Nautilus

How Much More Can We Learn About the Universe?

As a cosmologist, some of the questions I hear most frequently after a lecture include: What lies beyond our universe? What is our universe expanding into? Will our universe expand forever? These are natural questions to ask. But there is an even deeper question at play here. Fundamentally what we really want to know is: Is there a boundary to our knowledge? Are there fundamental limits to science?

The answer, of course, is that we don’t know in advance. We won’t know if there is a limit to knowledge unless we try to get past it. At the moment, we have no sign of one. We may be facing roadblocks, but those give every indication of being temporary. Some people say to me: “We will never know how the universe began.” “We can never know what happened before the Big Bang.” These statements demonstrate a remarkable conceit, by suggesting we can know in advance the locus of all those things that we cannot know. This is not only unsubstantiated, but the history of science so far has demonstrated no such limits. And in my own field, cosmology, our knowledge has increased in ways that no one foresaw even 50 years ago.

The farthest you

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus9 min read
Tantalizing Creatures with Male and Female Genes: Gyandromorphs overturn traditional theories of sexual development.
As they often do after a rainstorm, butterflies had gathered around puddles on Pigeon Mountain in northwest Georgia. Nets in hand, James Adams and his friend Irving Finkelstein watched the insects lapping up salts and proteins dissolved in the muddy
Nautilus7 min read
Evolution Is Really Not That Into Sex: Plants and animals have reproduced without sex for eons. So why did nature bother?
What is sex for? When I regularly queried students at the beginning of my course in evolutionary biology, most responded that it was for reproducing. Reasonable enough, but wrong. In fact, lots of living things reproduce without sex: Asexual reproduc
Nautilus5 min read
Dark Matter Gets a Reprieve in New Analysis
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. The galactic center shines too brightly, like the glow of a metropolis at night where maps show only a town. To mend their cosmic cartography, astrophysicists have spent years debati