Unsolved mysteries

Our horizons of knowledge expand continually.

Many of the mysteries of our world have been successfully tackled, and their general underlying principles firmly established. The majority of research is dedicated to uncovering detailed principles within the general framework, and finding ways to improve living conditions on our planet.

(You might like to read the section on Scientific Discoveries, before proceeding with the rest of this section.)

There're still many great mysteries that we're working hard to understand. For example, our understanding of the state of the universe has increased tremendously over the last few decades, but we have not yet attained an understanding of its underlying nature. We wonder what preceded the universe as we know it, and what will happen to it in the future.

This is because the measurements to be made, and the experiments that need to be carried out to address these questions, are painstaking, difficult, complicated, and expensive.

It's hard enough to derive equations that describe objects within our local environment on earth, and to explain how complex entities such as societies and brains operate. It's much, much harder to study events and objects on a cosmic scale.

Existence of the universe

People often ask how the universe came into being and how something could have originated from nothing.

Well, to begin with, we don’t know that something originated from nothing. The belief that there was nothing, followed by a great expansion, is subject to debate. Various theories propose different scenarios; the cyclic model of the universe suggests that our universe might engage in an endless cycle of collision and rebounding.

An acquaintance with the history of science is extremely helpful- it gives you an idea of how difficult it is to make scientific discoveries and how much effort and time are needed. If anything, I find it amazing that we know as much as we do now- our body of knowledge is huge and continually growing. We have exponentially more to discover.
The universe does not revolve around human beings
Religious proponents sometimes claim that the fact that we (humans, other organisms, the universe, and everything) exist somehow proves that we were designed- that all our characteristics were conceived beforehand, and we were purpose-built to God’s specifications, to fit in harmoniously with the environment. This belief stems from our inclination to view our circumstances from our own limited perspective.

Their arguments cite facts about patterns in nature, such as the position of planets and moons within our solar system, the mass of the Earth, its distance from the sun, the chemical composition of the Earth and its atmosphere, and the existence of complex systems such as the body parts of various organisms.

The claim is that since the conditions under which we live are optimal for our existence, our needs must have been the determining factors that specified the dimensions and parameters which describe our world.

This is an excellent example of human-centred navel-gazing.

For any given set of conditions, only events that are physically possible under those conditions stand a chance of occurring. By definition, events that are impossible under those conditions cannot occur. We, and everything that is in existence, have evolved simply because the events that happened to lead to our existence were possible under the circumstances.

If we had not met the criteria imposed by the universe, we would not have come about or been able to thrive in our particular habitat. We have not determined the principles governing the universe- the universe has shaped us.

Some people might still argue that there's no way to prove the direction of causality in this relationship. The answer's simple- all we have to do is to follow this argument to its illogical conclusions.

Let’s say that someone believes that the needs of human beings have determined the parameters of our universe.

Well, other organisms exist too, so they could equally have been the basis for the setting of these universal parameters.

Religious proponents might argue that these other organisms exist merely to serve the needs of human beings. Fine, we can extrapolate that opinion to the notion that all objects- rocks, living things, the universe, and everything- are built according to the specifications required by human beings, which are the same requirements as those imposed by our universe.

That boils down to the statement that everything in the universe, including human beings, determines everything in the universe, including human beings. One could pick any object in the universe, and claim that its requirements for existence were the determining factors for the rest of the universe. This would be equally true for any object. There's no way to prove that any one object is the precursor or the setter of standards for all the rest.

Thus, the idea that human beings are somehow the blueprints for the rest is no more substantial or meaningful than the statement that a (fill in the blank with the object of your choice) is.

(Read more about related topics under the emergence of complex systems, the definition and origins of life, and the status of human beings.)
comments courtesy of Disqus

background image