The definitive answer to why we must invest in pure science research

The answer to why we spend money in pure science research and space exploration is obvious to me, but I often see people whining about how we can invest those (very limited!) dollars on doing other things with direct material benefits. Physicist David Kaplan's has the perfect answer to these complains.

Advertisement

In the video, Kaplan answers the question from an economist who asks him what do we gain from discovering the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider.

The question by an economist was, "What is the financial gain of running an experiment like this and the discoveries that we will make in this experiment?" And it's a very, very simple answer.

I have no idea.

We have no idea.

When radio waves were discovered, they weren't called radio waves, because there were no radios. They were discovered as some sort of radiation.

Basic science for big breakthroughs needs to occur at a level where you're not asking, "What is the economic gain?" You're asking, "What do we not know, and where can we make progress?"

So what is the LHC good for? Could be nothing other than just understanding everything.

Advertisement

The truth is that every single scientific discovery in the history of humanity, even the most seemingly stupid and innocuous, have had a direct measurable effect on technology. From the theoretical physics research to astronomy to space exploration to biology to geology to paleontology. Every theory, every discovery, every sliver of knowledge has either impacted our lives in a huge way or contributed to a path that eventually ended in something that pushed humanity forward.

So yes, pure science brings great economical benefits, but even those benefits and technological advances are nothing compared to what Kaplan says at the end: The benefit "could be nothing other than just understanding everything." And that, while not material, has implications at the very core of our personal and common existence.

At the end of Particle Fever—the must-watch film from where this clip is from—another physicists reflects on what is that make us human:

Why humans do science, why do they do art? The things that are least important to our survival are the very things that make us human.

Advertisement

You can buy Particle Fever online or watch it on Netflix.

Advertisement

This is SPLOID, a blog of delicious brain candy. Join us on Facebook

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

Im going to crash the party by saying this- in the rush to discover the Higg Bosun, it is easy to forget that millions of very real and physically starving people have died . How many of them would be around today had we spent the resources sunk into the LHC towards their cause?

I'm not saying that to be anti-science. Pure research has its place, but it needs to come AFTER real world problems on the resources allocation list. Congrats, we now know more about the nature of the universe. Meanwhile, the rich get richer and the poorer get poorer , just like they did when humanity thought the solar system revolved around the Earth.

How about , instead of researching quantum mechanics,we put that money and time and expertise toward solving the economic problems of the world? Let's research why it is warlords prosper in Africa, and how we can solve the resource problems driving much of the Middle Eastern violence. Fun fact-the standard of living for a poor Egyptian male is far lower then that of many nations. Might explain why so many want to blow themselves up , that way the terrorists pay their families who then wont starve.

Once we've licked some basic social and economic problems, then we can research why it is quantum mechanics won't play nice with general relativity.