In most of the talks we shall hear in these four days we shall catch echoes from the past, many based on Hubble's initial developments in the span of 14 years from 1922 to 1936. The themes will be morphological classifications, redshifts, counts, evolution, galaxy formation, star formation rates, and world models. Are these important? Return to Naugle's statement quoted at the beginning about informing the public so as to assess the importance to society of the HST mission.
There are, of course, no practical applications directly from the work. All attempts to sell scientific progress of the nature we are dealing with in terms of any practical spin-off applications have always been singularly unconvincing to many. The importance of cosmology in human affairs and culture lies elsewhere. Indeed, if the spin-offs were to be the justification for the program, better to spend the money directly on them rather than to cloth them in the far-out studies of cosmology. No, the justification must rest on the nature of the inquiries themselves.
The problem of selling such esoteric studies as astronomy to the populous at large may be as old as Adam. Socrates said it best in his understatement to Glaucon in Book VII of the Republic, circa 370 BC, with the exchange:
Socrates: Shall we make astronomy the next study? What do you say?
Glaucon: Certainly. A working knowledge of the seasons, months, and years is beneficial to everyone, to commanders as well as farmers and sailors.
Socrates: You make me smile, Glaucon. You are so afraid that the public will accuse you of recommending unprofitable studies.
Of course, for emphasizing the philosophy of the work rather than its practicality, Socrates was forced by the politicians of Athens to drink hemlock. The charge was corrupting the young.
As most of the participants in this workshop are the young, the old folk spouting philosophy in these four days on such "unprofitable" studies as cosmology may themselves be forced to drink hemlock come Friday noon as the ultimate protection against their further corrupting activities.