Big Questions of Science
June 30, 2005 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Science explores 125 big questions that face scientific inquiry over the next quarter-century. [via]
posted by Gyan (23 comments total)

 
Excellent. Science, despite what the creationists might tell you, is defined by questions. The more questions, the better the science.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 7:35 PM on June 30, 2005


Wow this is the most content-rich post ever! #126: What are you looking at?
posted by longsleeves at 7:37 PM on June 30, 2005


Oooh; some nice ones in there... My favorites:

-What is the structure of water?
-What is the nature of the glassy state?
-How do proteins find their partners?
-What keeps intracellular traffic running smoothly?
-Why do we sleep?
-Why do we dream?
-What is a species?
posted by mr_roboto at 7:47 PM on June 30, 2005


I'm just passing through but I have to say that questions like "What is the Universe made of?" are already rigged in the sense that they pre-suppose an answer of one type. It's like someone from thousands of years ago asking "What lies at the end of the Earth?"

I'm beginning to think that "made of" applies to things like textiles but not to the Universe as a whole. In recent years I've come to the feeling that much of what is "out there" is actually in our heads - the Universe that *is* is vastly different than the Universe that our consciousness interprets and packages up for us into something comprehensible. We have overlayed so much stuff on raw reality that the biggest challenge is to untangle what our minds perceive - this internal reality, from the outside world, the external reality. A bigger challenge is to learn how to tell the difference. I suspect that concepts which we think of as basic like the concept of "Now" don't show up in equations because they simply don't exist.
posted by vacapinta at 7:51 PM on June 30, 2005 [1 favorite]


Nice post, Gyan. :)

Many of the questions kinda irk me, though. Stuff like "what is the universe made of?" or "what is the biological basis of consciousness?" are not questions that are going to be answered in the next 25 years (I'd wager they won't be answered in the next 250 years). And also, these questions have been around in one form or another for as long as we've asked questions (asking "what's at the end of the Earth?" 1000 years ago is essentially the same as asking "what's the universe made of?" today).

I'm more interested in big scientific questions that have the possibility of being answered in the next 25 years. What's the next step in energy production? How will we deal with waste in 25 years? How will computers store information?
posted by snwod at 8:16 PM on June 30, 2005


There's a report by the National Research Council listing eleven "Physics Questions for the New Century," which might make an interesting comparison, at least on the Physics side of things (summary, the full report.)

Also, I found something from the Science article confusing:
Are neutrinos their own antiparticles?
Is this still an open question? I've seen antineutrinos mentioned in lectures and articles (a quickly googled example), and have never before heard of their existence being seriously in doubt.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:29 PM on June 30, 2005


#127, how to get rich quick
posted by nervousfritz at 8:51 PM on June 30, 2005


...the Universe that *is* is vastly different than the Universe that our consciousness interprets and packages up for us into something comprehensible

Damn! I think you broke my brain!

Gonna be pondering that one for a while.

My weirdass theory of late is that consciousness is a fundamental force of the universe, as elementary as energy and physical matter. Perhaps the layer of quark-like theoretical physics is the consciousness, the interface surface between energy and matter.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:52 PM on June 30, 2005


(asking "what's at the end of the Earth?" 1000 years ago is essentially the same as asking "what's the universe made of?" today)

errr... and because they asked that question, they sought an answer to it, and wah-la, found out and moved on.

wah-la, just 'cause someone mentioned it bugs him! couldn't resist it just once.

for those not in the know, it's actually spelled viola.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:55 PM on June 30, 2005


For the record, there's a fancy PDF version of the FPPed article here.
posted by neckro23 at 9:14 PM on June 30, 2005


lots of these questions are basically the same. there's a whole bunch related to unifying physics, for example, as well as "can the laws of physics be unified?"

others seem to exist only because the question pre-supposes some kind of artificial dividing line. are the roots of human culture qualitatively different from animals, or just more complex? if the latter, what more is there to say, in broad terms?

yet others are likely not science at all ("others suspect that this hard-to-test idea may be a question for philosophers"...). and how is "are we alone?" connected to science any more than "what's on tv tonight?"

and there's an awful lot of "complicated rather than interesting" in there. biology seems to be largely complicated, for example. maybe i'm just a cynical old physicist, but it seems to me that's only one big question (how to unify physics) and then lots of complicated details.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:17 PM on June 30, 2005


Uhm... for those not in the know, it's actually spelled voilĂ .
posted by furtive at 9:32 PM on June 30, 2005


#128: Where are they high yeild, no risk investments?
posted by Jon-o at 9:38 PM on June 30, 2005


the high yeild...
posted by Jon-o at 9:38 PM on June 30, 2005


We have overlayed so much stuff on raw reality that the biggest challenge is to untangle what our minds perceive - this internal reality, from the outside world, the external reality.

How would we validate theories based on this premise? What experimental data would qualify? (Serious question, no snark.)
posted by Rothko at 11:47 PM on June 30, 2005


I got 23/125. Can anyone beat that?
posted by brevity at 11:49 PM on June 30, 2005


Uhm... for those not in the know, it's actually spelled voilĂ .

And it burns half as long as a cello.
posted by missbossy at 12:06 AM on July 1, 2005


hooklineandsinker! score!
posted by five fresh fish at 12:35 AM on July 1, 2005


Yeah, many of the questions are annoying, especially in the light of the 25 year target. Which is surprising, given the reputation of Science.

Rothko : "How would we validate theories based on this premise? What experimental data would qualify?"

Depends on the nature of consciousness. If physicalism is true & consciosuness is epiphenomenal, none. If the latter condition is false, then there might be a way. Trouble is, how would we know?
posted by Gyan at 1:31 AM on July 1, 2005


and there's an awful lot of "complicated rather than interesting" in there. biology seems to be largely complicated, for example. maybe i'm just a cynical old physicist, but it seems to me that's only one big question (how to unify physics) and then lots of complicated details.

But how does unifying physics tell you anything about how consciousness arises, for example - which I consider complicated and very interesting. Sure, everything that occurs boils down to physics, but as you move up the levels, you run into irreducible phenomenon for which a physics explanation is not useful.
posted by Bort at 9:54 AM on July 1, 2005


A bigger challenge is to learn how to tell the difference. I suspect that concepts which we think of as basic like the concept of "Now" don't show up in equations because they simply don't exist.

FYI: Relativity did away with "Now" decades ago.
posted by Bort at 9:56 AM on July 1, 2005


It did away with universal reference frames. I meant the individual "Now" not the universal "Now."

Rothko : "How would we validate theories based on this premise? What experimental data would qualify?"

One way I suppose is to rely very much on what external apparatus tell us without interpretation on top. So, put simply, if we can't measure it, it doesn't exist. Color is a good example. The universe has no innate "green" or "blue" for things, it just has this continuous spectrum. We were able to figure out that this particular "overlay" was all in our heads. Deeper, more subtle, interpretations may require other methods.

When I first delved into the implications of the holographic universe principle, the first thought that came to my mind was: What if we actually do live in a 2-dimensional universe and we have "imagined" the 3rd dimension. I think this is unlikely for other reasons, but its an example of what I'm talking about.
posted by vacapinta at 11:23 AM on July 1, 2005


vacapinta : "I think this is unlikely for other reasons, but its an example of what I'm talking about."

Why is it unlikely?
posted by Gyan at 11:31 PM on July 12, 2005


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