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All to do with honor and country
August 20, 2013 6:51 PM   Subscribe

Why particle physics matters [no pun intended]. Physicists from around the world talk about why we study the nature of the universe. [via]
It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with those things…It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honor in our country and are patriotic about.
In that sense, this new knowledge has all to do with honor and country but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.
Robert R. Wilson, the former director of Fermilab, in his testimony to Congress about the importance of building the particle collider that became known as the Tevatron.

Bonus: Some other great (and fun) science blogs on tumblr:
posted by Eideteker (17 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
So, a proton walks into a pbar, and explodes...
posted by eriko at 6:57 PM on August 20, 2013


Some of those particle physicists sound like they want to be astrophysicists (says the astrophysicist).

More seriously, as Feynman put it:
"Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it."
posted by edd at 7:00 PM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Voting for Breese Quinn, because OLE MISS! HOTTY TODDY

(Not seriously, but I'm pretty proud that Oxford keeps a particle physicist. I didn't know they had a department.)

This is inspirational to me. Although I have worked with words all my life, I have a hard time even grasping an answer to people who say, why study space? why study particles? The question makes me sputter. Why look upwards, why look inwards . . . ? The best I can manage is, "It is what separates us from the A-I-Ps," which is exactly what I was told as a child when I asked why people had to make up their bed every day. This is not a very good answer. Anyone who can manage a more articulate one has my admiration.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:00 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honor in our country and are patriotic about.

Cool! What country is he talking about?
posted by thelonius at 7:26 PM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


The country of 1969.
posted by fings at 7:38 PM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


A time back in which countrymen, including scientists, were cultured. Where it wasn't unusual for someone to be versed in Hindu scripture, or be able to pull from Joyce's Finnegans Wake.
posted by SollosQ at 8:09 PM on August 20, 2013


Came in here to add a quote, realized it was already below the fold. Of course it was.

In other news, Mathematica has a blog? It's not just the thing I beat my head against all the time?
posted by nat at 8:19 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wonder twin powers activate! Form of a: N@!
posted by Eideteker at 8:30 PM on August 20, 2013


Elizabeth Worcester gets my vote.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:03 PM on August 20, 2013


We have to defend it?! If the worth of particle physics is not axiomatic to you, then there is something wrong in your head.
posted by JHarris at 10:29 PM on August 20, 2013


For balance they should include a video by Lee Smolin or Peter Woit explaining why the past 30 years of theoretical particle physics has been mostly wasted effort.
posted by eddydamascene at 11:04 PM on August 20, 2013


Simple answer: To keep the fleas and lice away. If you need more reason than that, you're defective.
posted by Goofyy at 2:04 AM on August 21, 2013


Bruce Sterling Dead Collider.
posted by bukvich at 6:12 AM on August 21, 2013


Voting for Breese Quinn, because OLE MISS! HOTTY TODDY

Gosh almighty.
posted by solotoro at 8:47 AM on August 21, 2013


nat: Came in here to add a quote, realized it was already below the fold. Of course it was.

Yep. But here's a good contrast (referring to NASA's SETI program):

The NASA survey that Dr. [Jill] Tarter led began with great fanfare on Columbus Day of 1992, the 500th anniversary of the great explorer’s arrival in the Americas — a day that she called the high point of her life, a monument to human curiosity. “I felt so proud,” she recalled. A year later it was over, canceled at the behest of a senator, Richard Bryan of Nevada, who was skittish about “little green men.”

More:
In 1993, Nevada Senator Richard Bryan introduced an amendment that eliminated all funding for the NASA SETI program. The cost of the program was less than 0.1% of NASA's annual budget, amounting to about a nickel per taxpayer per year. The Senator cited budget pressures as his reason for ending NASA’s involvement with SETI.

Bryan issued a press release saying "This hopefully will be the end of Martian hunting season at the taxpayer's expense."

So there.

(I don't know where to look for the similar quotes from the cancellation of the Superconducting SuperCollider, which left behind just an empty trench in Texas (iirc) - those would be more closely appropriate as a contrast to Wilson's quote.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:44 PM on August 21, 2013


For the SSC, I'm really not sure where to look for quotes. I've heard this quote but can't source it: "Before we picked a location, everyone was for it. As soon as we picked Texas, the other 49 states were against it."

The SSC also left behind one of the chairs in my office, as it turns out. Projects that involve huge amounts of people also involve offices and meeting rooms and, yes, boring equipment like chairs. Which eventually grow old and are replaced with other chairs, leaving people with nearby offices to take the spares.
posted by nat at 1:42 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bryan issued a press release saying "This hopefully will be the end of Martian hunting season at the taxpayer's expense."

This is important, so listen: beware of the pithy, dismissive putdown. Just because someone can say something in a snide, semi-funny manner implies nothing about its rightness. Historically these kinds of comments have been used to casually dismiss philosophies that would great ease suffering, entire races of human beings, nations, causes, people, facts. They can be effective communication tools, but they can be so easily misused. And less the audience understands, the more easily that happens.
posted by JHarris at 9:21 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


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