10 Of The World’s Most Fascinating Unsolved Problems

Published June 7, 2015
Updated February 16, 2018

Besides the ubiquitous “If a tree falls in the forest” logic problem, innumerable mysteries continue to vex the minds of practitioners across all disciplines of modern science and humanities.

Questions like “Is there a universal definition of ‘word’?”, “Is color in our minds or does it exist physically inherent to objects in the world around us?” and “What is the probability that the sun will rise tomorrow?” continue to plague even the most astute of minds. Pulling from medicine, physics, biology, philosophy and mathematics, here are some of the most fascinating unanswered questions in the world — do you have the answer to any of them?

Why Do Cells Commit Suicide?

Cell Gif

Source: Giphy

The biochemical event known as apoptosis is sometimes referred to as “programmed cell death” or “cellular suicide.” For reasons that science has yet to fully grasp, cells appear to have the ability to “die off” in a highly regulated, anticipated way that is entirely different from necrosis (cell death caused by disease or injury). Somewhere between 50-80 billion cells die as a result of programmed cell death in the average human body every single day, but the mechanism behind it and even the intent is not widely understood.

On the one hand, too much programmed cell death leads to atrophy of muscles and has been implicated in diseases that cause extreme but otherwise unexplained muscular weakness, whereas too little apoptosis allows cells to proliferate, which can lead to cancer. The general concept of apoptosis was first described by German scientist Karl Vogt in 1842. Much progress has been made in understanding it, but the process’s deeper mysteries still abound.

The Computational Theory Of Mind

Brain Gif

Source: Giphy

Some scholars liken the activities of the mind to the way a computer processes information. As such, the Computational Theory of Mind was developed in the mid-1960s, when man and machine first began to grapple with one another’s existence in earnest. Put simply, imagine that your brain is a computer and your mind is the operational system that it runs.

When put into the context of computer science, it’s a riveting analogy to make: in theory, programs produce outputs based solely on a series of inputs (external stimuli, sight, sound, etc.) and memory (which here means both a physical hard drive and our psychological memory). Programs are run by algorithms which have a finite number of steps, repeated according to the receipt of various inputs. Like the brain, a computer must make representations of what it cannot physically compute–and this is one of the major supportive arguments in favor of this particular theory.

However, Computational Theory differs from the Representational Theory of the Mind in that it allows that not all states are representational (like depression) and thus are not going to respond to computational-based treatment. The problem is more a philosophical one than anything else: the computational theory of mind works well, except when it comes to defining how to “reprogram” brains that are depressed. We can’t reboot ourselves to factory settings.

Abby Norman
Abby Norman is a writer based in New England, currently writing a memoir for Nation Books. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Independent, Cosmopolitan, Medium, Seventeen, Romper, Bustle, and Quartz.
Close Pop-in
Like History Uncovered On Facebook

Get The Most Interesting Stories From History In Your Feed