The unsolved mysteries of consciousness.

Scrutinizing culture.
Nov. 30 2009 6:10 PM

The Dangerous Mysteries of Consciousness

We still need answers.

(Continued from Page 2)

The same goes for the other two primordial unanswered questions on the borderline of physics and metaphysics:

First: Why is there something rather than nothing? And second: What exactly is the crucial difference between nonliving and living entities?

Ever since Stephen Hawking's bookA Brief History of Time became a best-seller (and despite the fact he now admits he was wrong about his entire theory of black holes in that book), many physicists would have us believe that string theory (or "m-theory," as it's now most fashionably called) explains why there is something rather than nothing. One of the latest fashionable theories of why there is something rather than nothing is called "quantum tunneling," which seems to posit that being came into being by means of insubstantial equations or "quantum fluctuations in a vacuum." Sorry, guys, but if there are fluctuations in it, then there's Something in it, already. It's not Nothing, if you see what I mean. Jim Holt does a great job discrediting quantum tunneling and other such something-from-nothing quantum theory dodges in this podcast interview. Holt is writing a whole book about the attempts, so far futile, to solve the Something/Nothing question.

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The final Big Three Unsolved Mystery: pinpointing the very beginning of life. I'm satisfied Darwinian theory can explain everything from the evolution of the very first "living" entity from a single cell to Nabokov. But I have yet to see any persuasive explanation of the jump from no life to life and how it came about. Please don't refer me to that discredited old chestnut of an experiment in which an electric current was run through a soup of organic molecules and some amino acids were found. Amino acids are chemicals, not life, and ceaseless attempts to create life—to manipulate those amino acids in such a way that they start replicating and evolving in a beaker in one way or another—have failed, as Berlinski painstakingly demonstrated.

It seems to me that people should care more that these questions are not answered. Or stop living in denial, thinking they have been. I don't think religion has the answers, but I don't think science does either. Yet. Whether it ever will is the fourth great mystery.

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