The things we do not know … yet

There is a rather fascinating article in the Guardian that lists 20 big questions in science for which we simply do not have answers at the moment. This is all very interesting because it helps to define the boundary between what we know and where we are going next, in other words, it defines some of the questions that are currently being asked. Here is a the list …

  • 1 What is the universe made of?
  • 2 How did life begin?
  • 3 Are we alone in the universe?
  • 4 What makes us human?
  • 5 What is consciousness?
  • 6 Why do we dream?
  • 7 Why is there stuff?
  • 8 Are there other universes?
  • 9 Where do we put all the carbon?
  • 10 How do we get more energy from the sun?
  • 11 What’s so weird about prime numbers?
  • 12 How do we beat bacteria?
  • 13 Can computers keep getting faster?
  • 14 Will we ever cure cancer?
  • 15 When can I have a robot butler?
  • 16 What’s at the bottom of the ocean?
  • 17 What’s at the bottom of a black hole?
  • 18 Can we live for ever?
  • 19 How do we solve the population problem?
  • 20 Is time travel possible?

The article is a book plug of course, but still, these are interesting questions and well worth pondering over. As for the book, well it is, “The Big Questions in Science: The Quest to Solve the Great Unknowns” and is published on 12 September. Am I tempted? Damn yes. Do I have a financial interest here in plugging this? Nope, I’m simply curious. There are of course “answers”, but that is at best either fantasy or even worse, “religion”. The problem with all such paths to “truth” such as religion is that embracing answers that you believe to be true on the basis of exactly zero evidence causes you to then stop asking the big questions, and that is truly tragic. Honesty is perhaps the best answer and facing the reality of what we do and do not know means that we end up pushing at the boundary of knowledge and so expand it and we find evidential based answers. We is also fasinating about answers is that they in turn often lead on to further questions in turn. To illustrate, was the universe expanding at an increasing rate or was that expansion slowing down? When we got the answer – that it was expanding as an accelerating rate – that then leads to the knowledge that there is something out there causing that to happen and since we have no idea what that is, we give it a label “dark energy”. Once we get a handle on what this is you can be sure that it will then lead to a lot of further questions. So were will it take us, just how far can we go? Is there a limit to what we can discover and know? I honestly don’t know. What we do know is that knowing the things that we do not know motivates us to get up off our butts, go out and discover amazing new things. Now that truly is a far better place to be than sitting back and embracing a raft of beliefs that are not actually true. You see, I care about the things that are actually true, and I do truly hope you do as well. Links to what we don’t know … yet

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