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Wired: What We Don't Know
January 26, 2007 1:07 AM   Subscribe

Wired: What We Don't Know How did life begin? What's the universe made of? Why do we sleep? Is the universe actually made of information? How does the brain produce consciousness? Why do we still have big questions? 42 of the biggest unanswered questions in science.
posted by loquacious (45 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Will I ever get to bed?
I love this stuff. Thanks, loquacious.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:10 AM on January 26, 2007


Related: 13 things that do not make sense (New Scientist)
posted by hjo3 at 1:46 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


I have no idea how it happened but I started out at that Wired article and somehow ended up looking at articles about bananas, rhizomes and cultigens.

Even looking at my link history I can't figure out how that happened.

There's some kind of weird space-time warp around extremely informationally dense resources.

I space out, and time gets all warped and the next thing I knew I haven't blinked in 8 hours and I've worn another letter off my keyboard.
posted by loquacious at 2:17 AM on January 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


"How doth human language evolve?".

What a stupid question. "doth" is "Archaic. A third person singular present tense of do".

So this question really is "How does language evolve"?. Lots of mechanisms for language evolution are known - so this is not an "unknown".

The question they seem to be answering is "How DID language evolve from non-language".
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 2:22 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you're traveling forward in time and you see someone traveling backward in time it's probably a good idea to avoid eye contact with him. Also, don't bring a dog with you because he'll want to stick his head out the window and who knows what will happen then...Jack Handy

Great post, loquacious. Thanks. And here is A Review of the Universe.
posted by sluglicker at 2:24 AM on January 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


42 of the biggest unanswered questions in science.
I thought "42" answered the biggest question.
posted by hypersloth at 2:50 AM on January 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


well at least there's a note..
"OK, hitchhikers, you're right. This package contains only 40 great questions about life, the universe and everything. Got two more of your own? Visit our Wired Wiki to add them.
posted by hypersloth at 2:54 AM on January 26, 2007


Where lieth those little things with the sort of raffia-work base, that has an attachment?
posted by flabdablet at 3:08 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


From hjo3's link:
This "horizon problem" is a big headache for cosmologists, so big that they have come up with some pretty wild solutions.

Geeeeee Dayy-veeyyy. Maybe is was... God!

Excellent post! Thanks.
posted by The Deej at 5:04 AM on January 26, 2007


The question they seem to be answering is "How DID language evolve from non-language".

Well, it's a good thing you understood what they meant, but given that you sure put a bunch of effort into attacking what they didn't mean.
posted by mendel at 5:59 AM on January 26, 2007


This amuses me, though:
1 The placebo effect

[...] This is the placebo effect: somehow, sometimes, a whole lot of nothing can be very powerful. [...]

4 Belfast homeopathy results

[...] You can understand why Ennis remains sceptical. And it remains true that no homeopathic remedy has ever been shown to work in a large randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial. But the Belfast study (Inflammation Research, vol 53, p 181) suggests that something is going on.
Could the section 4 people and the section 1 people please get together for a chat? Thanks.
posted by mendel at 6:02 AM on January 26, 2007 [4 favorites]


I thought "42" answered the biggest question.

No offense to Adams fans, but the guy's dead, OK? Can we give this "joke" a decent burial as well, or at least confine it to Adams-related contexts? It's hard for me to believe that every single time a discussion of the universe comes up somebody thinks it's mighty darn clever to say "42!"—much like people hollering "Freebird!" at rock concerts.

With that off my chest: nice post!
posted by languagehat at 6:12 AM on January 26, 2007 [7 favorites]


Just another boring rehash of previous articles elsewhere in a pitiful attempt to please, please oh god please make Wired relevant. Next!
posted by cellphone at 6:22 AM on January 26, 2007


You would hope a technology rag would know the difference between science and metaphysics. Sheesh.

Also, where are the requisite seed articles?
posted by shownomercy at 6:33 AM on January 26, 2007


Can we give this "joke" a decent burial as well, or at least confine it to Adams-related contexts?

No. But no only because the proper context is not Adams but "life, the universe, and everything." 42 is akin to the placebo effect—sometimes a whole lot of nonsense can be very powerful.
posted by carsonb at 6:44 AM on January 26, 2007


I love this.
posted by Milkman Dan at 6:49 AM on January 26, 2007


Related: 13 things that do not make sense (New Scientist)

#14: why does the New Scientist suck so hard?
posted by delmoi at 6:50 AM on January 26, 2007


In the section on consciousness, Richard Rhodes is intensely condescending toward modern dualists: "that philosophic black-boxing is probably more nostalgic than scientific, a clinging to the idea of a spirit or soul." This disregards the heavily reasoned arguments of noted naturalist dualist thinkers like Chalmers and (though he wouldn't like that label) Searle. We may well all have some basic error in reasoning, but it's snide to claim that we dualists are just hopeless romantics.
posted by abcde at 7:10 AM on January 26, 2007


I smell 42 new AskMe posts...
posted by LordSludge at 7:10 AM on January 26, 2007


42 of the biggest unanswered questions in science.

I only got 28 of them, but then again it's early and I'm hung-over.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:16 AM on January 26, 2007


You would hope a technology rag would know the difference between science and metaphysics. Sheesh.
shownomercy: I just bookmarked this page to the category:Science and Metaphysics. I'm just ignorant.
posted by Hobgoblin at 7:21 AM on January 26, 2007


42 is indeed not a "joke" but the answer to a koan. What is the sound of one hand clapping? 42. If a tree falls in the forest yada yada... 42. Will I ever get to bed... 42.

Is this a list of the all-time funnest questions... ok sure. Are they more interesting to think about than what most of us will be doing at work today... yes. Will they ever be totally definitively answered such that only the uneducated ever have to ask them again... 42.
posted by scheptech at 7:48 AM on January 26, 2007


I'm with Cellphone. I hit Mefi because Wired is banality wrapped in pop culture.
posted by PuppyCat at 8:00 AM on January 26, 2007


Ohhhh, don't worry about launguagehat. He fights to maintain his hard-earned "Cranky Old Jackass" title.

I have to admit, when I saw the post, I thought there was no way "42" was an accident.

(Never read any Adams... not a fan... don't care about the "42" jokes... thinks languagehat is probably the most intelligent Cranky Old Jackass around.)
posted by The Deej at 8:02 AM on January 26, 2007


I'm with Cellphone. I hit Mefi because Wired is banality wrapped in pop culture.

Normally I'm with you and cellphone, and I'm still mad that Wired won over Mondo, and I still can't look at their logo without rising levels of smarmy, snarky bile and disappointment at what weirdness could have been.

So, yeah, it's considerably low-hanging fruit fruit for a post from me and it'll be all over the net - but I liked this and I'm weirder than you... so suck it, haters. :)
posted by loquacious at 8:05 AM on January 26, 2007


No one knows why labor starts either. I always thought that was cool.
posted by serazin at 8:45 AM on January 26, 2007


I love you guys!
posted by winks007 at 8:45 AM on January 26, 2007


He fights to maintain his hard-earned "Cranky Old Jackass" title.

Damn tootin'!

*fires shotgun into air, cackles*
posted by languagehat at 8:51 AM on January 26, 2007


Will There Ever Be a Rainbow?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:22 AM on January 26, 2007


No one knows why labor starts either.

Labor starts because baby wants OUT, man! Tired of eating through a tube stuck in the belly. Wants some booby!

Duh. Sheesh, think before you ask these questions.

;-)
posted by elendil71 at 10:48 AM on January 26, 2007


I love that John "PC" Hodgman has a career while the buy who plays the supercilious, oh-so-cool Mac boy is nowhere in sight.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:28 AM on January 26, 2007


Mental Wimp: the cool Mac guy has a good bit in Idiocracy! Oh, right...seven theaters. Never mind.

Anyway, did CondeNet buy Reddit just for the editorial input? Can I expect next month's cover stories to include "Awesome Sunset Iceberg Crash Pic (high res!)" and "Why My Girlfriend Hates Bush (new xkcd!)"?
posted by paul_smatatoes at 12:00 PM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


No offense to Adams fans, but the guy's dead, OK? Can we give this "joke" a decent burial as well, or at least confine it to Adams-related contexts? It's hard for me to believe that every single time a discussion of the universe comes up somebody thinks it's mighty darn clever to say "42!"—much like people hollering "Freebird!" at rock concerts.

It was in the linked article. It's hardly a relevant snark to ask people to keep it to Adamas-related contexts when they used it in an Adams-related context--or did you miss that whole "hitchikers" notation at the end?

Now, that doesn't make it funny, but it probably doesn't deserve your well-stated vitriol, either. I realize you have a daily quota to fulfill in terms of "get off my lawn" dialogue, but you should at least reserve it for people who are on your lawn; otherwise you're just the crazy guy that sprays passerby with his hose while he's watering his garden*.

* Personal childhood experience/trauma
posted by The God Complex at 12:03 PM on January 26, 2007


Mental Wimp writes "I love that John 'PC' Hodgman has a career while the buy who plays the supercilious, oh-so-cool Mac boy is nowhere in sight."

Eh, he's doing alright.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:07 PM on January 26, 2007


Dude was in fuckin' Dodgeball, man.

/throws wrench at Mental Wimp.
posted by The God Complex at 12:31 PM on January 26, 2007


There's some kind of weird space-time warp around extremely informationally dense resources.

I space out, and time gets all warped and the next thing I knew I haven't blinked in 8 hours and I've worn another letter off my keyboard.


This happens to me too. A friend of mine has dubbed this condition "WikiDrift."
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:51 PM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: sometimes a whole lot of nonsense can be very powerful.
posted by michswiss at 1:35 PM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


TGC: Point taken, but I'm so sick of the "42" crap, which you have to admit turns up way too often, that I may have been a little too quick with the shotgun. Just call me Walter Brennan. Also: I was that crazy guy!
posted by languagehat at 2:02 PM on January 26, 2007


Oh, it definitely turns up too often, and I hate when an interesting discussion is sidetracked by an old standby. But when I saw "42 of the biggest questions", and noted that they even failed to write out "forty-two" (as would be standard English) I knew precisely what they were going for and expected even more Douglas-foolery to ensue. In fact, I think we can celebrate that there wasn't very much at all! (Though I do love the trilogy)

In my neighbourhood it was a crazy lady. If we rode by on her side of the street when she was outdoors (in the same floral-print yellow dress she always wore), she would spray us and cackled in an unhinged way. To make matters worse, her house was located directly across from our local "tot-lot", so we had to deal with her on a daily basis.
posted by The God Complex at 2:12 PM on January 26, 2007


WikiDrift?
posted by knave at 3:09 PM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I immediately thought of that comic when I wrote my comment and also when I read elwoodwiles' reply. I don't know why I didn't link it.

I used to get it real, real bad over at everything2.com. Days and days at a time bad. "Nodegel", they call it, the fabric of the interlinked database. There are many other jargonisms, and it is probably the fault of rather fruity, vaguely info-sexual sounding weirdisms like that that scared a good many folk off.

Mmm. Vaguely infosexual.
posted by loquacious at 4:32 PM on January 26, 2007


42nd comment!!! Woohooo take that ya geezer! (Just sayin.)
posted by The Deej at 7:52 PM on January 26, 2007


That should be "darn tootin" languagehat. Must I always correct you. Sigh.

smiley emoticon
posted by vronsky at 4:22 PM on January 27, 2007


mendel writes "Could the section 4 people and the section 1 people please get together for a chat? Thanks."

See, the thing about that is: placebo effect relies on human belief. The Belfast homeopathy experiments were petri-dish science.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:45 PM on January 27, 2007


aw, I was enjoying the fact that this was left at 42 comments, and specifically didn't add my thoughts to let that be a subtle response to this...
No offense to Adams fans, but the guy's dead, OK? Can we give this "joke" a decent burial as well, or at least confine it to Adams-related contexts?

the thing about comedy - and to be fair, poetry and music and all forms of human expression, but it is especially and immediately evident in comedy - is that things get old. In the information age, things get old even faster.

Which is to say, sure, it's not clever to reference adams now, but sometimes it is just meant as a little nod to a familiar part of comedic history. It was funny stuff, & many people remember it fondly, even if it's been worn out a bit by the internet. Though I do agree passing references are one thing (I think the use in this article was cute) and blatant "ah HA HA, 42! Do you know what that means?!" references are annoying.

I was glad to see this article, as sometimes the dawkins-esque branch of scientism tries to smooth over the mysteries in order to fight empty mythologies, so it's nice to see pop science addressing metaphysical issues. But I've been disappointed by some of the actual pieces, which often seem to slide right back into the "stop being religious, we almost have it figured out" side of things.

I'm not religious, but I don't think we've almost figured it out. I don't even know if it is logically possible to figure out because I do not see how it can be analytic (i.e., each side of the equation can match, but where did the equation come from to begin with?). I think to truly be atheistic one has to accept Sartre's conclusion, that the universe is absurd (not in its mechanics but in its existence). Something can't come from nothing. 0 =1 is absurd. (the end of this thread got into these issues). Some scientists openly admit this, but some seem to become irritated by the suggestion that there may be questions beyond science. Philosophers have mostly accepted that positivism is untenable; this means either that we agree not to bother with questions which are simply unknowable, or we allow that exploration of those areas is not exactly scientific. But I watched a video of Dawkins the other day where he said we've almost got it worked out and soon we'll have the whole story, as if "infinite regress" didn't really mean infinite.
posted by mdn at 7:41 AM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


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