Is There Any Academic Subject About Which There Is Nothing Left To Discover?

Universities exist to study things, and things we’ve largely understood for millennia (such as mathematics) are still ripe for further study, as every day new discoveries are being made in the field (or at least, new ways of looking at things).

But is there any subject about which academia has collectively said, “Fuck it, there’s nothing left in there to study.”

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days now, and I was able to come up with one, and only one: color. There are only so many wavelenghts of light that are visible to the human eye, and indeed, there are only so many wavelenghts of light at all. Similarly the functions of the rods and cones in the human eye are as fully-understood as they’re ever going to be. No one is going to discover a new color.

But then again, what I don’t know about optics could fill several libraries, and for all I know this could be one of the most promising areas of science.

Is there any subject about which there’s simply no need for further study?

Colors? You’re kidding me, right?

In 2020 a woman was discovered with limited 4-color vision. It’s believed that more women* with better 4-color vision exist. But it is hard to test for. (That the researchers don’t have 4-color vision themselves really hinders things. They don’t directly know what they are testing for.)

And a lot of other variations exist in human color vision and are being discovered all the time.

Why stop at humans? Lots of interesting things continue to be discovered about animal vision.

Read up about color space and the attempts, ongoing, to better represent the colors humans can detect. (One of the weirder things to happen in this regard was the stupid Sharp Quattron (Aquos) display system.)

  • It’s an X thing.

Ummm …Latin?

That tetrachromasomething link was fascinating! I hope this thread turns into more “we know everything about X” followed by “srsly? cuz we just now learned X+1” although alas, I have no direct contribution.

The only thing I can think of now is Basic Arithmetic - yanno, what we all learnt in first grade. Simple stuff.

Basic horology would be next. The mechanical wristwatch is as perfected as it’s gonna get.

Phrenology? Alchemy?

Real 2020 vision? I’m more impressed about the time machine…

From first year Latin students:

Latin is a language,
Dead as Dead Can Be,
First it Killed the Romans,
Now It’s Killing Me.

“Color” is just how a visual system interprets wavelengths of light. While we know the wavelengths of light, we are far from understanding exactly how visual systems interpret them.

Notably, the mantis shrimp has 12 different kinds of visual receptors and a color-sensing system like no other animal on the planet. Oddly, this seems not to give them better ability to differentiate colors, but rather to recognize colors more quickly. We still don’t know exactly how it works or what it’s for. And we are nowhere near having studied the visual system of every animal on the planet. Who knows what else is out there?

It’s long been known that birds can see into the ultraviolet range. But recent studies have shown that in many species in which the sexes appear the same to us, they are different when you take the ultraviolet into account.

Because humans are partially colorblind compared to most other vertebrates, having only three color receptors instead of four, a lot of color-based animal behavior remains to be discovered.

I accidentally typed “1920”, notice the 19 (only) and then “corrected” it. Oh well. 2010, 2010, 2010.

I guess I’m just hoping that 2020 gets here ASAP.

I would guess fairly modern history. There isn’t much more to know about World War II that isn’t already known.

Maybe also aerodynamics.

Perhaps also Newtonian mechanics? (No, not Walter the auto repair technician who behaves predictably according to the laws of motion. :D)

Yes most animals do, but most mammals (except primates) have only two color receptors, so the animals we humans would have he most interaction with generally see color less well than we do.

You could define things in a way that allows for immutability. For example, I could say that arithmetic is a settled art and, as such, there is no more room to move on it. 2+2=4 and that’s all she wrote.

But of course, someone could just come by and say that number theory is clearly the successor to arithmetic, and that there are alternate arithmetics, like with p-adic numbers or lunar arithmetic.

Similarly, we could say that Newtonian Physics are done, because they were codified, developed to a point of relative usefullness, and now is in “maintenance mode”, as a simplified system for basic generalizations where you don’t need state-of-the-art physics accuracy.

There are some settled spaces that don’t look likely to be expanded upon or changed anytime in the next few centuries. And so you could carve those off and call them done. But that’s more about you than the sciences.

Heh, no way. I mean, if you’re talking about the fundamentals of Latin that are taught to high-school students, then yeah, those are pretty well established. But the fundamentals of almost any subject as taught to high-school students are pretty well established, as Sage Rat noted.

At the research level, though, the study of the historical development and use of Latin is by no means complete. Even considering only classical (ancient) Latin, and ignoring the subsequent millennia of Medieval, Ecclesiastical and Neo-Latin which are comparatively very under-studied, there are still lots of things scholars don’t know and/or disagree on.

For example: What is the etymology of the hapax legomenon (unique instance) “apoculamus”, meaning “we rush off”, in the Satyricon of Petronius?

I acknowledge that it’s maybe not a super high priority in the overall universe of inquiry to determine whether classical Latin speakers really used a verb that is etymologically equivalent to “get your ass out of there”, but I for one would like to know the answer. And there are thousands more unsolved problems still extant in the study of Latin, ranging from this sort of quirky trivia to issues much more important to our knowledge of linguistics, literature and history.

nuclear physics is arguably the modern version of alchemy, and there is lots left to learn about that.

Newtonian physics?

Here is something I just came across a few days ago in the Guardian:
‘Terrible times are coming’: the Holocaust diary that lay unread for 70 years: Jewish teenager Renia Spiegel was executed in Poland days after her 18th birthday. Decades after her diary resurfaced in America, it is finally set to be read by the world"

The book is coming out next year.

There was a huge amount that was classified after the war, sometimes for very long times:

Even if stuff is un-classified it can take a very long time before any looks at it. And of course since World War II stuff was published in more than a couple dozen languages who can read all that (that autobiography in Ukrainian of a World War II general…)?

Geometrical optics is essentially closed, as far as I know. People will continue to come up with new applications (and perhaps find more areas in which the assumptions of geometrical optics don’t apply) but no one is likely to discover new principles in that area (AFAIK).

A few years ago, I read that historians of WWII were frustrated because people capable of translating Japanese records could get better jobs in international business.

Group theory. IIRC, it’s done.

Maybe you had your mind on the 1920s-style Death Ray. :slight_smile: