When I wished my family a happy Higgs Boson day, I had already expected a lukewarm reception much like that of any family holiday where we're forced to talk to one another. I was mostly surprised that none of them had even heard of it. Most of their memories were spurred on by the recollection of “the black hole machine” that superseded it during its spring into the public consciousness in 2008. But the main unanimous response was that of, what does it do? Now I am in no position to even begin to fully understand or conceptualize the thing, but I at least knew the basics of how it affected and completed the Standard Model, so went on to explain to them why it's fundamentally important in our understanding of how the universe works. After I'd given my short Coxian speech, sans stupid voice, I quickly realised that I had misunderstood the question. It wasn't about what it does, but what it could do. I asked if curiosity wasn't enough. They all agreed no, it wasn't.
Now I would understand my granddad feeling this way, he's a man of the earth. He works with machine parts and has clearly grown used to the fact that if some thing’s hanging around that isn't needed, then burn it. He also heard a theory a long time ago that God did it and he's pretty convinced he's had the answer nailed for a while now. I didn't take my sister's opinion into consideration cause she just says things, but even the middle ground adults, the parents who had been swamped in the moon landing and all other examples of science for curiosity’s or novelty sake during the cold war, disliked it. But even those experiments like the moon landing had secondary motives, not just out of curiosity but also to belittle the Russians and improve American morale in their nation by winning the space race. Any actual activity remotely resembling science, conducted by dropping feathers or hitting golf balls, took a back seat to the mission and was possibly there just to fill time in the broadcast.
But then science for pure curiosity’s sake is viewed not only in the context of my family, but quite publicly as unpopular. There are problems now in inspiring the public about scientific discoveries because now the answers that we are curious about are far trickier conceptually and barely observable. They're also very complex, because if they weren't we'd have probably found them by now. This not only makes them difficult for the average Joe to get behind as he can barely understand what the hell it is they're looking for, but also uninterested because they'll never see it. If the Higgs Boson was the size of a house, he'd be immediately interested. It's a shame that public interest in certain scientific findings has run parallel with many millions of disappointing evenings to show us that size does matter. When my gran had heard about the Higgs Boson machine she was annoyed and irritated that such a colossal amount of money had been spent on something so small. When she had heard about the black hole machine several months ago, not a peep. She had seen the pre constructions in the Sun newspaper of a black void sweeping over a planet Earth, in a way that wasn't scare mongering in any way. But she wasn't frightened, because the hole was big at least, and the product seemed worth the price of admission.
Even on the news if Brian Cox or Hawking is being interviewed, one of the first questions is, what is it for? They're then shocked to find there really isn't one. But this presumptuous calling for things to have immediate practical use would be detrimental if it had ever been a species wide criteria for keeping stuff around. First people would never keep their children because all they do all day is shit themselves and make divorces far more tedious. If you went on holiday and were given a bomb and told that it'd make it much harder to get through customs and leave the place, oh and the bomb shits itself constantly, what kind of madman would ever weigh themselves down with that? If this was the case then the first people to discover oil would've just said “Eurgh what the hell is this black shit, fill in that damn hole”. But that didn't happen and look at us now, the better off for it, aside from some mild pollution and that whole greenhouse thing.
Is that a big enough Boson for you
It also creates some very strange situations. If a weapons manufacturer is being funded by the government, or is on the news, no one questions fundamentally what his product is for. Because it doesn't matter what it's for, all that matters is that it has a purpose. It seems preferable for something to at least have the purpose of killing people than to just fulfil a mild curiosity.
And the more advanced our technology becomes, we will set out to prove the existence of the theoretical particles and forces which have been theorized, but remained un-testable for decades. If public opinion and interest in these grand scale, expensive and ultimately curiosity based scientific endeavours rests as a key factor in the decision to undertake them, then it's worrying to think that in the long run this may begin to affect funding. After all the Americans had the chance to build the LHC in Texas during the mid nineties, but because it was seen as ultimately a fruitless, unproductive experiment, it was never undertaken. It worries me to think that given governments are really the only places rich enough to fund projects like this and that governments must keep their population happy with how it spends their taxes. But over time as the projects get more expensive, but infinitely more intriguing, yet lacking the public interest due to impracticality, they won't bother and we will be left in the dark as to the very workings of our home and the very fabric of reality. After all if we were to understand the universe implicitly, in the long run how could that even be a useless thing. It seems that ultimate knowledge of the universe is all that separates us from the gods of the past, and I for one think there'd be no more worthy long term experiment to finally create a deity in regards to the power our own species can wield.
But these concerns about scientific curiosity being shat into a hole and buried deep simply for monetary and public interest reasons is still for now only a concern. The LHC was made at least, and lets hope that science can become ever more popular in society. Or maybe we just shouldn't bother, sell off the LHC to some scrapheap and pump the money into producing sweeter candy, bigger buttplugs and another Pirates of The Caribbean film just to keep all the babies happy.
Planet Earth, 2080 AD
Christ we're doomed.