From the author of the bestselling The Science of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy comes another incredible trip to an even more mysterious terrain. Michael Hanlon identifies ten scientific questions that we simply can't seem to answer and explains why these compelling mysteries will remain unsolved for years to come
How did life begin? Why are there two sexes? Where did language originate? In Hanlon's characteristically witty style, he ponders the ways these questions have persisted in frustrating the best minds and asks what might be needed to get to the bottom of it all. From politics to lack of technology, each question has its own set of circumstances holding it back. By exploring these unanswerable questions, Hanlon exposes some of science's greatest failings and missteps--and charts a hopeful direction for getting science back on the road to discovery.
How we laugh now at those daft Victorians. They thought they knew everything. To them, the Universe was a small and well-ordered sort of place, consisting of a few million stars. The planets were held aloft by Newton’s well-ordered apron strings, and the whole cosmos ticked away like a Swiss clock. Down here on Earth they knew that life began in a warm little pond, and that its subsequent evolution was governed by Mr Darwin’s grand thesis. Stuff was made of atoms, of about a hundred different flavours, which behaved like mini versions of the planets: tiny, well-behaved billiard balls. Science was nearing its end – all that was left was to cross the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i‘s. We were nearly at the Summit of Total Understanding.
The summit turned out to be a false one. A whole series of brilliant and bothersome insights in the early 20th century threw so many spanners into the scientific works that we were forced to more or less rip everything up that we thought we knew and to start again.
We now know that the Universe is rather larger, and more ancient, than Kelvin and his contemporaries imagined. We know how the stars shine, what they are made of and how they evolve. We have plotted the age of the Earth and of the planets, and have discovered or inferred some fantastic monsters unknown to the Victorians – the quasars, neutron stars and black holes.