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"Things We Don't Know" Database

A public database of scientific mysteries that remain unanswered.
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There's nothing more exciting than finding out about a subject that, in this age of discovery and inquiry, we still know little about. There should be a public database of questions and topics that remain obscured to science. The database could be organized into different categories (e.g. type of science, be it biology or physics, or complexity of the question) so you could find anything you were looking for.
DrWorm, May 20 2010

matter & anti-matter question http://news.bbc.co....onment/10124360.stm
[po, May 20 2010]

Science Magazine http://www.sciencemag.org/sciext/125th/
125 things we didn't know in 2005 (and still don't, for all that I know!) [Jinbish, May 20 2010]

Wikipedia: Hilbert's Problems http://en.wikipedia.../Hilbert's_problems
Hilbert made a list in 1900 of things we didn't know, but might like to find out - over 100 years later, of the original 23, we've got solid answers for 10, sort of "ish" answers for a further 7, 4 where we're still not sure what it was the question was, and 2 that remain unsolved despite being clearly defined. [zen_tom, May 20 2010]

Wikipedia: Seven World Riddles http://en.wikipedia...Seven_World_Riddles
Three of these were described as "ignoramus et ignorabimus". [zen_tom, May 20 2010]

How do you know what you don't know? http://www.youtube....watch?v=_RpSv3HjpEw
The problem succinctly defined by one of the great statesmen of the age. [DrBob, May 20 2010]

Golden Mole http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_mole
Very cute, if somewhat limited in vision. [8th of 7, May 20 2010]

triantelope http://www.flickr.c...8805@N07/3919585264
needing a bigger bottle [pertinax, May 23 2010]

elf-promotion Perpetual_20Notion_20Machine
The idea linked here was once linked to another idea, "Engineering as a Philosophical Paradigm", which was MFD'd as metaphysics, but on which someone put a link to an actual philosopher who had used engineering concepts; I mention this partly because it offers some defense against the bean-counters (@[mouseposture]), and partly because I've lost my offline copy of the link and I'm wondering whether anyone out there remembers that philosopher's name. Wayback comes up empty. [pertinax, May 24 2010]

Russell's paradox http://en.wikipedia...Russell%27s_paradox
May be incomplete. [8th of 7, May 25 2010]

Richard Feynman: Uncertainty of Knowledge http://www.milkandc...link/231039/detail/
[Dub, Dec 01 2010]

[link]






       Considering that the description of the doughnut hole requires some description of the doughnut, this might wind up looking a lot like a database of things we *do* know.
mouseposture, May 20 2010
  

       Why does the universe consist of mostly matter rather than anti-matter? And why does it matter?
RayfordSteele, May 20 2010
  

       [RayfordSteele] Because if there were equal portions of each then they would annihilate each other and we'd be left with nothing. Presumably the matter we see around us is the leftover stuff that escaped annihilation.
simonj, May 20 2010
  

       you're confusing the matter(s) with dark matter which actually is ordinary matter that we can't see.
po, May 20 2010
  

       Who? me or Ray?
simonj, May 20 2010
  

       neither of you!
po, May 20 2010
  

       This can’t be a populated list — only ever an empty list, because a pure “thing we don’t know” should also come from the origin of “we don’t even know we don’t know it”. If we know we don’t know it, we start to query and probe and formulate hypotheses and have half-formed theories, etc. That pollutes the notion of having not only no idea, but no idea we have no idea of a thing or aspect.   

       This database (well, not a database — it’s a list) should be something we ask of other life-forms, either on this planet, or of others. There’ll be a whole load of things that humans have never even thought about, and have no clue that there was even ever a question there — we just accept it as the way things are. Other perspectives might show us that there are answers to questions we weren’t aware of.   

       Instead of broadcasting to extraterrestrials facts and quantified statistics and other sales bumf about the human being brand, we should be asking them things instead.
Ian Tindale, May 20 2010
  

       But, in a Rumsfeldian sense, we don't know what we don't know. Therefore the database itself would have to be in the database of things we don't know and would thus disappear in a swirling vortex of logic.
hippo, May 20 2010
  

       Isn't this a call for a list?
neelandan, May 20 2010
  

       Yes, but an empty list.
Ian Tindale, May 20 2010
  

       How many fingers am I holding up?
zen_tom, May 20 2010
  

       All of them.
Ian Tindale, May 20 2010
  

       We know what we know. We can even know what we don't know. i.e. Known Unknows. That's not terribly halfbaked, is it?
What I'd really like to see is a list of Unknown Unknowns.
Dub, May 20 2010
  

       I want a list of unknown knowns.
Ian Tindale, May 20 2010
  

       You've already got one. Didn't you kn...?
hippo, May 20 2010
  

       //What I'd really like to see is a list of Unknown Unknowns//   

       Hmmm. Dunno 'bout that...
Jinbish, May 20 2010
  

       Will there also be a list of things that ought to be on the list but aren't? And also a complete list of all the things that will never be on any list ever?
pocmloc, May 20 2010
  

       Bertrand would definitely have something to say about this.   

       Is this database relational? And if so, what would the entity diagram look like. It could just be a nice simple table (perhaps named "things") with the following fields: thingid, thing, knowunknow. Additional tables might include: whoknowsit, showing a list of the names of the people who know a thing (linked to "things" by the foreign-key thingid), plus two tables: knowgroups and knowlinks where different thingids can be associated with one another in terms of knowledge dependencies - providing a method for quickly updating the list of things that can only be known when other things have been found out first.
zen_tom, May 20 2010
  

       Stop, wait. Does it matter if a person knows a thing or not? Surely all that matters is if it is knowable. If it has the potential to be known, then that distinguishes it from things that can not ever be known. The whole thing about whether or not one or more squidgy life-forms sitting around here on this particular planet actually have access to what is known isn’t really a useful metric. What about all the things that were known but aren’t now?
Ian Tindale, May 20 2010
  

       I will only listen to [Ian Tindale] on this one!! He really knows what he isn't talking about!
xandram, May 20 2010
  

       Great links!   

       [Ian] Known and Knowable are on the face of it two different things - however, for both of them, the common element is a squidgy biological thing
i) to do the knowing
ii) to be capable of knowing the knowable
  

       There may be a series of Knowable things listed in the database (and for which the knowunknown flag will be set to Unknown) that may never actually become known by anyone(thing).   

       You are right about the list of things that have been known, but which are no-longer within the knowledge-"window" maintained by current biology - keeping track of exactly everything that is known "right-now" would be tricky.
zen_tom, May 20 2010
  

       I imagine this more as a compendium of questions that could concievably be answered. That way, researchers can consult the database in order to get ideas for novel study.
DrWorm, May 20 2010
  

       Could the database auto-generate answers for these questions, and then flag them as "known" but also "erroneous".
pocmloc, May 20 2010
  

       // There’ll be a whole load of things that humans have never even thought about, and have no clue that there was even ever a question there — we just accept it as the way things are. Other perspectives might show us that there are answers to questions we weren’t aware of. //   

       <snigger>   

       <Increases Interocitor output by 3 Metroids>
8th of 7, May 20 2010
  

       if you're so flipping clever why can't you comprehend welsh?
po, May 20 2010
  

       We never said we couldn't understand Welsh. We said that we couldn't understand The Welsh. It's different. The Universe is more than 6 Billion of your years old and probably has as much time still to run before the shutters go up for the last time, and that still won't be enough to be able to comprehend any life form that lives in a drab, joyless, rain-soaked environment, composed entirely of thinly-grassed vertical surfaces adorned with sheepand their concomitant effluvia, speaking a language devoid of vowels and, this is the biggie, meekly trotting off to Chapel and actually giving thanks for the blessings of an alleged Deity in the midst of all this grim, damp, bleak expanse.   

       Does that answer your question ?
8th of 7, May 20 2010
  

       not visited the beautiful northern coast lately then?   

       actually neither have I but I'm itching to go.
po, May 20 2010
  

       // beautiful northern coast //   

       All seven metres of it ? We know it well, that lovely bit where you can just about see the sign saying "Welcome to England" through the horizontal drizzle, a beacon of hope for the weary traveller trudging towards the blessed sanctuary of Lache in squelchy, peat-filled boots, yearning for the simple pleasures of being amongs hominids for whom the knowledge of fire and the use of metal tools is not a new and frightening experience, and eager to escape the malign if innefectual clutches of knuckle-dragging, mouth breathing Taffs who would have long since have immolated the unwary visitor in a Wicker Man, had they the skill and knowledge to understand that it isn't possible to weave semi-liquid sheep excrement (the only material in abundant supply) into a rigid structure, and even if they had, the twin problems of (a) obtaining an igntion source and (b) getting the rain to stop long enough for the sheep manure to dry to the point of combustibility would still defeat them; unless they all stood around with their heads together, when they could shelter their creation under their assembled eyebrow ridges and prognathic jaws. Then again, the "standing" thing is still viewed with a great deal of suspicion in some of the more remote and less advanced areas, like Colwyn Bay and Rhyl ...   

       // I'm itching to go //   

       You can get ointment for that now.   

       <later>   

       Some may be persuaded that, based on the above, there is nothing good in Wales. In fact there are a large number of exceptionally attractive Narrow Gauge Steam Railways which are worthy of close scrutiny).
8th of 7, May 20 2010
  

       //We never said we couldn't understand Welsh//   

       may I draw your attention to a conversation we had recently   

       "deuddeg" — po, Apr 16 2010   

       "Now you're just putting syllables together at random. It's not big, and it's not clever." — 8th of 7, Apr 16 2010   

       & I think you understand that the itch I refer to is an emotional longing and not a case of personal chafing.
po, May 20 2010
  

       We were being ironical. We are not in the least surprised that even such a basic linguistic concept went whistling over your head like the International Space Station over a Namibian Golden Mole.   

       // not a case of personal chafing //   

       Please provide incontrovertable photographic evidence.
8th of 7, May 20 2010
  

       yeah, right!
po, May 20 2010
  

       I have a database of things we don't know we don't know.
rcarty, May 20 2010
  

       Would it make more sense to have a database of lists, or a list of databases?   

       I’ve never seen “This Island Earth” but I wouldn’t mind doing so. The Roxy Music song of the same name is one of my favourites though.
Ian Tindale, May 20 2010
  

       Roxy Music never did a song called "Of the same name". Do you mean "Same old scene" ?
8th of 7, May 20 2010
  

       No, there was one in which Bryan Ferry sang the line “I was swallowing my pen”. I can’t for the life of bryan remember what it was called though.
Ian Tindale, May 20 2010
  

       [rcarty]//a database of things we don't know we don't know.//   

       Philosophers are still arguing over the definition of "know" (if you think "justified true belief" works as a definition, then have another think). So: we not only don't know what we don't know -- we also don't know what we *know*
mouseposture, May 20 2010
  

       [rcarty]//a database of things we don't know we don't know.//   

       Philosophers are still arguing over the definition of "know" (if you think "justified true belief" works as a definition, then have another think). So: we not only don't know what we don't know -- we also don't know what we *know*
mouseposture, May 20 2010
  

       To be fair, though, philosophers will argue over the definition of "cat" until the cows come home.   

       The sentence "Quick! Get a philosopher" has never, until just now, been used.   

       (Well, OK, once.)
MaxwellBuchanan, May 20 2010
  

       //(Well, OK, once.)//
[MB] You have the soul of a scientist. Whoever demoted you was a fool .
mouseposture, May 21 2010
  

       Are they still a fool now ?
8th of 7, May 21 2010
  

       //Instead of broadcasting to extraterrestrials facts and quantified statistics //   

       It's embarrassing when we do that and then we discover we were wrong. Like when we sent that map into interstellar space showing our solar system with NINE planets, when everyone now knows it has only eight.
ldischler, May 21 2010
  

       [8/7] //Are they still a fool now ?// It may surprise you, or perhaps not, to learn that I deliberated over that tense.   

       [ldischler] The aliens will only giggle if they also learn one of our languages well enough to understand the fairly arbitrary category labeled by the word "planet." Otherwise, they'll just laugh at us for arbitrarily singling out *any* small number from among the many masses orbiting our sun, when no sharp distinctions exist among them.
mouseposture, May 21 2010
  

       Idishler...[blink/blink], no way....
blissmiss, May 22 2010
  

       //Philosophers are still arguing over the definition of "know"//   

       Ooh, ooh, I can do that one.   

       You just have to break it down by grammatical person.   

       "I know" means "I believe and I am sure".
"You know" means "you believe and I am sure".
  

       It only gets complicated because some of us feel the need for meta-sureness whereby we can feel sure about the rightness of our feeling sure. In respect of that need, we're out of luck, but that's OK because we don't need to feel that need.   

       Go on, ask me a harder one.
pertinax, May 22 2010
  

       //ask me a harder one//
[pertinax] has let the fly out of the bottle. With that technique there *are* no hard questions.
mouseposture, May 22 2010
  

       the infinity of things that we do not know is a relatively large infinity since it is both iterative and multidimensional. It is a much larger infinity than the infinity of linguistic constructions.
WcW, May 22 2010
  

       //there *are* no hard questions//   

       On the contrary, creating ad hoc meta-narratives is in at least one respect harder than creating a universal meta-narrative; the ad-hoc ones can be tested against the criterion of fitness for purpose, and can fail that test in ways that supposedly universal ones can't.
pertinax, May 23 2010
  

       {reaches for bigger bottle, containing triantelope}
pertinax, May 23 2010
  

       Knowledge is belief which cannot rationally be doubted. The use of the word "know" is usually inappropriate.
nineteenthly, May 23 2010
  

       Take three antelopes into the shower? Not me!   

       I suggest that there is latent knowledge — ie, what could potentially be knowed, if one were to be lucky enough to be in the right place and also looking for such. This latent knowledge is just knowledge waiting to be represented in any lucky lifeform’s memory representation system, but until that moment, it is potential knowledge on the shelf.
Ian Tindale, May 23 2010
  

       //Knowledge is belief which cannot rationally be doubted.//   

       You know that can't be right. Given that you and I are in possession of different sets of data,
1. proposition P may be true,
2. you may know it to be true, but
3. I, not being in possession of all the facts (because no-one is) may rationally doubt that P.
  

       But, in that case, no-one can "know" anything. Of course, there is nothing nonsensical about a sense of "know" such that no-one can "know" anything, but, given the availability of other, less exclusive senses, I know of no reason to adopt that sense.
pertinax, May 23 2010
  

       It's doubtful that much can be known.   

       There are two types of knowable things: experiences and analytical truths. There are a few things which can be learnt to be true because they can be deduced immediately from what's already known. However, not many things fall into that category.   

       Experientially, i would say two things can be known: that experience is occurring now and that time is passing. That about sums it up for that category. Beyond that, there are the usual mathematical truths like two plus one equals three. Anything that involves more than one step of deduction is open to doubt because one can be sceptical about one's memory.   

       Now to turn to your counter-example, [pertinax], there is no "i" and "you" so far as i _know_. There is just experience. There may not be a persistent subject of that experience. There could conceivably be some other subject of experience other than myself, i suppose, but that's a hypothesis. It's not knowable. You have experiences which i haven't, so you know that those experiences happen whereas i don't: that's true. However, nor you nor i can know the other exists. You have a fallible belief that i exist and i have a fallible belief that you do.   

       As to your last point, i totally agree, and it doesn't just apply to knowledge but to a whole set of much less abstract concepts such as flatness, sphericality, being exactly a metre across and having a mass of exactly two thousand nine hundred and eighty-four milligrammes. We have great difficulty referring to the world with a lot of our concepts and knowledge is just one of them. Maybe we should be vaguer, but we have to be really precise about exactly how vague to be.
nineteenthly, May 23 2010
  

       //one can be sceptical about one's memory// means one cannot even be sure that time is passing. That leaves only one thing that can be known experientially: that experience is occurring. It's true I cannot doubt that, but there are lots of things I can't do -- my inability to doubt something doesn't make it true.   

       So, you're defining "know" in a way that has nothing to do with truth, and in a way which can only ever be applied to one fact, and nothing else. Or, you salvage the connection between knowledge and truth, at the expense of defining "know" in a way which applies to _nothing at all_   

       [pertinax], I think, is arguing that this is not a very *useful* definition. I suppose, [nineteenthly], you're arguing that it defines a Platonic reference point, relative to which we can calibrate our degree of vagueness?
mouseposture, May 23 2010
  

       130% - The very concept of "conversation" is an abstraction.
DrWorm, May 23 2010
  

       150% - The concept of 130% is in itself a meaningless abstraction.
8th of 7, May 23 2010
  

       //The act of knowing is also a subjective experience// That's [pertinax]'s position, but I'm not expecting [19thly] to agree. I wanna see what position [19thly] *does* take.   

       //where nothing makes sense// Pfui! [pertinax] makes sense. I want to know if [19thly] does too. I'm not interested in whether either of them is correct, and I don't care much which one I agree with, either.
mouseposture, May 23 2010
  

       The passage of time, i think, is knowable. One reason i think this is empirical, which in a way is a bit silly. Some anaesthetics are said to work by eliminating memory, which eliminates experience. Awareness of space is not as fundamental as that of time. Consciousness is easily conceivable without space, but not without time. Experience does not occur instantaneously. It's a difficult issue, but it is there. It can be misleading to argue linguistically, but to say "experience is occurring" implies the passage of time to me because it isn't the same as saying "experience occurs". That can cease to be true, and perhaps does for all of us. The present continuous entails that time is passing.   

       I have clearly been lazy. I should have said "true belief which cannot be doubted rationally". There is, however, an argument that knowledge is not necessarily belief which i can't currently recall. Oh, OK: there might be a failure to accept knowledge emotionally, for instance a bereavement (though to my mind that's not knowledge), or one might lack the emotional confidence to accept one's own cognitive degree of belief. Anyway, don't want to go there right now.   

       It's not a useful definition in the sense that its particularly applicable to something like bricklaying or open heart surgery, but it is useful in the sense that it analyses experience. Also, it's surprising what can be known even by that strict definition. For instance, it can be known that on any near-spherical body wholly covered by an atmosphere there must be at least two still points. That's at least very close to being known, provided scepticism about memory is rejected. Certain facts about one's own mind might also be knowable, which could be therapeutic - for instance, they might boost confidence.   

       One of my points is quite like Wittgensteins: that there may be something pathological about this way of thinking of things, which uses words in a rather annoying way which is not terribly practical. Related to this is how we actually behave. In a way, it's almost scandalous that Philosophy can lead us down blind alleys like this because it doesn't connect to how we are emotionally on the whole.
nineteenthly, May 23 2010
  

       Sensible, and closer to my own view than I expected.
I like The Wittgenstein Gordian bottle-opening approach. It's not exactly philosophy, but then, I'm not a philosopher. The real scandal is that Philosophy, who deserved a heroic death at the hands of St. Ludwig, survived him, and is now being gnawed to death by bean- counters.
//an argument that knowledge is not necessarily belief which i can't currently recall// Might this be a "Gettier problem?"
//The passage of time, i think, is knowable.// Would a Boltzman brain *know* that time was passing, or merely believe so? (This is a side issue, and I won't take it further.)
mouseposture, May 23 2010
  

       Where’s the boundary between knowing a thing and being in a position to patent it?
Ian Tindale, May 23 2010
  

       I think time would actually have to pass for a Boltzmann Brain to be conscious. It couldn't just exist for an instant and dissolve into the vacuum and still be aware.   

       Concerning the bean-counters, the honest thing to do if one claims Philosophy has come to an end is not to philosophise, and even more so not to allow yourself to get paid for it. Guess what i did?   

       No, it's not a Gettier example, it's about emotional commitment to knowledge.   

       Glad to be in agreement. The process of showing the fly the way out is a form of therapy.
nineteenthly, May 24 2010
  

       //analytical truths//   

       Well, meta-data are data and analytical rules are meta-data*, and my mischievous interpretation of your criterion for knowledge is that it requires a proposition which could not rationally be doubted by anyone (which is a stronger condition than that it could not rationally be doubted by the person believing it).   

       So, we wave our hands** and invoke a Boltzmann brain whose different set of data includes different rules for reasoning; within these different rules for reasoning, that Boltzmann brain momentarily doubts your claim about a sphere with an atmosphere and Pouff! It becomes unknowable.   

       *... beware, beware / His flashing eyes, his receding hair! / Wave a fishbone round him thrice...
A wise elder points his quivering finger and says, "See, my children, what comes of writing too much dynamic SQL". On the wall above, a government health warning says "XSL: just say no!" In the fine print, "It started off with some innocent soft-coding of formatting. I thought I could handle it. But now my entire sense of reality has dissolved into a homogeneous stream of properties of properties [dittography intended]."
  

       **No, not like that, like THIS.
pertinax, May 24 2010
  

       The important thing is to leave your current knowledge with a frilly edge. In the same way as a coastline has fractal tendencies, the edge of what one thinks one knows has little twiddly bits which need to be explored, and it can be hard to tell whether bits of ignorance are islands or linked by microscopic channels to the sea of unknowledge. Similarly, one can project an isthmus of knowledge to reach a florid promontory of knowledge if need be.   

       The sense in which i'm using the word "knowledge" here is completely different to the one in which i used it earlier.
nineteenthly, May 24 2010
  

       Unfortunately, and rather predictably (in hindsight) we know less about things we know, than things we don't know. As [Ian T...] alluded to.
4whom, May 24 2010
  

       //too much dynamic SQL// I've successfully evaded all knowlege of SQL to date, but I'm not sure how much longer I can keep that up.   

       //There must be a lot of unknown knowledge// The entropy of the Universe is finite, no? So, is the list of knowable things finite? If we made such a list, would we know everything?   

       //a florid promontory of knowledge// [marked-for-tagline]
mouseposture, May 24 2010
  

       // If we made such a list, would we know everything? //   

       Everything except the list itself.   

       <link>
8th of 7, May 25 2010
  

       Thanks for sneezing.
nineteenthly, May 25 2010
  

       An issue .... an issue .... <BLORT>
8th of 7, May 25 2010
  

       Russell's paradox shall hereinafter be known as BLORT.
nineteenthly, May 25 2010
  

       //leave your current knowledge with a frilly edge//   

       Does moth-eaten count?
pertinax, May 26 2010
  

       //The sense in which i'm using the word "knowledge" here is completely different to the one in which i used it earlier.//   

       Marked-for-tagline- on-a-site-that-has- very-long-taglines.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 01 2010
  
      
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