Do we have more or less questions about the universe

As more is learned about matter and the universe does it create more questions? Or does it reduce the amount of questions science has?

Sorry - it’s questions all the way down.

Assuming there are not an infinite number of questions about the universe, and I’m not sure how good an assumption that is, nor if it’s really meaningful, then …

as each question is answered there are fewer unanswered questions. The trouble is we don’t know what all the possible questions are. For example, the question “What is dark matter?” would not have been asked 100 years ago. I’d say over the past century, the number of actually asked but unanswered questions has risen.

Scientists make their living by asking, and subsequently answering, previously-unasked questions. The number of scientists continually increases, and they’re not any less busy than they’ve ever been, so we can conclude that the number of questions is also increasing.

The big debate in cosmology today is whether the number of questions will continue to expand infinitely, or, instead, will some day reach a maximum and then turn around and start to get smaller again.

This may be a bit of an aside, but I think it’s related. Do scientists believe that the human mind will actually be able to comprehend the true nature of the universe, reality, etc? Or are we limited by our wetware… such that our cognitive limitations could be likened to a cat trying to understand the details of how a car engine works?

If its the latter, does our use of computers make it attainable or at least closer?

Every new discovery leads to new questions. For instance, untill less than 30 years ago, a big question was “are there planets around other stars?” Probably almost everybody assumed “yes”, but we didn’t have that answer. Now we have a firm “yes” but replaced that question with endless ones about the thousands of planets that we now know about.

I don’t think this is limited to cosmology. Biology has had a similar redefining going on, and we are only beginning to grasp the complexity of life itself. Epigenetics is one piece of this, the gut biome another. But it is becoming more and more clear that a person is not an individual of a species but rather a complex organization of genes, microbes, and long-forgotten viruses working collectively to reproduce the system.

Asking questions and investigating them leads to:

  • some answers (always, though the answer can be “that wasn’t a very good question”)

  • more questions (almost always, unless the original question has a single factual answer that leads no one to be curious about anything!)

  • better questions (we hope)

“Which god makes rain?” turns out to have been not a good question; “What is rain?” - “It’s water falling from the air, dummy”; “What makes it rain sometimes but not other times?” - BINGO, good question.

People in the past did think they were getting close to having the universe figured out - it turns out they were wrong about that. I expect the same thing now - that the people who think we’re close to knowing the whole thing turn out to be comically mistaken.

On the other hand, there IS such a thing as knowing, and there could conceivably be such a thing as everything, and those two really COULD be converging, couldn’t they? I don’t know.

Yeah, the more we learn, the more we realize we have almost no idea what is going on. We scrape .1% of the information out, but a lot is sealed in darkness to us.

This is how I imagine it. I guess the amount of detail we want to know could greatly affect my question.

Napier was humorously alluding to debates about whether the (this?) universe will keep expanding, or shrink into a “Big Crunch”’— dark matter and dark energy and all that.

But his/her statement was spot on in a literal sense, too, so it’s great you seem to have taken it that way.

If the answer had been “no”, it would have raised a slew of different questions.

By virtue of the fact that the body of scientific knowledge is continually expanding – and in fact it’s probably fair to say that it’s expanding exponentially – so are new questions that need to be answered. Not only are new questions being created at about the same exponential rate, but entirely new fields and specialties with all their own questions are being created.

I think the closest we’ve come to the smugness of believing that we were running out of questions was with respect to physics around the turn of the 19th century, when all physics was classical Newtonian and it was felt that there wasn’t really a lot left to discover. Then relativity and quantum physics exploded on the scene, rather literally.

I don’t think our minds are necessarily the limitation, but rather, our detection tools, in the fundamental sense that we’re limited by the laws of nature. We have the most amazing devices that can see objects in space a billion light years away and analyze their spectra, and see these objects in infrared or in X-rays; we can literally see (detect) quantum particles, and even create and identify new ones in massively powerful particle accelerators. But it’s not clear that we can ever penetrate beyond the limits of this universe and its natural laws, such as observing parallel universes (which may well exist in some form), or banishing our natural view of time and seeing the universe as static and eternal Euclidean spacetime as in the Hartle-Hawking model – where the Big Bang is no longer a mystery of creation but just a coordinate point, like the North Pole.

We can use our imaginations and employ elegant mathematical models to hypothesize such things, but their verification may not ever be possible. And if they are somehow detectable and verifiable, it will only lead to more questions. Analogous to Godel’s incompleteness theorem, we can never have a full understanding of the universe as long as we cling to the paradigm of asking “why?”. We may however at some point have an understanding of the multiverse, or a timeless model of our universe, that is sufficiently complete that we are no longer compelled to ask “why”, but are finally content to accept the wisdom that it just is.

See We Have No Idea (2017) by Daniel Whiteson and Jorge Cham.

It’s a book about all the open questions in physics by Prof. Daniel O. Whiteson, professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, and science cartoonist Jorge Cham (PHD Comics).

There are a LOT of major unanswered questions about the universe - not just details.

Excerpt from the book.

What you did was after the photon era and photon decoupling, and therefore was observed.

Right. It’s easy to say “Cats cannot fathom X, therefore perhaps there is some Y that humans can’t fathom” but there is a fundamental difference between sentient and non-sentient intelligence.
If there’s a line of what one person could intuitively understand, we’ve passed it a long, long time ago. It’s not a problem because we can break up problems into arbitrarily small chunks. And, through mathematics, we have mechanisms for adding new formal patterns of thought regardless of whether they can be intuitively understood.

So: there may be a limit, but the extrapolation from cats doesn’t work. If there’s a limit on what phenomena we can study, it needs to be for a reason other than an individual’s ability to grok said phenomenon.

However, you are right that one such reason could be ultimately that the universe doesn’t give a fig whether all phenomena are practically observable, or that all hypotheses are confirmable / refutable. It’s a sad thought but it does seem likely at this point.


We passed the limit of comprehensibility to the human brain a long time ago, probably many thousands of years ago. The territory we’re in now is what’s comprehensible to a large number of human brains, all working in concert, along with a number of tools for thinking which aren’t made up of human brains.

Don’t forget that there are actual physical limits to answering some questions due to the uncertainty principle. There may be other fundamental limits on answering other questions. I think there’s some limit with respect to answering questions related to locality and causality. To the extent that mathematics matches our physical universe, questions whose answers correspond to uncomputable numbers will be unanswerable.