One of the reasons I chose Stony Brook as a grad school was its proximity to New York City. I wanted to be close to live music. I'm a terrible musician but that doesn't mean I can't love it. It is deeply embedded in who we are as a people and influences how I think. I can't imagine being without it. The same is true for the visual arts. I'm terrible at that too (not that being terrible stops me), but the internal language I use to think is based on drawing and images.
While these components of culture we're proud of have some economic consequences, most artists are driven by a deep need to create and preform. A Picasso, a Dylan song, a Beethoven piano trio, a New Yorker cartoon, a dumb variation of a happy birthday song - they are celebrations of our culture making our lives richer.
Some "artistic" areas are overlooked as central to our culture. I would argue sport is one. Athletes paint us a picture of human potential - what a few dedicated people can do at their physical and mental limits. Movement to the point where it's a kinetic art form. Many of us are active, or have been. The professionals encourage us to move - to just do it. Like all good artists they allow our minds to soar for awhile. Most of them do it because they have to.
The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity.We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.
from the March for Science's mission statement
The organizers stress how important science is, but that misses something central. What is the common good and who defines it? While applied science is extremely important and is a connection between discovery and practical invention, pure research is different. It is not a list of facts that can be applied and it is connected with technology indirectly. Science is a process for finding out how Nature works. It is based on empirical investigation, reason and skeptical testing. It is fueled by curiosity. It is possible to send people off in rough directions, but what will be found, who will find it and the implications are often surprises. These surprises have the pleasant side effect of fueling technology, medicine. More importantly they help us we see ourselves in the universe. They are beautiful art by themselves.
Most of what you see listed as corporate R&D is really applied research and development. It has huge economic implications. It has direction and is important to fund if we want to move forward on the one to ten or fifteen year horizons. Basic research also needs funding and a greater degree of freedom. Most of it won't pan out, but something is learned from the failures. A few pieces do pan out - sometimes decades later. This is where our future comes from. One convenient truth is there is a good deal of cross fertilization between basic and applied research. Organizations with both are rare outside of major national, international and university environments and that may be a mistake.
I've always had to do some basic research. For a long time I worked as a technologist and applied researcher. I managed to squirrel away some time stumbling along at the frontier. I can't claim anything world changing, but it did make me a very different and perhaps even better technologist and applied researcher. It provided me with a remarkable tool set.
What I hope for - what I'll march for - is the support of fundamental research. It even has some short term benefits one can point to - nearly all medical tools originally came from instrumentation invented to get a better look at Nature, it educates the next generation and some of the people it trains bring an interesting and powerful way of thinking into a variety of businesses. And of course for the passion...
Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it
I'm guessing the artists, musicians and athletes are nodding. All of these activities allow us to see ourselves and the world around us in new and deeper ways. They speak to what makes us human.
I'll end with an animation of Feynman in the mid 60s