The other day I had to write a text explaining the importance of theoretical high energy physics and quantum gravity for the future of mankind. In layman's terms and less than two paragraphs.
I volunteered to do this because my frontal lobe starts shriveling whenever I have to endure somebody working in this area trying to justify their existence by confidently explaining that spin foams will one day dramatically improve the iPhone or so.
Okay, I'm exaggerating. But as I wrote previously it saddens me considerably that knowledge for the sake of knowledge doesn't seem to count as progress anymore. It's not that I don't value technological progress, I just don't think that's all that can “benefit the future of mankind.” As much as I criticized Slouka's article “Dehumanized”, I agree with him that we should stand our ground rather than adapting to external pressure that asks for material short-term outcomes. I finally wrote the following.
“What are we made of?,” “Where do we come from?,” and “What are the laws of Nature that we conform to?” are fundamental questions about our existence that scientists have studied for thousands of years. The quest to answer these questions and to understand the place of mankind in the vastness of the cosmos has lead to a great many of technological improvements. Material prosperity is a, welcome and desired, result that better knowledge of the fundamental laws of Nature brings. But knowledge by itself has also an immaterial value that feeds our desire to understand the world which brought about planet Earth and conscious life on it.
In the last century we have made dramatic progress with our understanding of space, time and matter, but open problems in today's best theories tell us that our knowledge is incomplete. New observations that can guide our learning have moved to very high energies and large distances. It is subject of our research in the areas of high energy physics, quantum gravity, and cosmology to combine the requirements of mathematical consistency and compatibility with observation to learn about the earliest moments of the universe, the elementary constituents of matter, and the structure of space and time itself. Among the most exciting and unforeseen recent insights is the connection between this research and condensed matter physics that is one of the focus areas at Nordita.
Nordita's website btw has undergone a general overhaul and is now remarkably improved.
You can go and shatter my world view by telling me the actual reason you're working on quantum gravity is that you want to become a billionaire with a new and improved GPS that locates your car keys with a precision of a Planck length.