In Douglas Adam's book, HitchHiker's guide to the Galaxy,
he relates the story of a race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings
who built a computer named Deep Thought to calculate the answer to the
Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. When the answer
was revealed as 42, they were forced to build a more powerful computer
to work out what the Ultimate Question actually was.
To get the right answers, you've got to ask the right questions. Through out
history, some scientists have thought that all of the important questions
had been answered.
"Sometimes I really regret that I did not live in those times
when there was still so much that was new; to be sure enough much is yet
unknown, but I do not think that it will be possible to discover anything
easily nowadays that would lead us to revise our entire outlook as radically
as was possible in the days when telescopes and microscopes were still new."
- Heinrich Hertz as a physics student 1875
"We are probably nearing the limit of all we can know about astronomy."
- Simon Newcomb, early American astronomer 1888
"The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical
science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that
the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new
discoveries is exceedingly remote.... Our future discoveries must be looked
for in the sixth place of decimals."
- Albert. A. Michelson, speech at the dedication of Ryerson Physics
Lab, U. of Chicago 1894
"There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All
that remains is more and more precise measurement"
- Lord Kelvin
"So many centuries after the Creation, it is unlikely that
anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value."
- Spanish Royal Commission, rejecting Christopher Columbus' proposal to sail west.
And so goes the zero sum, logic. We see the same logic today in some
circles still. Malthusians abound. I've read the thoughts of a few around
these parts recently. We've used up the earth! The end is near! Well,
it's enough to make a person wave their hands in the air and resign. Just
give up. I'd like to think that ideas, and solutions are infinite,
and there will always be solutions. As long as we ask the right questions.
And that's the nub of it eh? To ask the right questions?
"To celebrate the 125th anniversary of its founding by Thomas
Edison, the journal Science asked more than 100 of the world's top scientists
what they thought were the 25 most important scientific questions likely to
be answered in the next 25 years.
Some of the questions include,
The 25 big questions range from what is consciousness (the mysterious
interplay of brain cells and neurotransmitters that conjures up awareness
and the ability to ask questions) to what is the universe made of. "
-Can the laws of physics be unified?
-How much can the human life span be extended?
-How does Earth's interior work?
-Are we alone in the universe?
You can read about some of the others here:
World's Scientists Predict What's Next in Coming 25 Years
Maybe we shouldn't just be asking the scientists though. I'd like to hear
what our religious and spiritual gurus think are some big questions to be
answered. That would be interesting. If they don't think they've got all the answers, that is.