Jens Oliver Meiert

On Unanswered Science Questions

Post from April 5, 2015 (↻ October 9, 2017), filed under .

I quite quickly wrote this down last year and it could have cooked a bit longer, but I think it’s okay enough—and definitely fitting given the last post on issues with science—to post now.

There’s a particularly popular science teaser video out there, 10 Unanswered Science Questions. It raises 10 different problems which the producers of the sub videos then attempt to answer:


When I first saw the video I enjoyed the entertainment factor but was readily appalled by the lack of philosophical insight. We may pride ourselves with scientific prowess but our philosophical understanding is well embarrassing. This is a wider problem, and a hard nut to crack. I’ll still, however, dip a toe in and briefly share ideas about three of the questions. (Note that I have convictions about much of the following but, what do I know.)

7. Why Do We Dream?

A school of thought I subscribe to is pretty clear that we dream to connect to our higher self and to other lives we live. It’s not clear about the reasons going beyond this connection but still signifies a definite angle to give dreaming meaning. My own experience consists of a highly rich dream life that wouldn’t contradict the idea; it much rather is in line with it.

While this may seem simplistic, common hypotheses as shared with the video in question are not more than that either, and so I intend to just pin the idea here.

6. Why Does the Placebo Effect Work?

Aforementioned school also places emphasis on the power of our beliefs; it’s very clear that “we create our own reality,” through our beliefs. There’s more to be said about beliefs and why it’s both easy and hard for us to change them (I’ll write more about this problem), but it gives a general framework for why placebos work.

What I, as a philosopher, miss, is medical science conducting thorough research along these lines, interviewing patients and understanding their beliefs. That a patient believes in his illness looks like a truism but pushed further and flanked by more questions could yield to breakthrough discoveries. Such work, that to my knowledge hasn’t even started, could prove even more valuable, for science to recognize one of its boundaries.

1. How Do We Know Anything?

It appears to me that we know only one thing: that we exist. We don’t seem to know anything else, with the certainty that knowing requires. (For that reason I can somewhat relate to solipsism.) Academic philosophy would not let me off the hook so easily, but I intend to keep this casual. We have no proof for anything in our lives, and matters get more disturbing, for popular thinking, when we look at other ideas that regard our reality a a pretty perfect illusion to serve as training ground (which is still better than being pure chance, per science).

❧ The simplicity that one may accuse these philosophical takes of is mutual; it’s well astonishing how we’ve locked ourselves into the scientific room which very clearly is a confined space. Science is, essentially, ignorance—and at times an insult to our minds and imagination. The point, still, is that science does have a place and a raison d’être; we simply need to understand that it can’t explain everything. If we don’t understand this, then the scientification of our world, this artificial throwing of science at everything in it, is worse than any simplification.

[…] ask questions like: “Where did this thought come from? Where does it go? What effect does it have upon myself or others? How do I know how to dream, when I have never been taught to do so? How do I speak without understanding the mechanisms? Why do I feel that I have an eternal reality, when it is obvious that I was physically born and will physically die?” Unscientific questions? I tell you that these are the most scientific of all.

—Jane Roberts: The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events.

About the Author

Jens Oliver Meiert, photo of July 27, 2015.

Jens Oliver Meiert is a developer (O’Reilly, W3C, ex-Google) and philosopher. He experiments with art and adventure. Here on meiert.com he shares and generalizes and exaggerates some of his thoughts and experiences.

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Last update: October 9, 2017

“The end does not justify the means.”