Senate What are the greatest mysteries in science?

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

  1. VadersLaMent Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Apr 3, 2002
    star 9
    Reminds me of the fallacy of humans not using 90% of their brains. In a recent Dracula novel they used a bit of handwavium in their notes about flight and supernatural powers, saying that given that we don't know what is locked up in 90% of our brains these things could be possible. No, they didn't really velieve that, it was just a lil handwavium as I said.

    Still. There are approx one trillion cells in your brain. 90% of those are regular old cells that do things like distribute nutrients. The remaining 10% is you, your neurons. So yes, we do only use 10% of our brain matter for thinking and such because only 10% of our brains can be used for thinking. The rest is not neurons.

  2. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    I just realized that I never really did an extensive study on the brain. I did know about the cerebral cortex being what makes us who we are and that the rest of the brain was what regulated the nervous system. Never did I realize just how little of the brain the cerebral cortex represented. It covers the brain, but it's only about 4 mm in thickness.

    I was always under the impression that it and the frontal lobe constituted about 30 % of the brain's mass, but I never did realize that the cerebral cortex was only 4 mm thick. I always thought the cerebral cortex was much larger and that we could only use 10 % of our pyramidal nerves, but the statement meant that only 10% of all the human brain's mass is used for higher thought processing. With anywhere from 15-30 billion neurons and up to 10,000 synaptic connections, all of this is where our memories, thought, awareness, language, and consciousness are controlled. All of that comes from just 150 g of brain tissue.

    As I consider the numbers and the amazing density of the cerebral cortex, I am just astounded at how our consciousness can possibly come in such a small package. At also gives me a greater appreciation for how our brains are so resilient to injury, considering how small and densely packed those neurons are. How they don't get scrambled by walking around... is just astounding.
  3. Vaderize03 Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Oct 25, 1999
    star 5
    I believe that the brain is a relay circuit for consciousness, and nothing more.

    Consciousness, like gravity and the lightspeed limit, is a fundamental part of the structure of our universe at all levels. There are some suggestions of this in quantum theory, although that is hotly debated.

    My father once said to me "consciousness is an epiphenomenon", which means it is due to the action and interaction of matter; ie, the brain was "all that there is". I believe that to be false on several levels.

    A human personality is an epiphenomenon-that is, the experience of "I", of individualism, is likely the result of the brain's interaction with this "field of consciousness", and each person's unique genetics and environmental exposures over a lifetime act to mold a specific "map" or "wiring", using this universal consciousness as a substrate, to form a personality.

    If true, this raises some interesting questions. To survive death with an individual awareness, the "energy pattern" imprinted on this field would have to be self-sustaining, and be able to exist independently of the brain's electrochemical activity. I believe there is some suggestion of this from the very existence of near-death phenomena. In brief, the process of learning, thinking, and forming memories, when measured through technologies such as fMRI, have proven to be "metabolically expensive"; they require large amounts of oxygen and bloodflow through the appropriate areas of the cortex and other parts of the brain to function properly. However, a brain deprived of oxygen for more than 5 seconds will lose consciousness, and in the state of clinical death (produced during procedures such as cardiac standstill), with surface EEG's flat and blood drained from the brain itself, no conscious thought or memory process should be able to take place. Either it takes fractional electrical current on the nano-scale only to produce conscious thought and memory (unlikely given what we know about memory-process and its' metabolic "cost"), or there is more to consciousness and experience than just the neurons in the brain.


    An interesting test of this would be to see whether or not, at some point in the future, we could build a non-organic artificial neural network and see if it became self-aware; I think that technology and level of complexity is far off though and would require something along the lines of quantum computing to become a reality.

    More later.

    Peace,

    V-03
  4. DorkmanScott Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6
    Actually, the explanation I've heard was that you only use 10% of your brain at any given time. Over the course of our lifetime (and even just a regular day) we do use our entire brain, it's just compartmentalized into different functions and the part of our brain that lights up for "lust" is unlikely to be active at the same time as the part for "fight or flight." (Though admittedly, I don't think anyone's run a brain scan on someone watching 2 girls 1 cup.)
  5. Darth_Yuthura Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 7, 2007
    star 4
    That's what I thought. I'm quite sure I learned it that way, but it may also be that only 10% of the brain's mass was the cerebral cortex as well. So if both are true, than maybe as little as 1% of our brain's mass represents the neurons which fire to form a thought process at any given instant.

    Of course that's not taking into consideration the other parts of the brain which most likely have a strong part in our thought process. When we see and hear and feel our surroundings, maybe a large part of our thought process taps into the other lobes when it comes to remembering a sound or mapping your surroundings with input from your optical lobe. So the cerebral cortex might actually store memories like metadata, using the other parts of the brain to reference what inputs we sensed.

    I'm considering a mind experiment... I am forming in my mind a 3D model for a cut-away F-35 fighter. With my memory, I can piece together the major components within the airframe and can keep them relatively together as I 'rotate' the model in my mind. Because my memory of the spacial orientation of the pieces together isn't perfect, the model in my head gets distorted as change my perspective. Major pieces like the engine and lift fan are pretty much maintained from whatever perspective I view it from, but less important pieces, like the landing gear, get distorted the more complex I make the model in my mind.

    Stepping out of my mind... In order for me to imagine such a model, I pretty much project what I would expect my eyes to see if I were looking at a cross-section model of an aircraft. As I move the model around, the image pretty much is maintained by what I would imagine to be me looking at a computer-generated diagram of an F-35 cut-away model. All of this might simply be inputs by my cerebral cortex to my optic lobe and the imaginary F-35 is being generated in the same way that we would see something real with our own eyes. Could a blind person be able to imagine such a thing if he has never seen with his eyes? If he doesn't know what it's like to see and imagine a sight?

    Just some thoughts.
  6. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6

    [face_plain][face_sick]
  7. Rogue_Follower Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Nov 12, 2003
    star 6
    I imagine it'd go something like this...

    [image=http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v332/Rogue_Follower/brainshock.png]
  8. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6
  9. VadersLaMent Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Apr 3, 2002
    star 9
    Some info

    Glial Cells

    You've probably never heard of a glial cell. That's because when people talk about brain cells, they usually only think of neurons. But did you know that without glial cells your the neurons wouldn't work? So without glial cells we wouldn't have working neurons, and without neurons there would be no point of glial cells. About 90 percent of your brain cells are glial cells (the other 10 percent are neurons) which means that we have about 1,000 billion of them. Did you know that glial means "glue?" These cells are called glial or "glue" because they act like little ropes for neurons to hold on to when the brain is being formed. Otherwise, scientists think they act like housekeepers for neurons. Glial cells attach themselves to neurons and feed them. Unlike neurons, they are able to reproduce, so your brain can make as many as it needs.



  10. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
    star 6
    Have we had any major breakthroughs in science yet this year? Anything up with the LHC? I know stuff sometimes slips under the radar because journalists don't always understand or know how to report it, and I don't have any science magazine subscriptions anymore.

    Also, this is old but interesting, the similarity between brain cells and galaxies:
    http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2006/08/14/science/20060815_SCILL_GRAPHIC.html
  11. Lord Vivec Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Apr 17, 2006
    star 7
    Well, the group that one of my professors is in (the STAR collaboration at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider) discovered an antihyperparticle called antihypertriton.

    Nuclear physics isn't my thing, so I'm not too sure what this all means, but I'll give it a shot.

    Normally, nuclei are made of just protons and neutrons (and the gluons that hold them together). Triton contains one proton and two neutrons (making it the Helium-3 nuclei). Hypertriton contains a proton, a neutron, and a lambda hyperon.

    What is a lambda hyperon, you ask? Here we get into the strange stuff (pun intended). Protons and neutrons are made up of up and down quarks. A hyperon has a strange quark added to the mix. So this hypertriton has a proton, a neutron, and a lambda hyperon. What the RHIC found was a antihypertriton, which contains an antineutron, an antiproton, and an antihyperon.

    So what does this all mean? It increases the number of nuclides we know of, furthering our understanding of the universe. And it makes really long and cool names.

    The STAR at the RHIC
  12. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    Well, not sure if it counts as 'major breakthrough' but the Kepler mission has reported its first half dozen planets already, and we should see that start churning out planets left and right, getting to earth-like planets (physically and orbitally) in about 2-4 years.

    I'm a bit backlogged on my science magazines, so I'm currently reading through stuff mostly that was prior to this year. Like the new evidence on some changes to human evolution mentioned in the evolution thread.
  13. MrZAP Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 2, 2007
    star 5
    Arguably, Douglas Adams pointed out the great mystery of science himself, in his famous work, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He said, what is the answer to life, the universe, and everything? First of all, life is an aspect of the universe, and the universe is an aspect of everything, so really it can be simplified to "What is the answer to everything?" That is in fact the best articulation that we know of what is clearly the biggest mystery in science.
  14. Lord Vivec Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Apr 17, 2006
    star 7
    A question so vague and general that it's impossible to do any experiments to answer it. Good job.
  15. MrZAP Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 2, 2007
    star 5
    That is entirely irrelevant. The question was simply what is the greatest mystery in science, and I gave the correct answer.
  16. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    I would disagree. The question, as you worded it, is so vague and general that there is not way one could verify it in any fashion removes it entirely FROM science. Something of that nature is outside of science for what Vivec said. You've not kept it to the scope of the initial question, which included that it had to be in science.
  17. MrZAP Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 2, 2007
    star 5
    Fair enough. The question is invalidated through that line of logic, which is entirely acceptable. It is in fact not related to science, and in essence, is off-topic. I will accept that. Doesn't make it an invalid question in itself though. Just an unanswerable one.
  18. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
    star 6
    Well, sort of related, mind if I ask about the Theory of Everything?

    That is the goal, as I understand it, to unify all four fundamental forces (gravity, strong nuclear, weak nuclear, electromagnetism) into one grand unified field theory, a single model to explain all physical phenonmenon in the universe.

    It is hard to accomplish with gravity right now, because we have not yet found proof of the Graviton, or any quantum expanation for the phenomenon of gravity. It can only be explained in general relativistic terms, as the warping of the spacetime fabric, caused by mass. Perhaps if the LHC find the Higgs boson, the hypothetical particle that may be responsible for mass, we'll be a step closer to discovering the graviton.

    Anyways, with gravity out of the picture (for now), the attempt has been to unify the electromagnetic force, weak nuclear force, and strong nuclear force.

    A few decades ago, I understand it that they were able to unify the electromagntic force with the weak nuclear force (dubbed the "electroweak" force) into a single explanatory model, proving that they really are just two aspects of the same force.

    Yet we still talk about the electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force separately, we still say there are four fundamental interactions. Also, we still say the bosons for the two forces are different: electromagnetism still has the Photon, and the weak nuclear force still has the W+.W-.Z bosons.

    Is this because they are still in the process of unifying the two forces into a workable single model, or did I misunderstand the purpose of the Theory of Everything?

    And does anyone know if there's been any progress on reconciling the strong nuclear force with the "electroweak" force?
  19. MrZAP Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 2, 2007
    star 5
    Something just occurred to me. I was incorrect in saying that the answer to the greatest mystery in science is "What is the answer to everything?" that much is entirely clear because, as you said, it is entirely unknowable and therefore not in the realm of science.

    However, the original question was "What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?" In that sense, as we exist in and are confined to our universe, the correctly termed question is just "What is the answer to the universe?" This is entirely rooted in science, since we exist in and are confined to our universe and are therefore not able to know for sure about anything outside of it, but we are entirely capable of knowing about everything in it. Therefore it is a solvable question, and therefore rooted in science, which tries to solve everything anyway.
  20. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    MrZAP, the question still doesn't actually hold up because you've not defined what it is you're actually talking about answering. You've not defined a question TO answer.

    Darth-Ghost, the reason we don't have a unified theory of the fundamental forces isn't necessarily the lack of the graviton, but more just that no one's figured out the math to do that.

    The idea of unifying the theories comes from finding a way to contain both phenomena with one set of rules, basically, and that at a certain energy level and above, the two forces act the same way. This is what we call a unification energy. We still refer to them as individual names for interactions taking place below that energy because at those energy rates they are distinct.

    A sort of similar example is that 'electromagnetism' as a concept has only been around about 140 years, when Maxwell proposed that electric forces and magnetic forces were really the same thing. However, depending on the situation, we will still often talk just about one or the other in isolation, as some problems only need that much, and then we can work with laws that are more directly applicable, as when working with general laws, there's a lot of reduction one has to do. Example, we know about relativity, but rather than have to reduce every problem ever from the relativistic form, at low speeds, we just ignore relativity because it won't enter into it significantly if you need accuracy on a scale of tenths or hundredths of a second and the speeds are the sorts of low speeds we're used to day to day.

    Hopefully that's a clear enough and thorough enough answer, Darth-Ghost.
  21. MrZAP Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 2, 2007
    star 5
    Okay. Point taken. However, the actual question does still hold water if you rephrase it again. "What is the greatest mystery of the universe?" That is both entirely solvable, scientific, and provides a solid base.
  22. Fire_Ice_Death Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 15, 2001
    star 7
    No. Just no. Like Lowie said: You actually need to have an answer you want to have. Not, "This works for everything." That's just silly and inept.
  23. MrZAP Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 2, 2007
    star 5
    That implies that one needs a thesis to have a question. That is not the case. My goal is simply the accumulation and evaluation of new information, meaning I have no real intention other than learning new things. I have no thesis.
  24. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    Not a thesis, but a focus. You've not presented a question that is scientifically solvable, and while philosophy and judgement may all be well and good, it's not within the scope of this thread, which is focused on specific unanswered questions within science. That is the limitations of the thread, and the topic it should remain on.
  25. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
    star 6
    This discussion is a little old, but I was looking through this thread and saw I never responded to Lowbacca:

    Yeah I understand that, that all makes sense, but it still doesn't clarify what the "Electroweak" force really is. Unifying theories being a way to explain a single phenomena under one set of rules, which was previously explained as different phenomena under separate sets of rules, is what I've always thought it meant. Like in your expamples of relativity and electromagnetism, sometimes we go back to the more narrow and specific models just because they're simpler to do.

    But in the case of the Electroweak force, it's usually explained that Electromagnetism and the Weak Nuclear Forces are very different forces that can't be explained as one phenomena under a single set of rules unless