Puzzles of the universe, answers of humans.

Let me, for once, distance myself from the news, at least in appearance.

Every day brings us new and shocking descriptions of what the universe is like just a few distances away from us. In particular, every day the James Webb Space Telescope reveals new galaxies of extraordinary beauty, asking more questions than answers. For example, it has just detected traces of water, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide on an exoplanet just 70 million light years away from us. This is just the beginning. Because the most fundamental mysteries of the Universe remain intact:

To name a few, which specialists will forgive me for simplifying here:

  • We still know nothing about “dark matter”, a hypothesis necessary to account for certain observations on the masses of galaxies and on the fluctuations of the cosmological flow. Astonishing matter, which does not interact with ordinary matter, nor with photons, while, according to the model that makes it necessary, it would weigh five times more than all the ordinary matter in the universe. Does it really exist or will one day be considered an absurd hypothesis like that of the ether is today, which all physical theories needed until the discovery of relativity?
  • We still know nothing about the nature of time. Is it a wave? It’s important? Is it space? Should we distinguish between the time of nature and that of human consciousness? If time has a beginning, what exists before time? And if it doesn’t start, what is it? and where is it before the Big Bang, which is supposed to mark the beginning of the universe?
  • We still don’t know anything about the last, first particle from which all the others would derive: does it really exist? Will it unify the laws governing the three known forms of interaction (electromagnetic, weak nuclear and strong nuclear) and unify them with those of the fourth (gravitation)? Can we think that there was, at the beginning of the universe, an era during which these four fundamental forces were one? What, then, differentiated them?
  • We still don’t know anything about the nature of the laws that govern the universe: if we manage to theorize some of them, very simple like that of gravitation, or more complicated, like those of the various forms of relativity, or more uncertain like those strings, we don’t know nothing of the most dizzying of questions: do these laws of the universe arise, all conceived and immediately operating, in the first instant following the Big Bang? and if so, where do they come from? Since before the Big Bang? Previous or parallel universes to ours? If this is not the case, and these laws are formed over time, after the Big Bang, how can we explain that they explain so well what happens immediately afterwards? And if they evolved after the Big Bang, could they still change? Could one day, for example, no longer be subject to the laws of gravitation, to those of electromagnetism or to the various forms of relativity, which order galaxies, stars, planets and more prosaically life on this planet?

Since the dawn of time millions of pages have been written by scholars, philosophers and clerics on these issues. No one has answered yet. And it is precisely in this enigma that faith takes refuge, that philosophical discourse unfolds, that scientific research is nourished.

Today, too few people dedicate their lives to it. Too few people talk about it. Too few people teach it. Too few children in the world learn that these questions concern all of humanity, that all together we must seek common answers, whatever our beliefs, without settling for clichés, definitive words, accepting to be contradicted by the facts and observations of science. Without ever giving up on the progress of research. Without resigning to the answers that remain unknowable, because they would be inaccessible to the human mind. With the humility of a Socrates who said: “I know I know nothing”; with the impertinence of a Montaigne who added: “I don’t even know that I know nothing”. Which I’ll gladly complement with “I’ll never give up trying to find out.”

j@attali.com

Image: Van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889

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