mature, manufacturing-based industries. It is less accurate for younger, fast-paced industries like biotechnology where the path between fundamental scientific research and commercialization is very short. But in general, while the recent reorientation of industrial R&D has gotten many of our companies back into strong competitive positions and created value for stock holders, I fear for the longer range health of our industries.

Thus we have more than just our universities and their relation to the federal government to worry about.

The Level of Investment

Before turning to matters pertaining specifically to universities, let's examine the state of our national investment in R&D.

In 1993 the U.S. invested 2.7 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in R&D. This includes investment by both government and industry. Just two years ago the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy report "Science in the Public Interest" suggested that investing 3 percent of GDP in research and development would be an appropriate national goal. By next year, it appears that the national investment in R&D will drop to 2.2 percent of our GDP.

The federal government currently invests about $70 billion annually in R&D. Close inspection of these budgets, however, discloses that only about $35-40 billion funds anything that this audience would consider research and development. This is only 2.3 percent of the federal budget, and it is only a little more than 0.5 percent of our GDP. The remainder is largely for objectives such as testing of weapons systems. If all these numbers are a bit confusing, the "bottom line" is that the federal government devotes only two or three percent of its outlays to real scientific and engineering research and development.

The likely future of U.S. R&D funding is not very attractive. The budgetary turmoil in Washington makes prognostication difficult, but here are a few facts. The current congressional budget resolution, as analyzed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is headed toward a 30-35 percent decrease in real dollars by FY 2002, almost uniformly across agencies. The Administration's budget projections also show nearly as serious reductions.

Examination of the immediate state of affairs looks slightly less troublesome. The Department of Defense, through the past three administrations has worked hard to keep R&D investments constant in current dollars, despite the dramatic declines in manpower and procurement. But it is dropping nonetheless. The National Institutes of Health, unlike most components of the budget, are funded for the entire fiscal year and will actually receive a 5.6 percent increase over FY 95. (This is due to strong leadership by Congressman John Porter of Illinois and Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon.) The National Science Foundation likely will receive an increase of one to two percent, i.e., a slight decline in real dollars. Congressman Vernon Ehlers of Michigan is leading an attempt to stabilize NSF's appropriation for the entire fiscal year--a very important action if the federal budget is not adopted by March 15.

Other leaders in Congress such as Bob Walker, chairman of the House Science Committee, and George Brown, its ranking minority member, have fought to stem the erosion of support for fundamental research. But we cannot be complacent. What will happen in the years ahead is the issue. We are very likely to see serious deterioration in federal investment in R&D.

Industrial spending on R&D, currently about $102 billion annually, also is on the decline. Indeed, it has not grown in real terms for seven years.

Now let us contrast this situation to that in Japan. Japan currently invests about 2.8 percent of its GDP in research and development, which is almost exclusively non-defense R&D. Japan, a much smaller nation spends essentially as many absolute dollars on non-defense R&D as the U.S. While we in the U.S. move toward a distinct R&D funding decline, the Japanese are operating under a law calling for a doubling of their investment in R&D by the year 2000. Now it appears that this goal will not be fully met by 2000, but the Japanese science and technology budget is increasing by about 10 percent per year, despite the fact that the rest of their budget is flat.

Furthermore, Japan is moving aggressively to build its infrastructure for scientific research. It is reforming its system of funding university research, and providing for 10,000 new doctoral and post doctoral fellowships. It is planning to sell bonds to support a new system of centers of research excellence. Japan is moving very aggressively. We should remember this as we look to the future of our own R&D system.

Renewing the National Investment in Research and Education

Maintaining a sound level of national investment is a primary matter, but the overall policy environment also is important. As we evolve our national science policy, there are a number of principles that we should hold to, and a number of pitfalls that we should avoid.

Indeed, I fear that we are stumbling into several policy pitfalls. I will note four that are of particular concern to me. They are:

First, categorization of research: During the past three years, far too much of the science policy debate in Washington has been dominated by classifying R&D programs as "strategic" or "basic" or "applied." This has caused unnecessary pendulum swings in several agencies, and has unnecessarily invited ideology and partisanship into the debate. In addition, the categorization of research in this way ignores the reality of how modern industry integrates science, engineering, management, process and production. Such a perspective mitigates against clear, long-term thinking. We need to get this behind us.

Closely related to this is another concern. Most decision makers, and the interested public, appear to have a reasonably clear understanding of the importance and mission of the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. There is far less understanding of the role of the mission agencies. They are very important participants and supporters of research in a wide range of areas. The Department of Defense support of university research has been the predominant factor in the development of computing, networking, and modern telecommunications. The Department of Energy supports most of the basic atomic and nuclear physics in the U.S., especially that requiring large-scale facilities. NASA and the departments of Transportation and Commerce are all essential parts of the equation. Indeed, the mission agencies provide around 70 percent of the federal funding of research in our nation's engineering schools.

The "Press Report," i.e., the report of the National Academies' Committee on Criteria for Federal Support of Research and Development, recommends that the president annually prepare a Federal Science and Technology Budget which displays the support of science and technology across all federal agencies. Such an analysis would give a far truer picture of the nation's investment in science and technology, and of the role of the mission agencies in these endeavors.

The second policy pitfall the nation must avoid is a failure to recognize research and advanced education as an investment. Expenditures on R&D are increasingly viewed as simple costs. They must be recognized as investments--investments that pay extraordinary rates of return, both financially and socially. This is not an abstract concept; it is an important, though often overlooked fact. For the moment, let me simply point to the recent review and analysis of Joe Stiglitz, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors.

Stiglitz reviews several recent econometric studies. They indicate private rates of return, i.e., return to the company supporting the R&D, on the order of 25 percent. The social rate of return, i.e., the return to all who utilize the knowledge generated, is around 50 percent, and many investigators suggest a much higher return. These are astounding numbers that reflect a great and under appreciated return to the American public.

An important aspect of return on our national investment in university research occurs by attracting private capital to develop inventions that we patent. At MIT, we carefully analyzed what our patented technologies have added to the economy. We then conservatively extrapolated it across all university patents, and concluded that licensing of university inventions adds more than $20 billion and 150,000 jobs to the economy each year. It is hard to argue that funding of research is a drain on the national budget!

The third policy pitfall is one that concerns me deeply, and that is the separation of education and research. It is the tendency, in tight financial times, to create an environment that pushes research and education apart at the very time they need to be increasingly integrated. It is short sighted and dangerous.

What are the indicators of this? Federal sponsors, through a variety of mechanisms, originating in both the Congress and the executive branch, are retreating from paying the full costs of the research they sponsor. This forces universities to shift the unreimbursed costs to their only other sources of revenue--tuition, gifts and endowment income, and state support. These resources generally should be devoted directly to our teaching program and environments.

The failure to meet full costs, and the application of arbitrary caps to cost-of-education allowances, tuition reimbursements, and to reimbursement of indirect costs creates a situation in which it becomes more attractive for faculty to hire postdoctoral scholars and junior research scientists than to support graduate students. This trend, though understandable, should be arrested and reversed.

The final policy pitfall I worry about is a manifestation of the Law of Unintended Consequences--and that is the specter of driving wedges between the public and private research-intensive universities. We must not allow this to happen. Some of the financial and policy issues, especially those having to do with cost reimbursement, look a little different in detail from the perspective of public and private institutions. But we have much more in common than we have differences.

We must work together and not allow ourselves to develop conflicts that are counterproductive, especially when viewed in the long run. The ecology of American higher education, with its great variety of kinds of institutions has made us the greatest system in the world. We need to be vigilant to keep it this way.

Toward Some Solutions

Now what about solutions? I did not promise to delineate new policies, but I did promise to talk about the framework for our discussion.

This is the kind of challenge that Jerry Wiesner would relish: how to build bridges between ideas and institutions to create entirely new paradigms to meet the times and the nation's need.

Where then, should we--the universities-- begin? There are some things we must avoid, and some things we must do.

Let me begin with three dangers that we must avoid. They are:

First, don't throw out what is good. You may wonder why I would even suggest such a thing--that we may be in danger of abandoning the principles and mechanisms that have built the world's premier system of higher education and research. But if we think about it, there are pressures edging us toward just that. We must resist those pressures. Difficult financial times, for example, must not force us to abandon the integration of teaching and research. Indeed, these activities need to become even better integrated and mutually reinforcing. We must be learning communities in the deepest sense. And we must not abandon the American ideal of making our best institutions accessible to all who have the intellectually capability and drive to benefit from them. Education must come first.

Second: Don't fall prey to smugness or complacency. The excellence that we have attained does not imply that we do not need to change. Our own worst enemy is smugness and complacency. We have been guilty of both. The world does not owe us a living. We must be willing to explain what we do, why we do it, and why it is important to the future. And we must honestly and continually assess what we do and how well we do it. We need to work effectively to reduce our costs while retaining institutional and educational excellence. We need to humanize our learning environments. Our institutions must evolve rapidly in new directions to meet the needs of the century ahead. "Send the money and leave us alone" is not, and should not be, an acceptable message to Washington. Yet I have heard it many times.

Finally, stop looking to the past instead of the future. We cannot justify the investment of federal funds in 1996 on the fact that we won the war in 1945. We need to look to the future, conceive improvements of our role in the national innovation system, utilize the very technologies we have developed to improve learning both inside and outside our campuses. We need to work aggressively to prepare our students for the international, globally integrated, environmentally challenged world they are entering. We need to tailor new degree structures and new educational formats to the needs of a new age.

And we need to think carefully about what Congressman George Brown has told us--that if we expect the federal government and the public to support us, we must turn more of our attention to the issues that most concern them--issues like poverty, crime, and economic distress. Are there new things that we can do to solve these problems? We need to think hard about it and not presuppose the answer.

What else can we--should we--be doing? I would suggest two arenas where we should be more active: advocating our cause and building partnerships.

Let me say a few words about advocacy. Though we must not blindly advocate our cause, we must advocate it. We need to tell our story on editorial pages, in the television news, in public lectures, in the most popular of magazines, in local political gatherings. The future has no political constituency. We must become that constituency. We must raise the level of debate. We must show our relevance to society, and especially to the lives and quality of life of future generations. We do not need to engage in hyperbole, because we have a strong, defensible case. Let's make it. Let's be teachers and partners.

Indeed, partnerships will be the key to success. Our national innovation system must be just that--a system. Government, industry and academia must be in greater discourse and partnership to attain our goals. We are great economic engines in the near term through our R&D activities. We can be even greater economic engines for the long run through improved education of our students.

We are not listening enough to what industrial leaders are saying about the qualities they desire in our graduates. They are not listening enough to our concerns about the deterioration of mid-range research and the shared technological knowledge base. Our discourse regarding the roles and future of our national laboratories has been too defensive and unimaginative.

This is a time for experimentation, for the development of new paradigms. My belief is that many of these will involve imaginative new partnerships across all three sectors.

Let me be a bit parochial and give three examples of fledgling new partnerships that MIT is involved with.

First, we have established an Alliance for Global Sustainability jointly with the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich, the University of Tokyo and several global corporations. Our goal is to advance the concepts, scientific base, enabling technologies, and policies necessary for the vastly greater efficiencies and reduction of environmental damage that the future demands. Many of the initial activities of the Alliance emphasize work associated with industrial development and energy utilization in China. The base of environmental and sustainability research in all three universities remains dominantly funded by our national governments, but the Alliance leverages and builds on this base, and extends its range of influence and relevance.

A second example is the Lean Aircraft Initiative, a partnership involving the U.S. Air Force, 19 aerospace-related corporations, two labor unions, and several U.S. universities. We are engaged in a massive study of manufacturing in the aircraft industry to identify the means to dramatically lower the cost of high-quality production of aircraft. It is a highly unusual style of research and has radically changed the careers of a few of our faculty. Finally, I would note the "Things that Think" initiative of our Media Laboratory. This initiative is being carried out through a consortium of industries ranging from appliance manufacturers, to telecommunications companies, to theme park developers. It is an imaginative exploration of building intelligence and digital communications into a myriad of objects--from vacuum cleaners that can tell the difference between a gum wrapper and a $20 bill to personal newspapers that prescreen and deliver the world's news to you each morning.

Every other major university has new partnerships of this kind that are emerging. We need to accelerate them.

It also is my belief, and experience, that many of the most imaginative and important new partnerships that will emerge will largely be aimed at achieving educational goals, rather than isolated research activities. This, of course, is a large topic in and of itself that we also should explore together.

In Conclusion

In closing, I want to state that we must not lose sight of the fact that despite the extremely important role the federal-university partnership has in meeting the challenges of the world as it is, our deepest value as universities lies more in what we do not know than what we do know. Our utilitarian value to society is considerable, and I celebrate that. But ultimately it is the unraveling of mysteries and the satisfaction of human curiosity that will provide the keys to the future.

There is an infinity of important things to discover, understand, and apply. We, as a nation, cannot lose our will to continue this great adventure. We cannot deprive the next generation of its opportunity to contribute to this advance. And we certainly cannot afford to fail to invest in the very activities that will provide for the future: the quality of its life, the vitality of its economy, and the purity of its environment.

There is so much to be discovered and understand: How we learn, remember and communicate; what the relationship is between thought and speech; how to convert solar energy into practical, cost-efficient fuels; how viruses form their elegant, geometric structure from common protein building blocks; how living cells interact with nonliving materials; what aspects of weather and climate are predictable; why different nations' economies grow at much different rates; what effect the explosion of networked electronic communications will have on nation-states; what is the origin of the universe.

Such questions remind us that our value to practical concerns such as health, economic productivity, and national security accrues ultimately from our enthusiasm and readiness to explore the truly unknown.

In other words, to echo Jerry Wiesner: it's not what you think: it's what you haven't thought of that is important.

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