10 Of The World’s Most Fascinating Unsolved Problems

Published June 7, 2015
Updated August 4, 2023

The Hard Problem Of Consciousness

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Source: Giphy

In philosophical dialogues, “consciousness” is known as qualia, and the problem of qualia has plagued humankind probably forever. Qualia describes individual instances of subjective, conscious experience — an example of which would be the pain of a headache. We all have experienced that pain, but there’s no way to measure whether or not we’ve experienced it identically, or even that there truly is a singular experience of pain at all, since the experience of pain manifests based on our perception of it.

While many have made scientific attempts to concretely define consciousness, no one has developed a universally accepted theory. Some philosophers wonder if it even matters. Patricia Smith Churchland once famously remarked, “Pixie dust in the synapses is about as explanatorily powerful as quantum coherence in the microtubules.”

The Gettier Problem

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Source: Giphy

This might be a roundabout origin of the “Your argument is invalid” meme. The Gettier Problem asks, “If a piece of information is true but someone believes it for invalid reasons, does it count as knowledge?” It’s a logic puzzle of the most frustrating kind, because it asks us to consider whether or not truth is a universal constant. It crops up in a wide range of thought experiments and philosophical arguments, including that of Justified True Belief:

A subject S knows that a proposition P is true if and only if:

  • P is true, and
    S believes that P is true, and
    S is justified in believing that P is true
  • Critics of both Gettier-style problems in philosophy and Justified True Belief suggest that it’s impossible to justify anything which is not true (where “truth” is a construct designed for the sake of argument as being some irrefutable fact). Struggling to define not only what it means for something to be true, but also what it means for someone to believe it to be so, has clear moral and ethical implications from everything to criminal law to medicine.

    Are Colors All In Our Mind?

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    Source: Giphy

    One of the most fascinating quandaries in human experience is that of color perception: do physical objects in our world possess colors that we then recognize and process, or is the concept of color entirely within our minds?

    We know that color exists through varying light frequencies, but when it comes to our experience of color, our agreed upon nomenclature and the simple fact that our minds would probably explode if we suddenly had to assimilate a new, never-before-seen color in our universal palette, the idea continues to fascinate scientists, philosophers and anyone who has ever spent an afternoon lost in a Sherwin Williams alike.

    What Is Dark Matter?

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    Source: Giphy

    Astrophysicists know what dark matter isn’t, but this definition through exclusion isn’t exactly satisfying; while we can’t see the celestial stuff through even the most powerful telescope, scientists project that it accounts for the vast majority of the universe. It doesn’t give off or absorb light, but the differences in gravitational effects among large physical bodies (planets and the like) caused scientists to hypothesize that something unseen was playing a major role in their motion.

    A theory first proposed in 1932 was, simply, the problem of “missing mass”. Black matter’s existence is entirely inferred, but the scientific community has generally come to accept its existence as a matter of fact; whatever it is, exactly.

    Abby Norman
    Abby Norman is a writer based in New England . Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Independent, Bustle, Mental Floss, Atlas Obscura, and Quartz.