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peter falk

scientific questions

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here's an article i came across in the washington post, which i can inexplicably access from china. the article reviews the most compelling questions unanswered by science. jusdging by the one on longevity, i would say they haven't investigated taoists cultivation or the legendary adepts who live very long. a guy at wudang assured me zhang fengseng is still alive and kicking. questions more pertinent to daoists (well what isn't pertinent?) excerpted below.


How much can the human life span be extended ?


Human life spans have stretched amazingly in the past few hundred years. In the 20th century alone, the average U.S. life span grew to 77 years from 49, an increase of more than 50 percent.


The longest any person is known to have lived is 122 years. That was Jeanne Calment, a Frenchwoman who died in 1997. No one knows why she lived that long (she smoked cigarettes until she was 97, when she quit for her health). Perhaps it was her wry sense of humor. Asked on her 100th birthday what kind of future she anticipated, she responded: "A very short one."


In general, scientists reckon that longevity is the result of a unique combination of genetics and life habits, and they suspect that with attention to those things the average human life span can be increased substantially.


Experiments on simpler organisms, such as the millimeter-long soil-dwelling nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans , indicate that in some species a change in a single gene can double life span -- though in that case we're talking about a total of six weeks. Other experiments with humans' closer relatives, mice and monkeys, strongly suggest that by cutting out the greater part of our dietary intake we might increase our life span by decades -- though we'd spend a lot of those longer lives fantasizing about our next meal.


Should scientists succeed in making centenarians a sizable voting bloc, watch for new questions about Social Security.


Who wants to know?


Or, as Science magazine puts it, "What is the biological basis of consciousness?"


This question is an oldie, dating at least to the beginnings of humankind. It underwent its last big renovation in the 17th century, when the French philosopher Rene Descartes declared that the mind and the body lived in different dimensional spaces and so, like east and west, would never meet.


That model has lately begun to metamorphose amid evidence that body and mind have a far more integrated and interesting relationship. But the scientific method, which insists on complete objectivity, faces some of its biggest challenges as researchers contemplate experiments that would turn the mind's attention to the task of understanding itself.


The list of questions goes on. How do organs and organisms know when to stop growing? Why do we sleep? What are the limits of learning by machines? Is morality hard-wired into the brain?


It's endless, with every answer cultivating a new crop of questions. But that's the point.


"This is what scientists do," Norman said, "they ask questions."


The full list of 125 questions, with essays devoted to the top 25, is at .

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