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.
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.
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.