X Marks the Spot
Filling the Empty Quadrant
In his book, Pasteur’s Quadrant, Donald Stokes lays out a two-dimensional continuum for scientific research. The two axes can be characterized as relevance for immediate application and relevance for the advancement of knowledge. Basic research, like that done by Niels Bohr, focuses on the advancement of knowledge. Applied research, such as Thomas Edison’s work, focuses on relevance for immediate applications. Louis Pasteur is lauded by Stokes for considering both purposes at once. It makes for a lovely diagram.
However, there is that unsightly empty quadrant, marked here with an X. Apparently Stokes could not think of anything that qualified, at least nominally, as “science”, while being both irrelevant for immediate applications and irrelevant for the advancement of knowledge.
Chomsky—whom many consider to be the intellectual equal of greats like Bohr, Edison, and Pasteur—nicely fills in the empty quadrant with many iterations of syntactic theory. There will be those who consider this an unfair characterization of Chomsky. They can just go ahead and shut their whinge holes now.
However, it is worth noting that Chomsky’s motivations for his seemingly irrelevant work are not equivalent to the others, and are not represented in the diagram. What’s that I smell? At least one more theoretical dimension in an arbitrary attribute space, baby! Power, money, tenure, fame, curiosity, concern for mankind, the crushing of one’s enemies—all these and more sit on a motivational axis, which needs only a modicum of synthesis to be ready for publication.
Donald should be stoked at the idea of this new dimension. Pasteur, whom he would laud, comes out looking even better than before. Chomsky, I believe, does not—so I, too, am further satisfied with this theoretical advancement.