Thursday, March 24, 2005

Bill's Big Five Unsolved Problems in Science

In a recent post (Young Scientists, 3/16/05) I listed “The Five Biggest Unsolved Problems in Science” from the book by Arthur Wiggins and Charles Wynn.

1. Why do some particles have mass while others have none?
2. Why is the universe expanding faster and faster?
3. What series of chemical reactions gave birth to the first living things?
4. What are the structure and function of the proteins encoded by the human genome?
5. Is accurate, long-range weather forecasting possible?

On 3/17/05 I mentioned the thoughtful response from Christina that ended with a good question re global warming: "What if it never happens?"

From Randy I received this:

"For the most part these seem to me to be among some of the fundamentally interesting questions that exist in science, except, #3."

"Since the answer to this is in Genesis chapter one the question too easily becomes a mechanism to deny that there is a holy sovereign creator that hold his creatures responsible."

"Kind of like the alternative to Darwin and Freud, not attractive to goats."

Now I'd like to present PV Bill's list:

1. What preceeded the Big Bang and what is the final state of the universe?

2. Does Darwinian evolution explain the creation of life, ie the creation of the first living cell?

3. What is the time frame for the next ice age and can we do anything to prolong the current interglacial period?

4. Is there a unified theory of physics that encompasses electrodynamics, quantum mechanics, special and general relativity?

5. What is the prospect for quantum computers?

I'll be exploring each of these unsolved problems in future posts.
Very interested in your thoughts?


Anonymous christina said...

LOL, back when we were on climate change, my envi sci teacher (do you know Ben Smith? He looks like he came out of the woods) was lecturing about how during interglacial periods, warming preceded each ice age. But I remember him saying that the next one is several thousands of years away (well maybe, I was kind of sleeping), if we go by previous records (from like ice and bedrock samples).

So I think that the other questions are more interesting... we already have a sort-of answer for this one! I also happen to know absolutely nothing about physics right now. Does rxn kinetics and quantum mechanics count? Oh well, next year, physics AP!!

10:33 PM  
Blogger Ralph said...


1:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Here are some problems which I think are big ones, and which I find very interesting:

What is Consciousness?
How can you tell if an organism is conscious?
What is consciousness good for (i.e., what is its survival value)?
How does it relate to dreams?
When will computers become conscious?

Of course, until the first question is answered -- or the term defined -- the rest of the questions are pretty ambiguous. But at least one won't find the "answers" in Genesis.

The answers may well involve quantum effects, as I think Penrose and others have suggested.


3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I really don't have any cogent views on consciousness. From what I've read, it seems that even the best thinkers on the subject have no real idea what it is or how it works. In fact, I think it will be a long time before we discover concepts which allow us to think about it in any structured way. Trying to analyze it now is a little like the old alchemists trying to change lead into gold -- they had no inkling of the make up of matter and were just playing around on the surface.

Even so, it is interesting to try to think about.

I do have some views on dreams, though. I think they're just the brain doing its housekeeping -- throwing out useless stuff to make space, transferring useful things into permanent memory, and maybe some unstructured simulation or what-if kind of processing. But to me, dream interpretation is pretty much nonsense -- dreaming is a kind of processing not controlled by the conscious mind, therefore any meaning it may seem to have is incidental to the process, and not significant in itself.


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