A Table Listing 50 Things Science Cannot Explain

Below is a list giving only a fraction of the very many things that modern science is unable to explain. Some of these things are exotic and anomalous phenomena, and others are very ordinary and familiar things. 

things science cannot explain
things science cannot explain

Below is a brief commentary on some of the items in the list, proceeding from top to bottom, and left to right.

Line 1: The Big Bang is the origin of the universe, which is completely unexplained, because we have no idea of what caused it. Baryon asymmetry is the unexplained fact that the Big Bang should have produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter, but we don't observe any such balance in our universe – matter is actually many times more common than antimatter. The genetic code is a system of symbolic representations that seems to have been used by life from the very beginning. Explaining how such a system could have naturally appeared seems very hard or impossible.

Line 2: ESP or extra-sensory perception has been well demonstrated in laboratory experiments such as those done by professor Joseph Rhine, but the existence of such a phenomenon seems impossible to explain under materialistic assumptions. The origin of life is a problem scientists have been knocking their heads over for ages, but they have done very little to explain it (and it certainly cannot be explained through natural selection, which requires that life first exists). Near-death experiences have not been explained through theories of hallucinations, which are unable to account for why such experiences so often have a similar pattern.

Line 3: Apparitions are the same as ghost sightings, a phenomena that has occurred throughout history, but which is unexplained. Quantum entanglement has not been well-explained because it involves “spooky action at a distance” that scientists repeatedly said was impossible until quantum entanglement was proven. The alignment of quasar polarization vectors is a strange mystery discussed here.

Line 4: Consciousness is still an unsolved mystery, and involves the strange riddle as to how some arrangement of matter could possibly give rise to a totally different type of thing, the thing we call Mind (getting Mind from matter seems rather like squeezing a rock to produce blood). Dreaming is hard-to-explain as it seems to serve no purpose (and sometimes involves retrieval of distant memories one would think would be impossible while a person is sleeping). The vacuum's low density is the cosmological constant problem, the problem that the space between stars is almost entirely empty of mass-energy, even though quantum field theory predicts it should be very densely packed with mass-energy (see here for more about this).

Line 5: UFO's are unexplained lights or objects in the sky, sometimes extremely bright and large, which are not adequately explained by ideas such as mistaken identifications of aircraft and the planet Venus. Remote viewing is a psychic ability that the US government spent millions of dollars investigating, often producing astonishing results, but with no explanation of the cause. Charge conservation is the unexplained fact that when there are high-speed collisions of matter (such as in particle accelerators or shortly after the Big Bang), nature “balances the books” so that the number of negative charges balances the number of positive charges. Our existence depends on this convenient law of nature.

Line 6: The Cambrian Explosion is the fact that we see very few fossils in the fossil record until a time about 550 million years ago, when all of a sudden there appears most of the major phyla of animals. This sudden appearance is unexplained because it seems to defy expectations of gradual evolution. The existence of long-term memories lasting 50 years or more is unexplained, because prevailing theories of memory are based on synapse storage of memory, but (as discussed here) synapses are subject to rapid molecular turnover which should make them unsuitable for storing memories for more than a few weeks. The fine-tuning of the Higgs field (also called the “naturalness problem” by physicists) is something that physicists have tried for decades to solve, thus far having no success.  It involves a crucial factor in nature that seems to have a favorable and fantastically improbable value.

Line 7: Instantaneous memory retrieval is unexplained for the reasons discussed here. We have no explanation of how the brain could be retrieving a memory stored in some particular location of the brain, for it seems that the brain could never know where such a location would be. Schizophrenia is still unexplained, as are almost all mental illnesses (we know that drugs can help the symptoms of schizophrenia, but we don't understand why such drugs work). Genetic explanations don't work to explain schizophrenia, for it seems that if there were some gene defect causing schizophrenia, natural selection would have such caused such a defect to disappear from the gene pool. Atomic quantization restricts electron energy levels to certain discrete values. It's another natural law necessary for our existence, but unexplained.

Line 8: Crop circles are mysterious arrangements (often 100 meters or larger) in crops that appear overnight. There is no scientific explanation for this phenomenon, and skeptics have to resort to implausible theories of super-industrious fakers. Stevenson was a researcher who found very many cases of children who claimed to have had past lives. He was often able to corroborate the details they provided in such accounts. Savants are cases like that of Kim Peek, who was able to perform astonishing mental feats such as remembering the entire contents of 7000 books he had read. Very strangely, savants often have great problems in other areas of mental functioning.

Line 9: Spiral galaxy spin-nonrandomness is explained here. The double-slit experiment is perhaps the most baffling experiment in physics, under which particles behave like either particles or waves, seemingly in a way that almost suggests they can tell how they are being observed. John Lorber was a doctor who documented cases of almost-normal brain functioning in patients who had lost most of their brains due to diseases such as hydrocephalus. More than half of the patients he studied had above average intelligence. Moreover, removing half of someone's brain in a hemispherectomy operation seems to have no major effect on either memories or intelligence. 

Line 10: The problem of the Big Bang's improbable smoothness is discussed here, where I discuss a scientific paper saying that “the total fraction of the trajectories that are smooth at early times” is very roughly 1 in 10 to the 66 millionth power. The existence of man's higher mental capabilities is an unsolved mystery because (as discussed here) so many of these capabilities (such as musical ability, spirituality, philosophical reasoning, and math ability) are things we cannot explain as being products of natural selection (as they are things that do not increase an organism's likelihood of surviving in the wild). Daryl Bem's precognition experiments are those suggesting a small but real anomalous ability of humans to foretell the near future, something inexplicable.

Line 11: The placebo effect is the effect by which something with no medical effectiveness will produce good medical results, apparently just because someone thinks it is effective or may be effective. The evolution of extremely complicated proteins (particularly those with very rugged “fitness landscapes” and those with a high sensitivity to changes) is unexplained by natural selection, as are the appearance of very complicated biological systems of a type which require great complexity and coordination before yielding any survival value. The tether incident on the STS-75 space shuttle mission was one in which a swarm of baffling objects appeared, behaving like some kind of strange creatures or UFO's.

Line 12: The origin of language is a problem scientists have failed to offer much insight on, as discussed here. How is it that all those brain changes and larynx changes needed for speaking and understanding language could have occurred, when so much coordinated functionality would have to happen before any survival benefit would be produced? And how is it that a language could ever get started, when you would seem to need a language to ever establish a language? Verified premonitions are what happens when someone has a specific fear of some future misfortune, one that matches an actual disaster that occurred. In his book The Science of Premonitions, Larry Dossey provided many examples. “The law of the five allowed stable particles” is a name I use for the fact that nature behaves in such a way so that when high-energy particle collisions occur, the stable end product is never anything other than a proton, a neutron, an electron, a photon, or a neutrino. Scientists have no explanation for why nature behaves in such a restricted way (something necessary for our existence).

Line 13: Fermi bubbles are gigantic bubbles of energy, one stretching above our galaxy, and another stretching below it. An article produced by the National Accelerator Laboratory is entitled, “Despite Extensive Analysis, Fermi Bubbles Defy Explanation,” and notes, “The farthest reaches of the Fermi bubbles boast some of the highest energy gamma rays, but there's no discernible cause for them that far from the galaxy.” Fermi's Paradox is the fact that we have discovered no firm proof of extraterrestrials, despite living in a galaxy that offers billions of solar systems in which life has the opportunity to arise. “Peak in Darien” experiences are a particularly inexplicable type of near-death experience in which a subject who nearly died reports seeing a vision of dead people, including someone who died but whose death was unknown to the subject when he had such a vision.

Line 14: Why there is something rather than nothing is an age-old philosophical question that science does not explain. Why didn't we just have the perfect simplicity of eternal nothingness, something that would seem easier to explain than a universe with some particular set of characteristics? The fine-tuning of nuclear physics is the fact that the fundamental constants of nature have to be just right in order for you to end up with sufficient quantities of oxygen and carbon, and also stable molecules. Imagining a multiverse is not a scientific explanation of such a thing, both because imagining unobserved universes does not qualify as science, and also you don't explain the features of this particular universe (as opposed to “some universe”) by imagining a multiverse. The origin and persistence of spiral galaxies is a mystery because the rotations of spiral galaxies should cause their spiral arms to “unwind,” which means these beautiful spiral structures should not last more than a few hundred million years. See here for more on this.

Line 15: The widespread existence of homosexuality (with about 5% of the human population being homosexual) is not explained by science, particularly since we would think that natural selection would have caused such a tendency to disappear from the human population. The faint young sun paradox is the fact that models of stellar evolution suggest that the sun should have given off much less energy billions of years ago, presumably resulting in an Earth too cold for life to have appeared at the time scientists say life appeared. The exact matching of the proton charge and the electron charge (which have an absolute value that is identical, to 18 decimal places) is a “coincidence” on which our existence depends, as it is necessary for planets to hold together. Modern physics offers no explanation for this exact match, which seems very surprising given that each proton has a mass 1836 times greater than each electron.

Line 16: Believed to make up most of the universe, dark energy and dark matter are both unexplained by scientists, who have no idea what particles are involved in these things (the Standard Model of Physics does not include either dark matter or dark energy). Morphogenesis is one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of biology. It is the mystery of how it is that a tiny fertilized ovum (the size of a grain of sand) is able to progress to become a full baby before birth. The DNA inside our cells seems to have no such thing as sequential instructions that might explain such a progression. The “global consciousness effect” is an effect by which the expected results from a global network of random number generators shows mysterious deviations during important world events.

Line 17: Orbs are mysterious circular anomalies that appear in photos. Although skeptics claim they are dust, many orb photos (such as these) show orbs that are too big to be dust, too bright to be dust, too colorful to be dust, and too fast-moving to be dust (as well as orbs that have stripes, distinctive repeating features, and face-like details). The particles of dust in ordinary are actually a thousand times too small to produce the larger orbs that show up in photos. Leonora Piper, Daniel Dunglas Home and Gladys Osborne Leonard were mediums who produced astonishing psychic results that investigators were unable to explain. Many think the human body plan is stored in DNA, but (as discussed here) DNA seems to use no language capable of expressing any such plan, and instead uses a bare-bones language capable of storing only lists of chemicals. That leaves the location of the human body plan as something science does not actually understand. 

For more information about these enigmas, follow the links above, or see my 4-part series "50 Things Science Cannot Explain," by using this link and scrolling down.  

Below is a single image listing the table above (which I had to break up into two images for it to display properly). 

things science cannot explain

 Postscript: Below are some additional things science cannot explain.

The protein folding problem. Proteins are specified in DNA as only one-dimensional sequences of amino acids, but somehow they form into complicated three-dimensional structures. Scientists have spent 50 years trying to solve the riddle of why this happens, but have still not explained why this happens.  See here for more about this fascinating problem.

Homochirality. Our cells use only left-handed amino acids and right-handed sugars. Were it not for that fact, it wouldn't be possible to make complex proteins. It would be like trying to finish a jigsaw puzzle when half of the pieces were turned upside-down; in that case there would be no way to fit the pieces together. But when amino acids are created in the laboratory, half are left-handed and half are right-handed; and so it is for sugars. You would have to have seemingly impossible lucky breaks needed for all amino acids to have the same left-handedness, with the sugars all being right-handed.

The C-Value Paradox.  It is not at all true that the more complex an organism, the more base pairs in its genome. Amphibians and flowering plants have more base pairs in their genomes than mammals (including man), and humans have only slightly more base pairs in their genomes than worms. 

Toddler language acquisition.  Mainly by just listening to their parents, toddlers somehow acquire language, including complex rules of grammar, even though they are never formally taught such rules.  This is very hard to explain. There have been attempts to explain this as a result of a genetically provided "brain module," but it seems impossible that language rules could be stored in DNA, which uses a "bare-bones" nucleotide language only suitable for stating the constituents of proteins. 

Hyperthymesia.  Hyperthymesia (also called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) is a rare condition in which people can remember in incredible detail what happened to them during any day during the past few decades. There is no known explanation. 

Cell Differentiation. A generic stem cell may specialize to become one of many specific types of cells. But no one knows how this happens.