I'm in a Ph.D program and feel like I'm trapped inside of a bubble most days. Attending lectures, daily research seminars, meetings, etc is all very interesting to me and I really like what I do. However, all the fancy models, theory, and discussions only pertain to those of us in the position to be talking about such ideas and can actually understand the concepts. To a general audience it seems like a bunch of fancy equations that don't apply to the real world and I have a hard time explaining my side and why it is important. In turn, I start doubting the importance of academic/non-academic research. During my first year, I felt like my professors who were theoretical were just creating their own jobs; of course you can prove that theorem because of those assumptions.
So my question is, what are some tangible (or non-tangible) benefits of academic research? Why should research exist when most of the papers will only ever be read by academics, while a very select few will be accepted by the general public.
Disclaimer : please don't take this as an elitist post. I wouldn't be able to understand a carpenters way of thinking.
I want to add, what is the incentive to invest so much in research that doesn't go anywhere in hopes that decades down the road one paper will be recognized? I'm having a hard time understanding the billions of dollars funded in research each year in hopes of a significant achievement.