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Why Study the Higgs Boson?

With the recent news over the probable discovery of the Higgs Boson, I've seen an old question come up again - What's the point of doing this type of research?

I've covered this before on the blog in the essay, Knowledge for Knowledge's Sake. That essay was in reference to dark matter, but it's largely applicable to the Higgs Boson, so I'm not going to repeat myself here. However, I've seen a few good takes from others on this question.

First is an article in the New York Times by Steven Weinberg, Why the Higgs Boson Matters. Jumping to the end, here was his conclusion:

On a longer time scale, the advance of technology will reflect the coherent picture of nature we are now assembling. At the end of the 19th century physicists in England were exploring the properties of electric currents passing through a near vacuum. Although this was pure science, it led to our knowledge of the electron, without which a large part of today's technology would be impossible. If these physicists had limited themselves to work of obvious practical importance, they would have been studying the behavior of steam boilers.

Next is an article by Jerry Coyne, which used Weinberg's article as a starting point, Steven Weinberg on the Higgs boson, and a few words on the value of pure science. Here's an excerpt of what he had to say:

But I wish we could convince the public that there are simple payoffs in understanding. Humans are curious animals: we want to know where we came from, and where the universe came from, and what we and the universe are made of. That is worth something in itself. Even if evolutionary biology had no practical benefits (and yes, there are some, but the vast amount of money given us by taxpayers to study evolution is to promote pure understanding), it would be worth spending money on, just as we subsidize the arts.

And finally, a recent comic on Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal made the point quite humorously. Here's the first panel from that comic. Click on it to read the whole thing:

SMBC #2674

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