The New York Times has published a list of the 25 ‘most provocative’ questions facing science, and as a public service, I’m going to try to answer them:
(1) Does Science Matter?
For lack of a more elegant alternative, yes. I actually prefer to use common sense and intuition whenever I can get away with it, but they’re notoriously unreliable. Different jobs require different tools, and you can’t really press a sledgehammer into service when what you need is a logic probe.
(2) Is War Our Biological Destiny?
No. War is our biological legacy, not our destiny.
(3) Will Humans Ever Visit Mars?
Yes. It’s inordinately expensive, extremely foolhardy, and completely unnecessary, but we won’t let that stop us!
(4) How Does the Brain Work?
In my case, not very well. Seriously, though, the brain is a terabit wetware multi-tasking multi-threading parallel processing supercomputer that maps heuristically a transform from our sensory inputs to a 4-D model of the universe that it stores holographically in a revisionist refresh process that attempts to minimize power usage and maintain internal consistency. (Duh.)
(5) What Is Gravity, Really?
I don’t know, but it still sucks.
(6) Will We Ever Find Atlantis?
No. She’s long since dropped the two t’s from her name and founded a hugely successful music career on songs like Ironic.
(7) How Much of the Body is Replaceable?
All of it, as long as you do it a little bit at a time. As a matter of fact, human beings replace every molecule in their body about every 7 years, on average.
(8) What Should We Eat?
Things that taste good and aren’t too hard to chew.
(9) When Will the Next Ice Age Begin?
When it gets cold enough.
(10) What Happened Before the Big Bang?
Nothing. Everything. (OK, that’s a bit facetious, but basically, this question is really asking if the 4-dimensional object of our universe, where everything is always happening everywhere all at once all the time has a boundary, and if so, what lies outside that boundary, so I stand by my first answer.)
(11) Could We Live Forever?
Yes, but I’m only 41 and I’m already getting bored.
(12) Are Men Necessary? …
At least this one.
… Are Women Necessary?
Survey says… Yup. Uh huh. You betcha.
(13) What Is the Next Plague?
Hard to say, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with spoiled white mama’s boys doing bad rap. I actually like the Eminem song they’ve been playing to death, but I don’t care how much he slurs his words, “cold water” and “Cole Porter” do not rhyme.
(14) Can Robots Become Conscious?
Probably, but the jury is still out on whether people can.
(15) Why Do We Sleep?
Because bed would get pretty boring if you just laid there in the dark for 8 hours. Actually, sleeps serves two main purposes, to conserve energy while there’s not enough light to do anything productive, and to give the brain-computer time to revise its holographic world-model so it works better the next day than it did today.
Another interesting question is how much sleep is really necessary and if there are better alternatives like Polyphasic sleeping.
(16) Are Animals Smarter Than We Think?
No. We tend to anthropomorphize animals excessively and give them way more mental credit than they’re due. Including us.
(17) Can Science Prove the Existence of God?
No. God is similar to the ether – if you believe, then it’s perfectly obvious that divinity permeates everything, if not, it’s nowhere to be found.
(18) Is Evolution Truly Random?
No. Evolution has to work with what’s already around, which severely limits the range of possibilities both for starting points and viable results.
(19) How Did Life Begin?
(20) Can Drugs Make Us Happier? Smarter?
(21) Should We Improve Our Genome?
(22) How Much Nature Is Enough?
All of it. Within a very narrow range of tolerance, the environment as it exists is both necessary and sufficient to support life as we know it.
(23) What Is the Most Important Problem in Math Today?
I don’t know enough to know. My personal most important problem is that I’d really love to understand why e^(pi*i)=-1. That seems really important.
(24) Where Are Those Aliens?
I believe there could actually be life elsewhere, though I doubt it (too much magic) but I sure don’t think they come here routinely to perform anal probes and build pyramids.
(25) Do Paranormal Phenomena Exist?
No, though like everyone else, I often wish they did.