Humans have been developing since we first walked out of the jungle. From the Stone Age to the Iron Age and the Middle Ages, exploring our way into the Renaissance and the Industrial Age, humanity has continuously been striving for a deeper understanding of the world and how we can best utilise it. With our current era being labelled anything from the Atomic to the Space Age, we see an increase in the need to study unobservable science. We are pushing our way into both the impossibly tiny and unimaginably distant parts to our universe. But, with only one brain per head, is there a limit to how much we will be able to understand?
Early scientists began by questioning the world around them just as any child might: “why did that apple fall to the ground?”, “why does the sun rise?”. Many of these starting points for modern science are observable. We can see the sun rise in the east and set in the west, we know that a ball thrown at a wall will bounce off. The discoveries made from such questions have acted as fundamental building blocks for further investigation into the unobservable. For instance, it can be seen that children look like their parents and that some traits from parents are more likely to occur than others. Such experiments were undertaken in 1866 by Gregory Mendel, who discovered the laws of inheritance. However, it was almost 100 years later that Crick and Watson presented the structure of DNA, the unobservable basis of inheritance. It is becoming more frequent that cutting edge science focuses on that which is too small for the human eye to see. For example, just last year the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for the development of genome editing. This allows us to alter DNA, making plants resistant to drought or mould, and even forwarding research for cancer therapies and other inherited diseases.
With only one brain per head, is there a limit to how much we will be able to understand?
We can see 5000 stars from Earth, when observing the night sky, which is how astronomy began. Mapping the universe by how bright a star shines or how it moves throughout the year. However, with the invention of telescopes and satellites we have since found that there are 20 billion trillion stars in the universe. An unimaginable number! Unable to explore the depths of space ourselves due to the amount of time that would pass in the journey, we have had to improve technology to fill the gaps and relay information back to Earth. Even places within our solar system such as the sun are inaccessible to us, but with the use of technology such as the Parker Solar Probe we are still able to study it. So, for our knowledge to grow we require technology to improve alongside us.
As each advancement in technology brings answers, each new answer brings a million new questions. With each smaller particle of an atom comes another that makes it up, or a concept that drives it. So on it goes… missing parts and questions as far as the eye can see into the future of humanity.
One of the fundamental reasons that humans have been able to advance so consistently for our 6 million years on Earth is that we have a ‘collective memory’. Not some big cloud storing all our memories, but the way that when new things are discovered they are written down and taught to all. Gravity, once the newest discovery to physics, is now taught in primary schools. We grow as a race. Young people taught new discoveries can build on them with a better starting point than the scientists had previously. This gives us the best chance of moving forwards. As Isaac Newton so aptly put it, we progress in our knowledge “by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Our knowledge has already proved that it can push past the boundaries of what we can observe. Quantum physics brings into focus the need for completely different laws for particles too small for us to visualise, (and yet not too small to understand). So long as we; keep progressing with technology, asking millions of questions and most importantly taking advantage of our ability to balance atop giants, humans will continue to advance our understanding of the universe, no matter its size. Thus as a race our knowledge should be unlimited.
That said; with more questions from each answer found, the things we wish to know may also be unending. But what a boring place the world would be, if there were no questions left to ask.