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MIT ... A Leader in the Arts

Cassi Hunt

I came to MIT to become an entertainer. I create my art for sophisticated palates, and though the twentieth century blossomed with a renaissance in my craft, I unfortunately find myself in a period of artistic lull. Patrons are turning to other forms of entertainment, or — I shudder at the ramifications of this — they have simply lost the taste to appreciate the talents I came here to develop.

Other students who have chosen majors in the pure sciences will appreciate my plight. A fellow physics major recently asked me why I chose our major. We agreed that what people devote themselves to professionally reflects their moral standard. What does it say about my ethics if I devote myself to a profession that doesn’t yield any direct benefit to mankind?

This question struck a chord with me, and I’ve since realized that I find it so dissonant because it oscillates counter to everything that drives me. What of Ludwig van Beethoven? Anna Pavlova? Leonardo da Vinci? Surely nobody considers their contributions to society impractical. And yet, physicists must constantly defend themselves against the eternal question: what is the point of what you do?

Beethoven wouldn’t dignify this question with an answer. No artist should. The great achievement of mankind is that we have moved beyond the need to merely survive. We find ourselves with the free time and resources to not just subsist, but to find joy in life and to create for the sake of our own pleasure.

I’m no engineer. Someday my work may result in something practical for mankind. After all, electricity began as a curiosity for physicists. But this isn’t likely, and that’s okay. That’s not why I want this career. Physicists are entertainers of the most sophisticated caliber. We are storytellers. But unlike that in most authors’, the beauty of our work is that it is rooted in reality. We paint the universe. Our patrons are those who derive joy from this beauty and the knowledge that it exists because of their support.

What does it say about our world that physics is going the way of ballet, opera, classical music — our support is waning. We are losing our patrons to more practical endeavors. Certainly we need productive ventures to sustain ourselves — but for what purpose do we create this excess, if not to spend it on our enjoyment?

How can physics reclaim the pull it once held over our patrons’ imaginations? How can our stories reclaim their audience? Perhaps we must wait for our Picasso or Sousa. The next revolution in physics is coming — we just need the creative minds that will write the next great tale. And certainly there is no shortage of physicists ready to assume the role.

In the meantime, they need the resources to create the tools they need. Physics has become a costly form of entertainment.

Equipment can easily cost millions, and accelerators and detectors can run into the billions of dollars. So I appeal to all those who appreciate knowledge for the sake of knowledge, who relish stretching their minds around the strange and wondrous, who possess the sophistication to appreciate an art form that must stand up to the most rigorous critiquing and review before it is even unveiled. I appeal to those with the power to support this entertainment — governments, businesses, every voter. Don’t let the pure sciences die; our culture will be poorer for it.

Cassi Hunt is a member of the Class of 2008.