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How do you cope with not knowing?

  1. Jun 3, 2014 #1
    I feel a little hesitant about posting this here but who better to ask than people who study and who've studied the universe as their career? I don't want to make this a depressing topic but don't any of you ever get a little bit upset that you're probably going to die without knowing certain things about the universe?

    I was thinking about people like Newton, Galileo, Archimedes and all the other people who spent their lives thinking, dreaming and asking about the universe and look how much we've discovered since their deaths... I can't help but feel sad that such great people missed out on such great discoveries.

    So my question to some of you is, don't you ever get a bit upset that you also will miss out on some incredible discoveries? Questions that you've dreamt of, questions that you've thought of while taking a bath or even when reading this thread.

    If you don't mind me asking, what question(s) would you like to see answered most by science before you die? I wonder what Newton's, Galilieo's and Einstein's questions were... Perhaps we've answered them now but they missed out :(

    Sorry if this is a depressing thread but it's really just curiosity and perhaps some advice :)
     
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  3. Jun 3, 2014 #2

    Evo

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    It's a waste of the life you have now to worry over what happens after you die. Enjoy now.
     
  4. Jun 3, 2014 #3

    lisab

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    Sure there are scientists who study the universe, and that's cool and all, but - most scientists don't :biggrin:.

    I think "not knowing" is a more interesting state that "knowing". Being in that first phase of figuring something out is a wonderful feeling! Once you figure it out, it's satisfying for sure. But it's nothing like wrestling with a new problem.

    And finding new ways to look at old problems is awesome too - so never think you know something completely. For example I recently saw a geometrical derivation of the quadratic formula that made me swoon :!!). Those kinds of little joys make me much happier than thinking about the universe.
     
  5. Jun 3, 2014 #4

    OmCheeto

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    Share, or die...... I must know.

    :tongue:
     
  6. Jun 3, 2014 #5
    I'm not worrying about what happens after I die, once I'm gone what happens is irrelevant. It's more the thought of passing without knowing certain things about the universe. I guess you're right in the sense that there is no point worrying about what we might not discover because at the end of the day, some of the questions I have might well be answered within the next 70 years.

    I try to be humble and accept not knowing as being part of what it means to be human but part of me hopes that tomorrow will be that day... that day when a question I have is answered.

    Well for the moment it's out of my hands but hopefully I will contribute to the effort when I get older.
     
  7. Jun 3, 2014 #6
    Isn't that a bit presumptous of you to transfer your outlook on life and death upon these people, or for the matter, upon anyone anyone else that you do not know personally. While it is one of the human conditions to idiolize figures and pedestal them, such as rock stars, singers, actors, or great scientists, unto which the whole business of pop culture has garnered around and thrives, the fact remains that the people closest around you, such as your family, friends, workers, aquaintances, are the most important people in your life. Having empathy for situations that do not exist, and never will exist is imaginative to say the least.

    If someone came up to me and said they were so sad that I will not see the great accomplishments in store for humanity after my death, I would just tell them to go have another donut.
     
  8. Jun 3, 2014 #7
    The reason why I feel sad that these people missed out after devoting their lives to trying to solve the problem is because they were so deserving of the answers!

    A prime example is Peter Higgs... I am so glad that his boson was discovered while he was alive, the thought that this poor man could have died without ever knowing if his boson actually existed. I'm glad he finally got his answer.
     
  9. Jun 3, 2014 #8

    lisab

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    I had a feeling someone would ask, since this is PF, after all. Will post it, I promise!
     
  10. Jun 3, 2014 #9

    Astronuc

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    Newton, Galileo, Archimedes, Einstein, . . . all made significant contributions to the knowledge of mankind. I think they were sufficiently busy so as not to dwell on things unknown.

    We now have the benefit of more knowledge since their times.

    Einstein tried in vain for a 'unified field theory'.

    Otherwise, one with a sufficient education can learn about various subjects and hopefully enjoy learning of new things, e.g., types of stars or galaxies. We will never get to other stars, but we can appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of the stars and galaxies, and some knowledge about their physics.
     
  11. Jun 3, 2014 #10

    Evo

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    This is a different angle on what you asked. Look on the bright side they worked on what they loved, not many people even get to do that during their life. :smile:
     
  12. Jun 3, 2014 #11

    OmCheeto

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    I hate you...

    :wink:
     
  13. Jun 3, 2014 #12

    George Jones

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    I agree with Evo that we should not worry too much, and I agree lisab that knowing everything is even more depressing, but there are some things that do make me a little sad when I think about them.

    One is quantum gravity. For over thirty years, I have have the same set of two conditions that I want to have satisfied: 1) a theory of quantum gravity is found and calculations are performed that can be used to make sharp comparisons with experiments; 2) I will be able to understand this theory in some technical detail.

    I could end up too old for 2) to happen, and it could even be the case that 1) doesn't happen before I die.
     
  14. Jun 4, 2014 #13

    jbunniii

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    On the bright side, few of us living today will have to endure whatever will pass for popular culture in the 22nd century. Paris Hilton, reality TV, etc. are already bad enough.

    Also: get off my lawn. :tongue:
     
  15. Jun 4, 2014 #14
    Exactly. Maybe some day :)
     
  16. Jun 4, 2014 #15

    interhacker

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    I sort of agree with Feynman, on this issue.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1RqTP5Unr4
     
  17. Jun 4, 2014 #16

    ZapperZ

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    Who actually studied "The Universe"? I know of no one who had done that, or is doing that.

    What we do is study a small, VERY SMALL, piece of our world. Even Einstein, who a lot of people held up as "God", only studied specific aspects of field theory and mechanics. While it may have wide-ranging implications about our understanding, this was not the "universe"!

    Whoever claim to be studying, or wanting to study, "the universe", is sadly delusional or misinformed.

    Zz.
     
  18. Jun 4, 2014 #17

    interhacker

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    What about cosmologists, though?
     
  19. Jun 4, 2014 #18

    ZapperZ

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    And what do cosmologists study? For example, look at the various papers on cosmology. Do you think each of these papers describes our entire universe? Or do they specifically focus on a particular phenomenon or description? Dark energy isn't "The Universe", for example. Yet, there are papers on the various theoretical properties of DE, etc. This is not "The Universe"!

    It's like claiming that you study the whole cow, when all you're looking at is the hoof.

    Zz.
     
  20. Jun 4, 2014 #19

    interhacker

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    I see your point. You're right. Thanks.
     
  21. Jun 4, 2014 #20
    When I said "study the universe" I meant cosmology, astrophysics, stars, planets, space, time, matter etc. Anyway apples and oranges here... I think most people knew what I meant.

    Would you not agree that someone who studies quantum mechanics or astrophysics probably thinks more about "the universe" than a bricklayer or a computer scientist? I would think so? I absolutely love Richard Feynmans outlook on not knowing but I'm sure he had some burning questions which he would have liked to have seen answered before his passing.

    Obviously this is a problem I have and not many people can relate to it but for me there's just something about spending your entire life trying to solve a problem and never finding the answer... In Einsteins case it was his unified field theory.

    Anyway only one person here has actually stated what they would love to see answered before they pass. I would have thought as physicists and star-gazers there might have been something you've wanted to know for as long as you could remember. Do you not feel any desire to know the answer to one of your most burning questions?
     
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