Beauty. That is the only reason why we do science. There is nothing else. Otherwise how can one justify all those long hours spent at the bench everyday? What could ever repay us for the stress (and sometimes the humiliation) of exposing ourselves to the judgement of others (from progress reports to grant applications and papers submission)? Could the money do that, or the prestige? Give me a break.
We do science because we find beauty in nature: we take pleasure in discovering it and communicating it to others. That is all. In this we differ nothing from artists. Similarly to them we are driven by a sacred fire, a inner longing for armony that determines what we choose as the subject of our investigations. Personal taste matters so much in our lives that it is strange to discover how dry can science be in the perception of profanes. We literally fall in love with the weirdest things (in biology, from cancerous cells to genomes to diatoms). And there is no much we can do about it: certain things strike cords inside and there is nothing left for us than just resonate. We search the world outside of us for truths that we can relate to; just like artists who search their inner world for what can be recognized as universal. The struggle is the same. This is of course an old story and it is certainly not by chance that some of the most famous scientists were also artists: from the early times of Pitagora to those of Leonardo, Galileo Einstein and so on.
Together with artists we also share stubburness. We will not be satisfied until we get that damm experiment just right. Because there is nothing that lit ourselves more than a beautiful result. There I said it. Even our language betrays the overlap between our world and that of estethics. We use words as ¨beautiful¨, ¨elegant¨, even ¨cute¨, as the best compliments for an experiment or a demonstration. We don´t use ¨cleaver¨, ¨smart¨, or ¨wise¨...
Of course we do science also because it is useful to others. Science can be applied and therefore can contribute to the material well-being of humankind. Because of that, we are able to justify our salaries and the costs of our research.
But there is dignity in searching beauty and in sharing it with others. This should not be forgotten nor we should be ashamed to openly declare it. Even more. The opportunity to address question and the joy and surprise of finding answers for ourselves is a liberatory experience that no authority (ideological, religiuos, political) can understand, grant or tolerate.
And it is not by chance that science, together with art, are the first victims of all forms of fundamentalism.