A Brief History
On August 27, 1859, oil was discovered in Pennsylvania, an event we used to list “10 Momentous Discoveries.” In honor of that previous list, we take this opportunity today to list 10 things that people have not yet discovered (or rediscovered as the case may be), but things that would rate as “momentous” discoveries when and if we find them. No significance is attached to the order listed, nor do we imply these are the most important things left to discover, just ones of particular interest or notoriety.
Even Donovan sang a popular song about the lost continent of “Atlantis,” although some references make the place a city or an island or a combination of all 3. Did such a place really exist? If any proof is ever discovered of a real Atlantis, the “breaking news” would probably break the internet! Popular culture is full of references to this legendary place that may or may not have existed, in books, movies, television, comics and just about every other form of popular culture. We would sure like to know if it did exist after all.
2. The “Missing Link”
A popular theme in the lay public, though not so much in the scientific community, is the “missing link,” a possible fossil discovery that is a bridge between obvious ape-like ancestors of humans and the earliest humans. (Note: we created a “link” to our use of “missing link!”) Since scientists have largely discarded the idea of any such thing, there will likely never be a discovery hailed by science as the “missing link” in human evolution. But if there was…
3. Cure for “Cancer”
Cancer is actually many different diseases (over 100) that have in common a genetic mutation of uncontrolled cell growth with damaged or altered DNA that often leads to the death of the victim. Many forms of cancer have already been addressed with somewhat effective treatments, but most are not “curable.” Cancer is the second leading cause of death among humans (most animals can also get some form of cancer), and a general cure would monumentally change the existence of humans on the Earth, possibly even leading to other, monumental problems! Certainly, finding a “cure for cancer” is the Holy Grail of medicine. (The “Holy Grail” is another momentous discovery waiting to be found. Problem is, we cannot even agree with what it is!) Any person acknowledged as the discoverer of a cure for cancer would instantly become the most celebrated person on the planet (sorry LeBron!).
4. Life outside of the Earth
When you look at the bizarre life forms on the Earth, including in the deepest parts of the oceans, you can get a tiny idea of the potential for just how weird things can get with possible extra-terrestrial life. Would life from outer space be carbon based? Would it have enormous size, or be tiny? Intelligent, or not sentient? Virus like, or similar to large animals on Earth? Would life outside of Earth have senses we cannot comprehend, including telekinesis, ESP, or the ability to teleport? Many religious people believe that Earth was especially created by God and that humankind is also especially created as God’s particular project, and thus any life outside of Earth “could not” exist because such an eventuality does not jive with their religious beliefs. Even the discovery of irrefutable evidence of microscopic life in space might shake up the beliefs of billions of people. The discovery of intelligent life outside of the Earth, now that would be momentous!
5. Noah’s Ark
How hard can it be to find a gigantic wooden boat (made of “gopher wood,” whatever that is) that is on dry land, not on the bottom of the sea? People have been searching for this fabled vessel for centuries, including some prominent people you would not expect to be prone to flights of fancy. (Moon landing astronaut James Irwin, among others.) Plus, the reputed place the Ark landed was on Mount Ararat in Turkey, so that narrows things down considerably, and yet, the Ark has not been found! Do not despair of ever seeing this enormous piece of Biblical boathood, for our friends in Kentucky have built a “life sized” replica of the Ark for you to wonder at. While you admire Noah’s handiwork, you can also see how people and dinosaurs co-existed (peacefully?) back then, whenever “then” was. Obviously, discovering a gigantic boat on a mountain far from the sea would lend great credibility to the Biblical story of Noah, and would reinforce the faith of millions or billions of people. Yeah, it would be a big deal.
6. Garden of Eden
Another Biblical reference, the Garden of Eden is purportedly the place the first humans, Adam and Eve, lived, a paradise on Earth (Hawaii?). Of course, no one knows exactly where this place was located, and the idea of finding archaeological evidence is kind of farfetched, but as with Noah’s Ark, the discovery of the Garden of Eden would certainly mean a heck of a lot to a heck of a lot of people. As with virtually every subject, there are a certain number of people who purport to “know” the location of the Garden of Eden, somehow managing to deduce its coordinates through some sort of “logical” method. No consensus about the exact location has yet been reached. Complicating the search for where this wonderful place was situated are the contradictions and inconsistencies in the Bible about the Garden.
7. The Size and Origin of the Universe
The Universe is so immense the immensity is hard for us to even come close to comprehending. The farthest objects from Earth detected by humans are an incredible 13.3 BILLION light years away! Since a light year is about 5.88 trillion miles (give or take a few feet), that is pretty darn far. If we somehow were able to travel at the speed of light, it would take us over 13 billion years to get there. Of course, there is no way of knowing what if anything is beyond that distant galaxy discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope, as we have not yet developed the ability to see or otherwise detect anything farther away. We suspect there are even more distant galaxies out there. Although scientists seem to be in love with the idea of the “Big Bang Theory” (named after a popular television series?), the idea that the Universe started from nothing around 13.7 billion years ago in a gigantic “bang” that spewed all the matter in the Universe out from a central location in an ever increasing dispersion away from the center troubles this author. If you care to indulge me, I think the Universe is so vast that what scientists are calling “The Universe” is just “The Observable Universe” and if a Big Bang happened, it was a local event and the entire Universe is many times larger (infinite?) than the area we can actually “see” through telescopes or measure through other instruments. (By many times, I mean billions of trillions of times larger or more.) Is the Universe eternal? Was it always there? Is it infinite, without end? Is there a limit to it? Is that limit a wall, or nothingness beyond the edge? Any definitive answers to any of these questions would constitute a truly momentous discovery. Indeed.
8. Cold fusion
The idea of cold fusion is kind of like the “Philosopher’s Stone” of science, a method of creating energy that is nearly free of pollution and other environmental drawbacks. Some physicists hypothesize that hydrogen can be coupled with a metal or other material to produce energy in a form of nuclear reaction without radiation and without the danger of a nuclear blast. A discovery that allows the harnessing of such a reaction to produce electricity (by production of heat, in turn producing steam that turns a turbine) would change the world in short order. Oil rich countries would go back to being deserts and lose all their political power most quickly! Some folks claim this process is already a real thing, but we have not seen any evidence of practical use of the so called technology. Virtually free energy would revolutionize many aspects of human existence and the person or persons that could make this discovery would be hailed as saviors.
9. Life after Death
Yes, people point to religious texts as “proof” of life after death, but unless you take their word as “proof,” we have yet to have evidence that a consensus of scientists can agree upon as proof that there is indeed such a thing as life after death. Many people have reported a variety of sensations related to near death experiences that others point to as “proof” of life after death, but skeptics counter these claims with other explanations for the reported visions and “experiences.” (Note: This author has had not just 1, but 2 near death experiences and did not experience any of the commonly reported phenomena associated with the experience, such as “white light,” visions of dead relatives, etc.) The great escape artist and magician, Houdini, was a skeptic and offered a prize ($10,000) for anyone who could provide evidence of life after death or other “supernatural event” and promised to make his presence known to living people after he died if such a thing were possible. He never did show up at the many seances and other gatherings set up to greet his afterlife essence.
10. Alternate Realities/Dimensions
A subject played with by science fiction writers as well as television and movie script writers is the existence of additional dimensions and realities to our own known dimension and reality. Are there actually an infinite number of “Earths” in the vast reaches of space and time, each with an alternate version of each of us? Well, we do not know, but we sure would like to know! How to prove such a condition of reality is a tricky question in itself, but if someone could find a way to show such a thing was real, it would blow the sox off of our philosophers, clerics, scientists and just about everyone else. For that matter, how about time and the supposed paradox of time travel? Does going back in time create a different course of events in the future, an “alternate” reality or does it create an additional reality parallel to the original course of events? My head hurts thinking about such things! Right now any such “rules” about time travel and alternate realities are just conjecture and not based on any actual knowledge, but we sure would like to know if any of this stuff can actually happen.
Questions for students (and subscribers): What undiscovered thing do you believe is momentous enough to be included on this list? Was Atlantis a real place? Do alien life forms exist? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Brody, David, and Arnold Brody. The Science Class You Wish You Had (Revised Edition): The Seven Greatest Scientific Discoveries in History and the People Who Made Them. TarcherPerigee, 2013.
Dickinson, Terrence. Hubble’s Universe: Greatest Discoveries and Latest Images. Firefly Books, 2017.
Eisen, Jonathan. Suppressed Inventions and Other Discoveries: Revealing the World’s Greatest Secrets of Science and Medicine. TarcherPerigee, 2001.
Isbouts, Jean-Pierre. Archaeology of the Bible: The Greatest Discoveries From Genesis to the Roman Era. National Geographic, 2016.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of a Pennsylvania oil field in 1862, was published by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, but its age made it public domain. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less.