In 2004 I wrote a tribute to the research community I grew up in "The Power of the Context" (http://www.vpri.org/pdf/m2004001_power.pdf) and this will possibly help with some of your questions. I was just one of many in this community, and as I said at a recent Stanford lecture "The goodness of the results depends primarily on the goodness of the funders". Every era has enough of the kind of people who like to "ask what would real progress be?" and then try to make it happen. The large differences in "real progress" have fluctuated as the good funding has fluctuated (right now and for quite a few years, there has been almost none).
A very important first step in this is to put a lot of work into "learning to see the present" and then where it came from (this is a lot of work, and it's not what human minds generally want to do). This will free up most thinking, will open up many other parts of the useful past, and especially about much better futures.