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SYSTEMIC STUFF ( + occasional nonsense ) IN THE NEWS . . . .

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A few problems . . .

You can drive a car without knowing exactly how a car-engine works. Similarly, you can study a subject, in the minutest of detail - without knowing the fundamentals about the cornerstones on which the whole subject is built.

It’s not a good sign though. It would be equivalent to being a world-expert in economics without knowing what money is.

Enjoy.

 

p.s. If you have any comments, disagreements, or further additions to suggest , please use the let us know.

 

PHYSICS

Exactly what is a photon

One of the most fundamental particles in the universe, responsible for the transfer of energy in all(?) non-nuclear scenarios, its exact structure - if it can be said to have one - is completely unknown.

 

Exactly how gravity works

Although the effects of gravity are very thoroughly understood, how it is 'generated', how it 'propagates', and what is actually ' is' - is unknown.

 

How anything ‘gets its mass’

Many ( though not all ) atomic particles have a well defined mass. this in turn gives mass to everyday objects. But how each particle 'gets its mass', and why the figures are the ones they are - unknown. Maybe Higgs' Bosons are responsible - maybe not.

 

Whether ‘constants’ are constant

There are many 'constants', such as the speed of light, which are built into the maths which holds up all physics. But there is no explanation as to why the figures are the ones they are - or if they may change over time.

 

MEDICINE

[ special note for this section:   It's a given that very many medical conditions and diseases are still being investigated for their root causes. Though huge progress has been made, the following are some examples which are widely believed to be well understood - but aren’t ]

How Paracetamol works

The exact mechanisms by which many of the most commonly prescribed drugs work is unknown. e.g. Paracetamol, used by the tonne every week worldwide to reduce fevers and headaches, does so by a neurochemical method that is not yet understood.

Similarly Fluoxetine ( Prozac ) - one of the most ‘successful’ drugs of all time - works by an unknown mechanism.

 

How influenza is transmitted.

Read any medical textbook and you’ll find that ‘flu is contagious. It can be transmitted by touching an infected person – e.g. by a handshake – or by sneezing / coughing etc etc.

But there’s never been any scientific study which proves or quantifies these vectors.

More puzzling still, the mathematical models which try to describe the spread of a ‘flu epidemic predict that it should be fairly easy to stop by simply isolating infected individuals. But it’s not. Clearly there’s some as yet unknown factor(s) at work which cause it to be so virulent.

 

 

BIOLOGY

How to define a living thing

There isn’t, as yet, any definition of a life-form which stands scrutiny. A touch inconvenient if you happen to be a biologist. Perhaps the best so far is from Fritjof Kapra. ‘ Anything which contains DNA and is not dead ’

 

Full understanding of cell tech

Much of the inner workings of the simplest of cells is as yet unknown. If it were understood, science would, in theory at least, be able to 'build a cell'. Out of the question at present.

 

Full understanding of photosynthesis

Without it we wouldn't be here. And a great deal is known about photosynthesis – except the bit about – how light drives the reaction.

 

Protein structuring via the genes.

Genes set the order in which amino acids appear in the proteins that they code for – but what a protein's 3-D structure, and hence its function, will be – is, in most cases, unknown.

The human genome may have been listed – but it still remains a code to which science as yet has no key.

Taxonomy.

It's not widely publicised that we have only the very barest grip on a truly comprehensive classification of living things.

Estimates as to the number of living entities on Earth vary from about three million to two hundred million, of which only a tiny percentage are known to science. Of the one’s which are known, only about 1% are properly described and indexed.


PSYCHOLOGY

How to define intelligence

There is currently no agreed definition of intelligence. We know we have the edge on a lot of other organisms – but we can’t define what it is - as yet .

 

How to define emotions

There’s no agreed definition of emotions either. We know they exist, but we don’t know how, or why, they work – or what their purpose is.


How are memories 'stored' ?

On a large scale, neuroscientists now know ( more or less ) where memories are 'stored' in the human brain. But on the small scale - at 'component level' so to speak, we're still very much in the dark.

 

What is consciousness ?

You know you are reading this.

Does an ant carrying a piece of leaf across the forest floor ‘know’ it’s doing so ? Is it conscious ?

If science could construct a machine as complex as the human brain, would it ‘know’ it existed ?

No-one has the faintest idea.

Progress so far on the question “ What is consciousness ? “ is effectively zero, and, despite countless hours of pondering, ( and attempts at some experimental probings ) there is no sign of any breakthrough on the horizon.


( Note: The question is, of course, also being approached ‘ from the other side ’ – i.e. via computing. Progress also zero. )


How does 'thought' work ?

As above : No-one, as yet, has even the beginnings of a clue.

&nbsnbsp;

EARTH SCIENCES

Exactly how the Earth’s magnetic field is generated.

Without the magnetic field, high energy radiation from space would pound the Earth's upper atmosphere at all times – making life ( and air travel ! ) considerably more difficult. There are theories as to its origin. There maybe a revolving molten iron core which acts as a ‘generator’ – or not.

 

Where oil came from.

It may have come from decaying organic matter. But there are many problems with this theory. Not the least of which is that there’s far too much of it to have come from all the dead lifeforms which have existed on the planet until now.


Do major forests soak up CO2 – or produce it ?

If they are expanding, then they'll temporarily sequester more carbon - but only if the forest is constantly growing larger – clearly unsustainable in the long term. It's now known though, that they 'belch' vast quantities of methane - another powerful 'greenhouse gas'.

 

MATHEMATICS

The ‘Incompleteness Theorem’

In 1930 Kurt Gödel published his ‘Incompleteness Theorem’ - which inconveniently proved that mathematics itself cannot prove the consistency of mathematics. No one has yet found a flaw in the theorem.

 

How to find prime numbers

Since all other whole numbers ( except 0 ) can be produced by multiplying together primes – they must be considered pretty fundamental. Although billions of them have so far been found, as yet there’s no formula to predict where the next one will be. Finding them has much in common with finding shells on a beach.


COSMOLOGY

'Dark Matter'

When mathematicians check the calculations for the gravitational attraction which holds galaxies together ( and the forces which are apparently causing them to 'repel' each other ) - the maths doesn't work.

Big time.

To make the sums tally, cosmologists like to add-in factors called ‘dark matter’ and 'dark energy'. Mysterious and utterly invisible ‘matter’ and 'something-like-energy' which, according to the theory, must make up about 95% of the universe.

Just 5% of the remaining material comprises everything we do know about – us, planets, stars, etc. etc.

Put another way, it means that without some 'creative accounting' the numbers are out by a factor of around 19 times !

( Of course, if gravity - or time itself - is not always constant, then that would go some way towards explaining things . . . )

 

Big Bang.

The term was originally coined as an quasi-insult by Fred Hoyle. Again, the maths doesn't work. Only by adding-in a mysterious and completely unexplained maths fudge known as 'inflation' can the figures ( kind-of) add up.

The 'big bang' theory is derived partly from observation that the universe appears ( * see above ) to be expanding, and partly from the second law of thermodynamics - which says that the universe is getting more disordered - therefore , working back in time - it must once have been ordered.

But as Prof. Martin Rees puts it " We don't know what banged, or why "

 

Origin of the heavier elements

Many must have heard the story ( by now ) that the heavier elements - which make up most of the Earth and the life on it - were ‘ made in supernovae explosions ’ .

What’s less well known is that it’s simply a conjecture at this stage – for there’s no clear explanation of nuclear process mechanisms by which it could have occurred . “ it’s one of the classic unsolved problems of physics “ ( quote from New Scientist 4 Feb 2006 )

 

 



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