Star Warriors

Chapter 14 from A Different Universe by Robert Laughlin.

However, the studiousness was misleading, for what I was actually doing all that time in the bowels of the library was not my homework but something funding agents in Washington viscerally hate and have come to disparagingly refer to as “curiosity-driven research” – rapid, off-line investigations of things I judged to be important.

The practicalities of responsible adulthood are arguably the reason discoveries tend to be made by the young. It is not that young people are smarter, although they often are, but that they have fewer promises to keep.

Not surprisingly, many amusing things happen to anarchists when they grow up … For example, there is my colleague who used to argue passionately for the holy obligation of taxpayers to support ground-breaking technological research – until his wife launched a technology company and started paying taxes.

In physics we have endured a great deal of sacrifice recently as nuclear weapons have faded into the past, electronic hardware has migrated to the Far East, software has migrated to India, and research portfolios have shifted toward pharmaceuticals and medicine.

There will always be scientists – real ones – for the simple reason that there will always be a steady trickle of anarchists generated by responsible and good families doing their level best to avoid this outcome and produce only bankers, doctors, and soccer coaches. As the older ones are killed of by the practicalites of life, newer ones rise up to take their place like new grass in spring, in a cycle of creative rebirth that transcends the generations and is older than history.