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New Scientist The Collection The Big Questions

New Scientist covers discoveries and ideas in science and technology that will change your life and the way you understand the world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields to provide in-depth but accessible coverage of the developments that matter. New Scientist: The Collection is a themed compilation of recent articles and special reports from our back catalogue, providing a book-length examination of some of the deepest questions known to humanity.

United Kingdom
New Scientist Ltd
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access_time2 min.
big questions, bold answers

ONE of the most profound moments in life is when, as a child, we first utter that small but powerful word, “why?”This is arguably what defines us a species. We are not so much Homo sapiens as Homo curiosum. It is not hard to imagine our earliest ancestor looking up at the stars, watching the seasons change, or holding a newborn child and wondering: why?Our curiosity knows no bounds and it has taken us a long way, from the savannahs of east Africa to world domination and beyond.Most of this progress has come in the past 300 years thanks to the invention of a systematic way of asking questions and answering them. That method is called science, and it has produced the greatest knowledge bounty ever.But we still yearn to…

access_time3 min.

DEFINING REALITYWHAT DO we actually mean by reality? A straightforward answer is that it means everything that appears to our five senses – everything that we can see, smell, touch and so forth. Yet this answer ignores such problematic entities as electrons, the recession and the number 5, which we cannot sense but which are very real. It also ignores phantom limbs and illusory smells. Both can appear vividly real, but we would like to say that these are not part of reality.We could tweak the definition by equating reality with what appears to a sufficiently large group of people, thereby ruling out subjective hallucinations. Unfortunately there are also hallucinations experienced by large groups, such as a mass delusion known as koro, mainly observed in South-East Asia, which involves the…

access_time3 min.
the bedrock of it all

IS ANYTHING real? The question seems to invite only one answer: of course it is. If in doubt, try kicking a rock.Leaving aside the question of whether your senses can be trusted, what are you actually kicking? When it boils down to it, not a lot. Science needs remarkably few ingredients to account for a rock: a handful of different particles, the forces that govern their interactions, plus some rules laid down by quantum mechanics.This seems like a solid take on reality, but it quickly starts to feel insubstantial. If you take a rock apart, you’ll find that its basic constituent is atoms – perhaps 1000 trillion trillion of them, depending on the rock’s size. Atoms, of course, are composed of smaller subatomic particles, namely protons and neutrons – themselves…

access_time15 min.
is matter real ?

(CHRISTOPHE AGOU)NOTHING seems more real than the world of everyday objects, but things are not as they seem. A set of relatively simple experiments reveals enormous holes in our intuitive understanding of physical reality. Trying to explain what goes on leads to some very peculiar and often highly surprising theories of the world around us.Here is a simple example. Take an ordinary desk lamp, a few pieces of cardboard with holes of decreasing sizes, and some sort of projection screen such as a white wall. If you put a piece of cardboard between the lamp and the wall, you will see a bright patch where the light passes through the hole in the cardboard. If you now replace the cardboard with pieces containing smaller and smaller holes, the patch too…

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is everything made of numbers ?

(DARREN HOPES)WHEN Albert Einstein finally completed his general theory of relativity in 1916, he looked down at the equations and discovered an unexpected message: the universe is expanding.Einstein didn’t believe the physical universe could shrink or grow, so he ignored what the equations were telling him. Thirteen years later, Edwin Hubble found clear evidence of the universe’s expansion. Einstein had missed the opportunity to make the most dramatic scientific prediction in history.How did Einstein’s equations “know” that the universe was expanding when he did not? If mathematics is nothing more than a language we use to describe the world, an invention of the human brain, how can it possibly churn out anything beyond what we put in? “It is difficult to avoid the impression that a miracle confronts us here,”…

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if information… then universe

(DARREN HOPES)WHATEVER kind of reality you think you’re living in, you’re probably wrong. The universe is a computer, and everything that goes on in it can be explained in terms of information processing.The connection between reality and computing may not be immediately obvious, but strip away the layers and that is exactly what some researchers think we find. We think of the world as made up of particles held together by forces, for instance, but quantum theory tells us that these are just a mess of fields we can only properly describe by invoking the mathematics of quantum physics.That’s where the computer comes in, at least if you think of it in conceptual terms as something that processes information rather than as a boxy machine on your desk. “Quantum physics…