Top 10 scientific mysteries for the 21st century (2023)

The last few centuries have been pretty good for science. In the 17th century, Isaac Newton solved the ancient controversy over the nature of forces and motion with his three laws. In the 18th, Ben Franklin figured out a lot about electricity. In the 19th, Darwin explained the diversity of species, Maxwell revealed the physics of light, Mendeleyev defined the families of chemical elements. In the 20th we had Einstein, who figured out all sorts of stuff, including gravity. No to mention Watson and Crick, who deciphered the molecular foundation for genetics and life. What more do you want?

Well, there are still lots of mysteries left for the 21st century to solve, and it has only 86 years left in which to solve them. So it’s a good idea to put them in a list, just to avoid any danger that everybody will forget to work on them.

Actually there are many more than 10, so this list will have to be restricted to my favorites. To select from all the many possibilities, let’s make a game of it.

10. How did life originate?

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It doesn’t seem like this one should be so hard, but it continues to defy solution. There’s plenty of speculation, often related to RNA’s ability to act both as catalyst and bio–hard drive to store information. And new findings turn up all the time about how life’s basic building blocks could have been generated in primordial conditions or delivered to Earth from space. I think this question will end up having something to do with game theory, as biomolecules interact in competitive waysthat could be described as strategies, and the math for calculating optimal strategies is what game theory is all about.

9. What is the identity of the dark matter?

It has been eight decades or so since astronomers began to notice that there is more gravity pulling stuff around out in space than there is visible matter able to produce such effects. Attempts to detect the supposedly exotic (as in, unknown) species of subatomic particle responsible for the extra gravity have been frustrating. Hints seen in some experiments have been ruled out by other experiments. I think there’s a missing piece to this puzzle, but it probably has nothing to do with game theory.

8. What is the nature of the dark energy that drives cosmic acceleration?

If you think dark matter is frustrating, try explaining dark energy. Something is driving space to expand at an ever increasing rate. Physicists think that they know what it is — the never-changing density of energy residing throughout all of space, referred to by Einstein as the “cosmical term” and now called the cosmological constant. But when you calculate how strong the cosmological constant should be, the answer is too big by dozens of orders of magnitude — much more than the difference between the size of the entire universe compared with a proton. So dark energy’s identity remains a mystery; if it is the cosmological constant, something else is seriously wrong with what physicists think they know. And so far game theory has been absolutely no help.

(Video) 10 Greatest Scientific Discoveries of 21st Century so far !!

7. How to measure evidence

This one is so mysterious that many scientists don’t even know there’s a mystery. But if they paused to think, they’d realize that the standard way of inferring conclusions from experimental data — calculating “statistical significance” — makes about as much sense as punting on fourth and seven when you’re down by 15 with eight minutes to go. One small example: if you do an experiment and get a statistically significant result, and then repeat it and get a statistically significant result again, you’d think you have better evidence than doing the experiment only once. But if the significance level was a little less the second time, the combined “P value” would be less impressive after the second experiment, even though the evidence ought to be regarded as stronger. It’s a mess. Game theory would surely be able to help somehow, possibly by virtue of its relationship to thermodynamics.

6. Genes, cancer and luck

You might have read recently that most cancer is caused by bad luck, as a study published in Science supposedly concluded. (Actually, the study concluded that the disparity in prevalence of cancer of various types was largely due to luck.) A firestorm ofprotest followed, essentially based on the belief that such a study must be wrong because it would “send the wrong message” to the public. Proving the illogic of that syllogism should be left as an exercise for the reader. Other responses revealed that experts do not agree on how random mutations (bad luck) compare with heredity (parent’s fault) plus lifestyle (your fault) and environmental exposure to bad things (somebody else’s fault) in causing cancer. Sorting all that out, and in the process solving cancer’s other mysteries, should be a high-priority exercise for 21st century science. And yes, there is a considerable amount of research relating game theory to cancer.

5. Are there extra dimensions of space?

I don’t know why people keep thinking this is a mystery, as I have on several occasions pointed out that there are no extra dimensions. However many there are, they are all absolutely necessary. Posed properly, this question should be how many dimensions of space are there? (For that matter, you could also ask about how many time dimensions there are, but that might overlap with No. 4.) Many physicists believe more dimensions than the ordinary three will be needed for physics to make sense of the universe. (Don’t even ask if they’re talking about bosonic or fermionic dimensions.) A key to understanding this issue is the mathematics of Calabi-Yau manifolds, which can curl up in gazillions of different ways to prevent easy detection of the additional dimensions’ existence. And that makes it really hard to figure out which of the gazillion possibilities would correspond to the universe we inhabit (unless there is some sort of fixed point theorem that would choose one, like a Nash equilibriumin game theory). In any event, anyone attempting to solve this riddle should first read Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, in which the protagonist character, A. Square, demonstrates the existence of an extra dimension and is promptly thrown in jail.

4. The nature of time

So many mysteries, so little time in which to solve them, unless solving this one would reveal some clever tricks to play with time. Many submysteries underlie this one, corresponding to almost all of the 44 definitions of time in the dictionary (and that’s just as a noun). What’s the nature of duration and the flow of time — is it illusory or “real” in some elusive way? What about the direction of time — does it always go forward? Why? Is time travel possible, or can messages at least be sent backward in time? (Forward in time is easy — just print this blog post out and read it a year from now.) Perhaps the biggest mystery is whether all these issues about time are related or are completely separate questions. Of course, it would all be simpler if somehow time could be connected to game theory, which it might be, because game theory can be related to cellular automata, which in turn can be related to time.

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3. Quantum gravity

Quantum physics and general relativity (aka Einstein’s theory of gravity) both seem to describe the universe and its components with compelling accuracy, yet they seem wholly incompatible with one another. Attempts to combine them into a coherent unified theory have been as successful as brokering compromise in the U.S. Congress. Yet there are clues. In 1930, Einstein tried to refute quantum mechanics (specifically, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle) by suggesting a clock attached to a box hanging on a scale could measure both the mass of a photon and the precise time that it escaped from the box. (Heisenberg said you couldn’t measure both at the same time). But Niels Bohr pointed out that the time on the clock would be uncertain, because as the box moved upward in the gravitational field, Einstein’s relativity required a change in time that would introduce just the amount of uncertainty in the timing that Heisenberg required. So how, you might ask, did the uncertainty principle know about this effect of general relativity? Maybe if the experts posed the question that way they would be able to figure out the quantum gravity mystery. The next best bet would be to undertake the study of quantum game theory, which hasn’t been adequately exploited yet in this regard.

2. Does intelligent life exist elsewhere?

It’s tempting to delete the “elsewhere,” but given what passes for intelligence on Earth, it makes sense to wonder if anything like it could be blundering about on some distant world. It seems likely, given how many other worlds there are out there. But finding out for sure will probably require receiving an actual message. Projects like SETIhave been listening for some such message, so far unsuccessfully. There are two (at least) possible explanations: One, there have been no messages (perhaps the aliens are experts at game theory and calculated that contacting humans would be a bad strategy). Two, the messages are there, but nobody knows how to detect or recognize them. Perhaps enhanced scrutiny is in order on Twitter, where numerous tweets every day seem most plausibly to be the work of aliens.

1. The meaning of quantum entanglement

All sorts of quantum mysteries remain unsatisfactorily resolved, but maybe the rest would succumb if entanglement does. Entanglement occurs in systems with widely separated parts that share a common history; a measurement of one of the parts reveals what you will find out when you measure its distant relative. Entanglement is a fact of nature, well-established by experiment. It suggests that time and space do not constrain quantum phenomena the way they do ordinary human activity. Among the latest intriguing aspects of entanglement to be studied involves black holes. It seems that black holes can be entangled, which apparently is equivalent to their being connected by a wormhole. Related work suggests that space, time and gravity are all part of a vast quantum entanglement network. Since both the evolution of networks and quantum entanglementfit nicely into game theory, solving all sorts of mysteries might boil down to viewing the world from a game-theoretical perspective. But maybe that will still be too hard for human brains — it might take advanced artificial intelligence, which, as this papersuggests, might be created with the help of some version of quantum game theory.

Editor’s Note: It might not surprise readers to find out that Tom Siegfried is the author of a book about game theory. But he says the book did not include the sort of wild speculation that is suitable only in blog posts.

(Video) 100 Unsolved Mysteries That Cannot Be Explained | Compilation

Follow me on Twitter: @tom_siegfried

FAQs

What is the biggest mystery in biology? ›

Today we take a look at some of the greatest mysteries from biology that keep scientists awake at night.
  1. The Cambrian Explosion.
  2. The Origin of Viruses. ...
  3. The G-Spot Dispute. ...
  4. No Oxygen Needed. ...
  5. ACHOO Syndrome. ...
  6. The Yawn. ...
  7. The Sex Life of the Blue Whale. ...
  8. The Paradox of the Plankton. ...
24 Oct 2021

What are the great mysteries of life? ›

It seems that the more we uncover about life on this planet, the deeper the mysteries grow.
  • 10Cows Always Face North Or South While Eating.
  • 9Why Some Mammals Moved Back Into Water.
  • 8Alkaloids In Plants.
  • 7Why Flowers Are Everywhere.
  • 6Why There Is So Much Diversity Near The Equator.
  • 5Paradox Of The Phytoplankton.
10 Apr 2015

What are some things science can't answer? ›

  • COSMOLOGY. What came before the big bang? ...
  • CYCLING. How does a bicycle stay upright? ...
  • QUANTUM SCIENCE. Where does quantum weirdness end? ...
  • TIME AND SPACE. Why do we move forwards in time? ...
  • MISSING DIMENSIONS. Why does space have three dimensions? ...
  • CASIMIR EFFECT. Can we get energy from nothing? ...
  • LIQUID CHAOS. ...
  • FIELD OF ICE.

What are the limitations of science? ›

Limitations of Science

It is up to the individual to use or ignore its findings. Science doesn't tell you what is right or wrong. Thus, science does not create moral or ethical rules, laws, or judgements. It is people who do this, sometimes with information gleaned from science but nothing more.

What is the best mystery of all time? ›

10 Best Mystery Books of All Time
  • The Whistler by John Grisham. ...
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. ...
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Colins. ...
  • The Eye of the Beholder by Marc Behm. ...
  • Sneaky People by Thomas Berger. ...
  • A Simple Plan by Scott B. ...
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. ...
  • The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.

What is the biggest unsolved mystery? ›

Let's start with one of the most publicized unsolved cases, so popular, there's even a website dedicated to tracking this murderer down.
  • The Zodiac Killer. ...
  • The Taman Shud Case. ...
  • The Tara Calico Case. ...
  • The Severed Feet Mystery. ...
  • The Dead Woman Who Named Her Killer. ...
  • The Boy in the Box. ...
  • The Jeanette DePalma Case.

What is the biggest question in the world? ›

Why is there something instead of nothing?” has been sometimes labeled as the “biggest question of all.”

What are 5 scientific questions? ›

20 Big Questions in Science
  • What is the universe made of? Astronomers still cannot account for 95% of the universe. ...
  • How did life begin? ...
  • Are we alone in the universe? ...
  • What makes us human? ...
  • What is consciousness? ...
  • Why do we dream? ...
  • Why is there stuff? ...
  • Are there other universes?

What are 3 disadvantages of science? ›

The disadvantages of science and technology are :
  • it can be easily handled by irresponsible people.
  • We will be too dependent on that. ...
  • Sometimes it affects our health and our lifestyles (we will be complacent and lazy.) ...
  • It destroys our simple and healthy life (the traditional lifestyle I miss).

What are the four 4 limitations areas of science? ›

The four areas of limitations under consideration are:
  • Questions about value.
  • Questions of morality[2]
  • Questions about the supernatural.
  • Questions concerning ultimate reality.
5 Jul 2022

Can science determine right or wrong? ›

The domain of science is to describe nature, and then to explain its descriptions in terms of deeper patterns or laws. Science cannot tell us how to live. It cannot tell us right and wrong. If a system of thought claims to be doing those things, it cannot be science.

What are the 5 mysteries of God? ›

When we pray the Glorious Mysteries, the first decade corresponds to the Resurrection of Our Lord, the second, to the Ascension of Our Lord, the third, to the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, the fourth, to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and the fifth, to the Coronation of the Virgin Mary.

What are the 4 mysteries? ›

The four categories are the Joyful Mysteries, the Luminous Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries.

What is the biggest discovery of 2022? ›

Astronomers Discover Closest Black Hole to Earth

4, 2022 — Astronomers have discovered the closest-known black hole to Earth. This is the first unambiguous detection of a dormant stellar-mass black hole in the Milky Way.

What is the latest mystery? ›

The Best New Mystery Books of 2022
  • The Maid by Nita Prose. ...
  • Find Me by Alafair Burke. ...
  • The Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain. ...
  • Hot and Sour Suspects by Vivien Chien (January 25) ...
  • The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb (February 1) ...
  • The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley (February 22)
21 Jan 2022

What is the number one thriller of all time? ›

1. North by Northwest (1959) If there's a thriller out there more exhilarating, sexier or packed with iconic moments than this one, we've yet to see it.

What is the most mysterious missing person cases? ›

9 Mysterious Disappearances of People Other Than Amelia Earhart
  • Al-Hakim. Al-Hakim was a 10th–11th-century ruler of the Fatimid dynasty who was known for his erratic and contradictory leadership. ...
  • Edward V of England. ...
  • The Lost Colony of Roanoke. ...
  • Solomon Northup. ...
  • Ambrose Bierce. ...
  • George Mallory. ...
  • Wallace D. ...
  • Raoul Wallenberg.

What is the most famous true crime case? ›

Simpson. In what's still probably considered the most-watched criminal case ever, Pro Football Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the brutal murder of his former wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, a waiter at a local restaurant.

What is the biggest Internet mystery? ›

But there's a more mysterious and often darker side to the internet as well, one that presents us with just as many questions as it does answers.
...
  1. 1 Cicada 3301.
  2. 2 The Identity of Bitcoin's Founder. ...
  3. 3 Who Was Behind Ghostnet? ...
  4. 4 The Internet's Most Mysterious Song. ...
  5. 5 Unfavorable Semicircle. ...
15 Mar 2022

What age is no one watching? ›

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.

What's the hardest question on earth? ›

6 Toughest/Hardest Questions in The World
  • Does true love exist? This is one of the most controversial and frequently asked life questions. ...
  • Is there life after death? ...
  • Should abortion be allowed? ...
  • What is the purpose of life? ...
  • Why is there hatred in the world? ...
  • Does he or she love me?
10 Aug 2022

What are the 3 big questions of life? ›

You've already got answers to the five big questions of life:
  • Where did I come from?
  • Who am I?
  • Why am I here?
  • How should I live?
  • Where am I going?
8 Nov 2018

What is a super deep question? ›

Deep Hypothetical Questions

If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Do you think flying or mind reading is a more functional power? If you could have one human talent that you don't currently have, what would it be? If you had three wishes, what would you wish for? ( excluding more wishes)

What are the 10 questions science can t answer? ›

Fundamental questions science cannot yet answer
  • What is the nature of dark matter? ...
  • What is the nature of dark energy? ...
  • What happened before the Big Bang? ...
  • Are we alone in the Universe? ...
  • The puzzle of the human brain and consciousness.
17 Feb 2022

What is the hardest theory in science? ›

Quantum mechanics is deemed the hardest part of physics. Systems with quantum behavior don't follow the rules that we are used to, they are hard to see and hard to “feel”, can have controversial features, exist in several different states at the same time - and even change depending on whether they are observed or not.

Which of the three sciences is the hardest? ›

Generally, physics is often deemed to be the hardest of all the sciences, especially as an A level qualification. Physics involves a lot of complex maths content – an aspect that most students struggle with.

What are the 3 good questions about in science? ›

The 20 big questions in science
  • 1 What is the universe made of? ...
  • 2 How did life begin? ...
  • 3 Are we alone in the universe? ...
  • 4 What makes us human? ...
  • 5 What is consciousness? ...
  • 6 Why do we dream? ...
  • 7 Why is there stuff? ...
  • 8 Are there other universes?
31 Aug 2013

What are the 7 questions you should ask about any scientific claim? ›

Can You Believe It? Seven Questions to Ask About Any Scientific Claim
  • What's the claim?
  • Who says?
  • What's the evidence?
  • How did they get the evidence?
  • Is there anything (or anyone) to back up this claim?
  • Could there be another explanation?
  • Who cares?
15 Dec 2016

What are the most unanswered questions? ›

Science's Greatest Unanswered Questions Revealed
  • Are we alone in the universe? - ...
  • Will there ever be a cure for cancer? - ...
  • Does God exist? - ...
  • How big is space? -

What is the biggest scientific coincidence that you know? ›

On a not so fundamental level, we have the coincidence that sun and moon have nearly the same visual diameter for us so that a solar eclipse lets see us the solar corona. Moon and clouds in day light have nearly the same brightness and color although the material constituation is so different.

What is the largest biology? ›

The levels, from smallest to largest, are: molecule, cell, tissue, organ, organ system, organism, population, community, ecosystem, biosphere.

What is the biggest question in science? ›

20 Big Questions in Science
  1. What is the universe made of? Astronomers still cannot account for 95% of the universe. ...
  2. How did life begin? ...
  3. Are we alone in the universe? ...
  4. What makes us human? ...
  5. What is consciousness? ...
  6. Why do we dream? ...
  7. Why is there stuff? ...
  8. Are there other universes?

What is considered the most beautiful experiment in biology? ›

The Meselson-Stahl experiment has been called the most beautiful experiment in biology for the elegant logic of its deceptively simple design,” says Judith Campbell, Caltech professor of chemistry and biology. At the time, there were three leading theories for how DNA copies itself into new cells: 1.

What will be the next biggest scientific breakthrough? ›

  • 1.1 Wearable devices.
  • 1.2 Internet of Things.
  • 1.3 Big Data and Machine Learning.
  • 1.4 Cryptocurrency.
  • 1.5 Driverless cars.
  • 1.6 3D printing.
  • 1.7 Virtual reality.
  • 1.8 Genomics.

What are the 10 scientific discoveries? ›

Some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs have been accidentally discovered from within a laboratory
  • Penicillin. One of the biggest medicinal breakthroughs in history came about entirely by accident. ...
  • Viagra. ...
  • Plastic. ...
  • The Microwave. ...
  • Vaseline. ...
  • Strikeable Match. ...
  • Gunpowder. ...
  • Mauve.
27 Sept 2022

What is the most surprising scientific discovery imaginable? ›

30 Craziest Scientific Discoveries of Our Lifetime
  • A Pluto-Sized Planet. ...
  • A Super Earth. ...
  • Fast Radio Burst. ...
  • Memory Manipulation. ...
  • Grid Cells. ...
  • A Computer Chip That Imitates the Human Brain. ...
  • The Ability to Control A Mechanical Hand With Thoughts. ...
  • Termite-Inspired Robots.
30 May 2018

What is the smallest unit of life? ›

  • The cell is the smallest unit of life that can divide, multiply, grow and respond to stimuli from the environment. ...
  • Almost all cells, except primitive cells such as bacteria and viruses, are composed of two parts: cytoplasm and nucleus. ...
  • basic plasma (cytosol, colloidal structure)

What is the largest organism to ever live on Earth? ›

The largest animal ever to have lived is thought to be the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus). The maximum recorded weight was 190 tonnes for a specimen measuring 27.6 metres (91 ft), whereas longer ones, up to 33.6 metres (110 ft), have been recorded but not weighed.

Which cell is largest in human? ›

The largest cell present in the human body is the ovum. It is one millimeter in diameter. In animals, follicle cells produce eggs in the female ovary.

What are the 3 big questions in life? ›

You've already got answers to the five big questions of life:
  • Where did I come from?
  • Who am I?
  • Why am I here?
  • How should I live?
  • Where am I going?
8 Nov 2018

What is the world's most unanswered question? ›

Science's Greatest Unanswered Questions Revealed
  • Are we alone in the universe? - ...
  • Will there ever be a cure for cancer? - ...
  • Does God exist? - ...
  • How big is space? -

What is the most powerful scientific method? ›

The most powerful research method is the experiment, in which an experimenter manipulates and controls the variables to determine cause and effect. A study in which the investigator manipulates at least one variable while measuring at least one other variable.

What is the biggest science experiment? ›

Certainly the most well-known large scientific experiment, the Large Hadron Collider, winds around an area of Geneva, Switzerland, for about 17 miles. Protons race around the ring 11,000 times per second. There are a whopping 9,300 magnets that cause the swirling effect.

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