5 of the Biggest Questions That Science Can't Answer Yet
While it's reasonable to trust that science will eventually answer our unsolved questions, assuming that it has all of the answers right now is not.
Science is one of the greatest tools for expanding understanding that mankind ever devised. While it's reasonable to trust that science will eventually answer our unsolved questions, assuming that it has all of the answers right now is not. Here, we look at five of the biggest unanswered questions in science. There is no reason to think that we won’t get the answers to these questions eventually, but right now these are the issues on the cutting edge of science.
What are the boundaries of the Universe?
The universe is expanding, which we’ve known for a while. But where is, or what is, the boundary? We can only see a part of the universe, the so called “observable universe”, which goes on for 46.5 billion light years in all directions. However, we can only interact with things inside of 16 billion light years. But how far does it go past that?
Thanks to cosmic background radiation and the path it takes, scientists currently believe the universe is flat—and therefore infinite. However, if there is even a slight curve to the universe, one smaller than the margin of error in their observations, then the universe would be a sphere. Similarly, we can’t see anything past the observable universe, so we can rely only on our math to say if the universe is likely to be finite or infinite. The final answer on the exact size of the cosmos may never be knowable.
Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team via Phys.org
What is consciousness?
While the question of what consciousness is exactly belongs to philosophy, the question of how it works is a problem for science. How is it that a grey mass of cells, themselves made of carbon, is able to understand its own existence? In one study from Harvard, scientists mapped the brain activity of people in comas and compared it to typical MRI scans. In the healthy brain scans, the brain stem and portions of the frontal cortex were connected, creating a neural network tying parts of the brain that work with awareness to the automatic systems in the body. In every coma patient, all three of the regions in this network were out of commission. Could consciousness just be connections? This study suggests it.
In his Big Think interview, Daniel Dennett suggests that it is nothing more than “mundane tricks” in the brain.
What is dark energy?
The universe is expanding, and that’s getting faster all the time. We say that the cause of the acceleration is “Dark Energy”, but what is it? Right now, we don’t really have any idea. The hypothesis is rather ad hoc, and is an attempt to account for the increasing speed of the universe’s expansion. In practical terms, it works like anti-gravity. One hypothesis is that it is the unchanging energy of empty space, also called the cosmological constant.
However, while it is simple to add that constant to Einstein’s theories—and quantum theories give us a field energy to work with—the same quantum theories suggest that constant should be much stronger than it is.
What happened Before the Big Bang?
The Big Bang is often thought of as an explosion which caused the beginning of our universe. However, it is better understood as the point where space began to expand and the current laws of physics begin. There was no explosion. Working backwards from now, we can show that all the matter in the universe was in one place at the same time. At that moment, the universe began to expand and the laws of nature, as we understand them, begin to take shape. But what happened before that?
To know, we will need a theory that can combine gravity with quantum mechanics just to get started. Right now, our laws of physics break down just after the big bang happens. If we can show that quantum mechanics was accurate before the big bang, then we could show that the entire universe emerged from nothing; the result of quantum fluctuation.
Is there a limit to computing power?
Right now, many people subscribe to Moore’s law, the notion that there is a constant rate to how cheap and how powerful computer chips become over time. But what happens when you can’t fit anymore elements onto a chip? Moore himself suggested that his law will end in 2025 when transistors can’t be made any smaller, saying that we will be forced to build larger machines to get more computing power after that. Others look to new processing techniques and exotic materials to make them with to continue to the growth in power.
Pay attention to the decisions made by the provinces.
- China leads the world in numerous green energy categories.
- CO2 emissions in the country totaling more than all coal emissions in the U.S. have recently emerged.
- This seems to be an administrative-induced blip on the way towards a green energy tipping point.
NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller is coming back to Big Think to answer YOUR questions! Here's all you need to know to submit your science-related inquiries.
Big Think's amazing audience has responded so well to our videos from NASA astronomer and Assistant Director for Science Communication Michelle Thaller that we couldn't wait to bring her back for more!
And this time, she's ready to tackle any questions you're willing to throw at her, like, "How big is the Universe?", "Am I really made of stars?" or, "How long until Elon Musk starts a colony on Mars?"
All you have to do is submit your questions to the form below, and we'll use them for an upcoming Q+A session with Michelle. You know what to do, Big Thinkers!
The Boring Company plans to offer free rides in its prototype tunnel in Hawthorne, California in December.
- The prototype tunnel is about 2 miles long and contains electric skates that travel at top speeds of around 150 mph.
- This is the first tunnel from the company that will be open to the public.
- If successful, the prototype could help the company receive regulatory approval for much bigger projects in L.A. and beyond.
Calling all big thinkers!
The new version's battery has a shorter range and a price $4,000 lower than the previous starting price.
- Tesla's new version of the Model 3 costs $45,000 and can travel 260 miles on one charge.
- The Model 3 is the best-selling luxury car in the U.S.
- Tesla still has yet to introduce a fully self-driving car, even though it once offered the capability as an option to be installed at a future date.
Anatomy and physiology professor David Harper claims a recent study in The Lancet is flawed.
- The low-carbohydrate group in a recent Lancet study were typically middle-aged, obese, sedentary, diabetic smokers.
- The study was not a randomized, controlled, double-blind experiment.
- Harper has been in ketosis for six years, and says it has profound effects on cancer patients, among other chronic ailments.
A mind-bending paradox questions the nature of reality.
- Boltzmann Brains are hypothetical disembodied entities with self-awareness.
- It may be more likely for a Boltzmann Brain to come into existence than the whole Universe.
- The idea highlights a paradox in thermodynamics.
What makes an excellent educator?
- When it comes to educating, says Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, a brave failure is preferable to timid success.
- Fostering an environment where one isn't afraid to fail is tantamount to learning.
- Human beings are complicated and flawed. Working with those complications and flaws leads to true knowledge.
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