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Senate What are the greatest mysteries in science?

Discussion in 'Community' started by Ghost, May 8, 2009.

  1. Ghost

    Ghost Chosen One star 7

    Oct 13, 2003

    Looking through [link=]this list at LiveScience[/link], it seems that the remaining fundamental mysteries in science can be categorized into a few basic categories:

    [blockquote]The Universe
    What is the origin of the universe?
    How do stars, planets, solar systems, and other celestial phenomenon form?
    Is there a God; or the existence of any kind of supreme/supernatural entity, transcendent energy flow/force/field, or ultimate reality?
    Was there anything before the Big Bang?
    Are there more dimensions than the four dimensions of space and time?
    Is there a Theory of Everything, that encompasses the quantum physics of probability and the relativity theories of gravity?
    What is the true nature of light, how is it a wave and a particle?
    What exactly is gravity?
    Are there other particles or fundamental forces not yet discovered, such as super-symmetrical particles, superstrings, branes, gravitons, or the Higgs boson?
    What exactly is time, does it really even exist?
    What is the dark matter and dark energy of the universe, and where is it?
    What is the ultimate fate of the universe?
    Is there more to our universe than the observable portion of it?
    Is there more than one universe, or anything at all outside of ours?

    What does it mean to be alive, what is the definition of life?
    What is the origin of life on Earth?
    How many species are there on Earth?
    What has caused the mass extinctions in Earth's history?
    Does the theory of natural selection explain evolution clearly, or are there other driving forces of evolution?
    Is there life native to other planets?
    How common is life in the universe?
    Would our definition of life on Earth still apply to non-terrestrial organisms, would we even recognize them as alive?
    Does the biosphere of Earth form some kind of Gaia super-organism, with the planet actually being alive?
    Should we try to master the environment completely, if possible, or should we find how to adapt and live in harmony with it?

    The Mind
    What is consciousness?
    What is its origin?
    What is the origin of humanity, how did humans evolve into conscious beings?
    How did human culture and the human mind evolve?
    Why do we desire what we desire?
    Are other, non-human living organisms on Earth that could be considered as conscious and sentient as humans?
    How does the brain work?
    Are there forms of alien life that have developed intelligence similar to humanity?
    What happens to consciousness after death, does it survive in any form?
    Is there any way to reawaken the consciousness of those already dead?
    Is is possible for us to create Artificial Intelligence in our machines and robots?
    Is there going to be a technological singularity?
    Can humans alter their bodies and brains (using drugs, or robotics, or genetics, or mind uploading), or engineer their offspring, in order for consciousness to overcome death (and would existing in such a form still be considered living, sentient, conscious, intelligent, and/or human)?[/blockquote]

    I think that sums up the biggest mysteries in science, feel free to add any I may have forgotten.

    I know there are also anthropological, archaeological, lingual, political science, military science, computer science, mathematical, economic, and historical questions and mysteries. I'm not sure if those would count as big mysteries in science, but you can try to prove me wrong.

    I am not sure if there are any big mysteries in chemistry, meteorology, geology, and the other natural sciences. There may also be mysteries from physics, biology, the cognitive sciences, ecology, and astronomy that I forgot to include.

    I'm not sure what the big mysteries in psychology, sociology, and the other social sciences are, if there are any.

    Religious/spiritual/mystical questions and mysteries definitely don't belong in science, at least not until we can prove the existence of God. So, the only one I included was asking the existence of s
  2. Sven_Starcrown

    Sven_Starcrown Jedi Youngling star 4

    Mar 10, 2009
    Are humans good or evil?

    What is good AND WHAT IS EVIL?
  3. Jedi Gunny

    Jedi Gunny Yahtzee Host star 9 VIP - Game Host

    May 20, 2008
    What the exact purpose of a yawn is. It's not as big an issue as the ones you listed, but it's still a mystery.
  4. SuperWatto

    SuperWatto Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Sep 19, 2000

    Great list - maybe we should take these questions one by one?
  5. Zaz

    Zaz Jedi Knight star 9

    Oct 11, 1998
    If a tree falls in the woods and there's nobody there, does it make a noise?
  6. Quixotic-Sith

    Quixotic-Sith Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Jun 22, 2001
    Assuming that there is air in this forest, yes, it does. ;)

    Science 1, koan 0. ;)

    Biggest mystery? t=0.
  7. DarthLowBudget

    DarthLowBudget Jedi Master star 5

    Jan 17, 2004
    An important question to add to the list is "How do particles which are completely without mass attain mass when grouped together". It seems to defy the common knowledge that 0 + 0 = 0, yes?
  8. Ghost

    Ghost Chosen One star 7

    Oct 13, 2003
    That sounds like a good idea.

    What is the origin of the universe?

    Many scientists today agree that it all started with the Big Bang, which is regarded as not only an explosion of matter/energy from a single origin point, but also as an explosion of spacetime itself from a single origin point. It is supposed to have happened about 13.7 billion years ago, and our universe is still in expansion from it. Normal matter only makes up 4% of the known universe, with Dark Matter making up a greater chunk, and Dark Energy making up the majority of the universe. Antimatter has seemingly disappeared, and no one knows why normal matter succeeded over antimatter (I guess this could be another great mystery). Dark Energy is a form of repulsion found everywhere, a kind of anti-gravity, and it is beating Gravity and forcing the universe to expand at an ever-increasing rate. The universe is supposed to have expanded from a singularity point to about the size it is now in only a fraction of a second, in a period known as Inflation.

    I was reading an article that challenged this view, and proposed 3 hypothetical situations that could explain "before" the Big Bang. I don't have the magazine on me, but these are the possible explanations given:

    One, is that our universe is just one of many universes, all spawning off of each other as pocket universes, through the quantum-spacetime foam "bubbles" caused by Inflation.

    Second, is a hyothesis evolving superstring theory into "brane" theory (a brane is like a string, but has a slight third dimension to it, and exists in time) and that reality exists in 11 dimensions. So a brane is a relatively flat, 4-dimensional object floating in a 11-dimensional reality. These branes are each governed by its own unique set of scientific laws. Two of these enormous sheet-like "branes" collided while moving through the 5th dimension, and the collision resulted in our Big Bang. Through time, these separate branes/universes begin to separate from each other and our "universe" becomes filled with more and more empty space, but then right before the separation is almost complete and our universe is nearly in equilibrium from Entropy and Dark Energy (which takes about 1 trillion years, even the black holes evaporate with time), forces then react to bind everything together again in a new Big Bang, repeating the cycle indefinitely. Our universe is in this eternal cycle, of a small self-perpetuating collision between two much greater branes, in a multiverse of infinite branes.

    Third, is the theory that Time does not really exist. Every moment, every "now," is its own complete universe that's completely independent from all the others.

    I'm sure there are many other explanations for the Big Bang too, those are just the ones I remember reading in that DISCOVER magazine. I'm sure someone else could explain these theories better.

    It is a good question. I think that physicists have hypothesized the existence of the "Higgs boson" or "God particle" to help explain why mass exists, the Large Hadron Collider in Europe is supposed to help prove/disprove the existence of it when it starts running again.

  9. Lord Vivec

    Lord Vivec Chosen One star 8

    Apr 17, 2006
    What particles are you specifically talking about?
  10. DarthLowBudget

    DarthLowBudget Jedi Master star 5

    Jan 17, 2004
    The particles that bond together to form protons and neutrons and what not.
  11. Ghost

    Ghost Chosen One star 7

    Oct 13, 2003
    Here is the Standard Model of Physics, which could be helpful for this thread.

    It explains three of the four fundamental interactions and their carrier particles (Bosons), and the elementary particles that make up all normal matter (Fermions; divided into Quarks and Leptons).

    The particles for the fundamental interactions/forces are called Bosons.
    -Photons for the electromagnetic force, which have no mass, it has "electric charge."
    -Gluons for the strong nuclear force (also called the "color force"), which have no mass, it has "color charge," there are 8 colors/types of gluons, it and its relationshp with quarks is described in the Quantum Chromodynamics theory.
    -The weak nuclear force is carried by three particles (W+, W-, Z^0), they have mass and "flavor," but this force has been understood to be one with the electromagnetic force, together called the "electroweak force."

    The elementary partcles that make up normal matter are called Fermions, and are divided into the categories of Quarks and Leptons. (A number of Quarks being held together by Gluons are what make up Protons and Nucleons in the atomic nucleus; while the Electron is an elementary particle and a Lepton).
    -There are 6 Quarks: Up and Down, Charm and Strange, Top and Bottom.
    -There are also 6 Leptons: Electron and Electron-Neutrino, Muon and Muon-Neutrino, Tau and Tau-Neutrino.

    Antimatter particles exist for every normal particle, having the same spin and mass but opposite electrical charge.
    -there are 12 fermions (6 quarks and 6 leptons), therefore there are 12 anti-fermions (6 antiquarks and 6 anti-leptons), making 24 elementary particles in total
    (For example, the antimatter counterpart of the Electron is the Positron, of the Electron-Neutrino is the Antielectron-Neutrino, of the Up quark is the Up antiquark, of the Down quark is the Down antiquark, etc.)

    Gravity is not yet explained, but there is the theoretical particle the graviton.

    Mass is not yet explained, but there is the theoretical particle to explain it called the Higgs boson (or God particle).

    Inflation, Entropy, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, a possible Cosmological Constant, and [link=]other physical constants[/link] are not yet explained.


    There are 12 fermions, 12 anti-fermions, and 12 bosons (the 8 gluons + 4 electroweak bosons).

    36 proven fundamental particles.

    Attempting to put all of this information together into one grand unified field theory would be called the "Theory of Everything," which physicists since Einstein have been working for. Superstring theory, and its expanded version: the 11-dimensional M-theory, is a popular candidate for doing this.
  12. Lord Vivec

    Lord Vivec Chosen One star 8

    Apr 17, 2006
    You're talking about quarks. Quarks do have mass, albeit little mass. What gives the proton and neutron most of their mass is the gluons that are used to keep more than one quark together. While gluons don't have mass themselves, they have energy. When the gluons are with the quarks, it increases the internal energy of the quarks, and in turn, the proton/neutron. An increase in internal energy is physically seen as an increase in mass.
  13. Lowbacca_1977

    Lowbacca_1977 Jedi Master star 6

    Jun 28, 2006
    Particle physics is immensely interesting, but also a huge mystery still in several key respects. Mostly in that the 'how's are a lot easier to figure out than the 'why's. Though I would toss in that there is an Italian team that claimed to detect WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles) that they claim would explain dark matter within the disk. I've not followed it up since reading about it about a year ago though, and there was a lot of criticism at that time for some things that their analysis of their data didn't address.

    I'm not sure where one draws a distinction between mysteries and simply unanswered questions. Like, we don't know how common earth-like planets are, but thats just an unanswered question. Conversely, we still don't have any idea why the corona, the outer layer of the sun, is so much hotter than the layers below it, but that's proved much more an enigma and probably more worthy of being called a 'mystery'.
  14. Zaz

    Zaz Jedi Knight star 9

    Oct 11, 1998
    I did poorly in physics. Now I remember why. :p
  15. Lord Vivec

    Lord Vivec Chosen One star 8

    Apr 17, 2006
    In anthropology and evolutionary biology, there are a few questions being asked:
    1) Why does menopause exist?
    2) Why do orgasms exist?
    3) Why does altruism exist?

    These "why" questions aren't asking why they're useful for an individual, but why did a behavior form from an evolutionary standpoint. How did it come about that these behaviors became dominant traits that can be passed down?
  16. DarthLowBudget

    DarthLowBudget Jedi Master star 5

    Jan 17, 2004
    I'm not qualified to answer any of those questions, but here's a stab:

    1. Menopause likely exists because at some point it becomes dangerous for women to continue to bare children, so they simply become unable to do so.

    2. Orgasms are trickier, although there may be something about incentive to breed and whatnot in there.

    3. Altruism seems to be the easiest to explain. It's simply beneficial for the species as a whole for their to be some desire to undergo unselfish behavior and help a great deal of others.
  17. Zaz

    Zaz Jedi Knight star 9

    Oct 11, 1998
    The first two exist in animals, don't they? And even the third in some animals.
  18. Darth-Mortis

    Darth-Mortis Jedi Youngling

    Aug 1, 2007
    What possessed George to create Jar Jar Binks?
    Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons?
    How can you tell when its time to tune bagpipes?
  19. DarthLowBudget

    DarthLowBudget Jedi Master star 5

    Jan 17, 2004
    That kind of post may be better suited to the JCC.
  20. Jedi_of_Valor

    Jedi_of_Valor Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 4, 2007
    I would say that Light is the most mysterious thing in physics.

    It is either a wave, or a particle. It cannot be both.

    Duality describes it as being both (even though nothing can be) since as of now we can best describe it that way.

    Fundamentally we obviously don't have a good hold on quantum physics, particles, and waves.

    IF (huge if, because we will probably never figure it out) we figure out what light is and why, it will lead to a major understanding of quantum physics.
  21. Lowbacca_1977

    Lowbacca_1977 Jedi Master star 6

    Jun 28, 2006
    I'm not sure what you mean by "even though nothing can be". You don't seem to be addressing why that's true, you're just presuming that it is.
    The whole point is that it behaves as both a particle and a wave, its just dependent on the scales and conditions that we're observing as to which properties it exhibits.
  22. ShaneP

    ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio star 7 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Mar 26, 2001
    I would say the biggest mystery is what is dark matter?

    We don't know what makes up the vast majority of the universe, and subsequently, the world around us.


    I don't see how some spiritual people can take these topics. Just the ones in the first list even, and not think that the true wonders of creation are to be found out there in the cosmos not in a book cobbled together by churches.
  23. DarthLowBudget

    DarthLowBudget Jedi Master star 5

    Jan 17, 2004
    I think that mainly applies to western religions. It seems that a lot of eastern philosophies are very much concerned with these kinds of observations and questions (although in a less specifically scientific context).
  24. ShaneP

    ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio star 7 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Mar 26, 2001
    Sorry. It was in the western religious context I was posing that question.

    True, the eastern religions did have an interest in astronomy and such.
  25. Ghost

    Ghost Chosen One star 7

    Oct 13, 2003
    Actually I think it's Dark Energy that makes up 70% ofthe universe. Dark Matter still takes up a big chunk, I think 25%. All "normal" matter and energy makes up around 4% or 5%.

    I think Western religions can "handle" these topics as long as they aren't stubbornly traditional and bogged down by dogma. They just need to evolve and adapt so they can change some of their assumptions and beliefs, without modifying their core values and core beliefs. One of the biggest misunderstandings in the modern world is that Religion/Spirituality/God is inherently in conflict with Science, I reject that as a false choice. In my opinion, God is the "who" and science is the "how."