by Ross Pomeroy
Questions set the scientific method in motion. Without that initial curiosity, that “I wonder…”, that “What if…”, we would not have the technology, the medicine, nor the knowledge that we have today.
But not all questions have readily attainable answers. Despite our formidable advances in probing reality over the years, there are some things we are still incapable of concretely knowing. One day, that could change, but for these topics it’s currently hard to fathom how. Here are four questions that humans may never know the answers to:
Do You See Red Like I See Red?
What does ‘red’ look like? Well, you know, it looks red… Maybe you can break it down even further, describing its shading or ‘warmth’, but that it still based on a palette of colors that could be construed differently by others’ brains. Thus, the red you see may not be the same red your friend sees. Maybe your red resembles their green?
“Physiological measurements are unlikely to ever resolve metaphysical questions such as ‘what is redness?'” cognition experts Bevil R. Conway and Danny Garside wrote in The Conversation.
What Happened Before the Big Bang?
A short time after the Big Bang – think a second or less – the Universe was dense, hot, and rapidly expanding. But what was happening at the moment of the Big Bang itself? We don’t know. And what about before it? Forget about it.
All we have is conjecture, since, as legendary physicist Stephen Hawking noted, “events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences.”
According to theoretical physicist Sean Carroll, there may simply have been an infinite stretch of an ultra-hot, dense material, persisting in a steady state governed by quantum mechanics. Or, there may have been another universe contracting, with entropy increasing toward the past. The Big Bang constituted a sudden bounce in the opposite direction.
Then again, this whole discussion might be irrelevant. Why does there have to be a before? The quest to find causes for effects is somewhat of an inherent human bias, shaped from a storybook need for a tidy beginning and a conclusive end. But the Universe is under no requirement to conform to quaint human notions.
How Is Consciousness Created?
Philosophers and scientists have been grappling with consciousness for thousands of years. The discussions and explorations have been lively, but altogether unable to uncover how consciousness arises. According to Philip Goff, an assistant professor of philosophy at Durham University, there’s a simple reason for that.
“You can’t look inside someone’s head and see their feelings and experiences. If we were just going off what we can observe from a third-person perspective, we would have no grounds for postulating consciousness at all… The best scientists are able to do is to correlate unobservable experiences with observable processes, by scanning people’s brains and relying on their reports regarding their private conscious experiences.”
This is interesting, but doesn’t drive to the heart of the issue, Goff says.
“What we ultimately want is to explain why conscious experiences are correlated with brain activity.”
Right now, we have no clue how to do that.
What Is Inside Black Holes?
“What happens in a black hole, stays in a black hole.”
Jeremy Schnittman, a research astrophysicist at NASA, confidently stated those words on NASA’s Curious Universe podcast because he knows that black holes are regions of spacetime so gravitational dense that nothing, not even light, can escape once you cross their event horizon. There’s a small chance that fluctuations at the quantum level might allow a minuscule amount of radiation to escape, but we’d likely never be able to detect it.
If, somehow, you managed to cross a black hole’s event horizon and glimpse, or even enter, the inner singularity without getting crushed by the immense gravitational forces, you’d be stuck inside forever, with no way of telling the outside world what’s inside. In fact, to viewers just outside the black hole, you’d seem to be frozen, as gravity slows time for you to a near standstill.
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Ross Pomeroy is a writer for RealClearInvestigations.
Photo “Black Hole” by geralt.