For 350 years, the Royal Society has called on the world’s biggest brains to unravel the mysteries of science. Its president, Martin Rees, considers today’s big issues, while leading thinkers describe the puzzles they would love to see solved.

The 10 big questions

What is consciousness?

What happened before the big bang?

Will science and engineering give us back our individuality?

How are we going to cope with the world’s burgeoning population?

Is there a pattern to the prime numbers?

Can we make a scientific way of thinking all pervasive?

How do we ensure humanity survives and flourishes?

Can someone explain adequately the meaning of infinite space?

Will I be able to record my brain like I can record a programme on television?

Can humanity get to the stars?

The full discussion, at The Guardian, is fascinating.


Ten questions science must answer
Martin Rees, with interviews by Alok Jha and John Crace
The Guardian, Tuesday 30 November 2010

Category: Science, Weekend

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

17 Responses to “Ten Questions Science Must Answer”

  1. Longball111 says:

    BR- Your mind wanders just a bit, doesn’t it? Makes the blog more fun to read.

  2. freejack says:

    11) What is 6 x 9?

    Re: 3) “Will science and engineering give us back our individuality?”

    If you have to ask for it ‘back’, you never had it in the first place.

  3. freejack says:

    Mr Rees,
    Re: your question(3)
    The corporate entity you sold your individuality to, in return for a bi-monthly paycheck, has informed us that your former individuality was bundled together with other individualities of varying moral turpitudes and that tranches of these are being sold to Wall Street Investment Bankers in lieu of a soul. So, no.

    Science and Engineering

  4. Chuck Ponzi says:

    The answer, of course, is 42.

  5. freejack says:

    So long Mr. Ponzi, and thanks for all the fish.

  6. You stole my thunder Chuck (thunderchuck?)

    I was going to say 42 but that’s been used so I’d just like to say the answer is……yes

  7. Wait a minute. Why MUST science answer these questions? Can it first answer that one? And it doesn’t have to be science that answers it. Any old discipline can do. And why are you always favoring science? That is clear bias. Why not ten questions phys ed must answer? or gardening how come no one ever asks gardening anything?

  8. ashpelham2 says:

    I’m afraid the answers to those questions might ultimately disprove the longheld belief systems that humans have, regarding deities and their existence.

    In other words, humans have enough intelligence to continue to ask questions even after the most profound has been answered, but we’re still dumb enough for superstition.

  9. Bruce N Tennessee says:

    It appears to me all these questions have already been answered.

    Awareness of one’s surroundings. Period. You wanted the RES or something?
    Not much.
    We won’t.
    We don’t.
    Been done. If you don’t perceive it due to your frame of reference, no amount of explanation will get you there.
    Is that really a desire you have?
    Yes. Perhaps not as speedily as you are thinking..

  10. ChrisH says:

    Very provocative, though I’m not convinced these are all scientific questions.

    What is consciousness? This could be scientific, but I don’t think that a scientific answer will be enough to place the question aside – it would merely be a mechanical description of material substance (physiology, neurobiology, etc). One may want to press and ask, well what about consciousness as awareness? How does non material awareness arise from or supervene on material substance? This seems to me to be classic metaphysics and should be argued over by philosophers.

    Is there a pattern to prime numbers? Not sure this is scientific either. What is empirical about it? I imagine that science may provide the foundation for the technology necessary to build a computer to answer this, but the question itself seems mathematical and not scientific.

    Can we make a scientific way of thinking pervasive? Well, technically the phrasing suggests that it could be scientific in the sense of asking how this could be possible to implement, but the questions seems to be a normative one in disguise. The more interesting question is “should scientific thinking be pervasive?” This is a question of ethics.

    The meaning of infinite space? This is also seems quasi philosophical, but I’m not going to attempt an argument – I don’t know enough about physics and don’t want to offend any physicists. It seems to me, however, that the concept of finite space raises hard philosophical questions.

    While I’m at it, I think some deeper questions and ones that are meta-scientific and therefore thoroughly philosophical are “what is science?”, “what makes a scientific theory true?”, “what is the aim of science?”, “how does science produce knowledge?” , “how can false theories be useful?”, etc.

  11. Jack says:

    I think #3 should ask: what is individuality and will we know when (or if) we’ve lost (or gained) it? I know some self-proclaimed individualists who don’t even realize they’re drinking the kool-aid.

  12. Lariat1 says:

    I would just like to know why i always have such a difficult time getting logged in here.

  13. BobCarver says:

    “How are we going to cope with the world’s burgeoning population?”

    The smartest ones of us will leave the planet for space colonies and let the remaining population fight it out. Ought to be a nice planet to visit once the idiots kill each other.

    “How do we ensure humanity survives and flourishes?”

    Leave the cradle. See the first question.

    “Can humanity get to the stars?”

    Of course, but it will take a while. Enjoy the solar sysem in the meantime.

    Okay, I picked off the easy ones, the others could take a lot longer.

  14. parsec says:

    What happened before the Big Bang? Why, the Big Foreplay, of course.

    Actually, as anti-matter researchers showed a couple of weeks ago, you can create matter if you make it in opposing matter-antimatter pairs using a “seed” proton and additional energy. Perhaps if you were willing to wait forever you could get one spontaneous proton-antiproton or graviton-antigraviton and that would start the ball rolling. Two forevers and you get two. Before you know it you’ve got a universe full of it that doesn’t collapse in on itself.

    Or maybe the whole thing is a giant tortoise ….

  15. How are we going to cope with the world’s burgeoning population?


    Off the complainers

  16. freejack says:

    “Or maybe the whole thing is a giant tortoise ….”

    With elephants on it’s back……

    Or maybe it’s just human nature to seek certainty & attempt to impose order on what is an essentially random universe.

    On your knees before the new deity of ‘Science’, mortals.

  17. victor says:

    Ecclesiastes 1:13 I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men!

    BR: Happy Hanukkah, many thanks for this year’s tour de force but unfortunately, “the cake is a lie” still stands.