Author: Ronja Ebner


-“I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is”. [1]

The question implied this simple picture is probably known to everybody without further need for explanations. Also, with a proper definition of the terms “egg” and “chicken” the answer is not as difficult as often suggested.[2] #TeamEgg.

Other questions probably will stay unanswered. For example will we probably never know if science started with a “Why?” or a “Ha!, interesting…”. No matter how it started, we are still asking. From the cute but maybe annoying child, who won‘t stop, to the high ranked scientist or journalist, who gets payed for almost exactly the same thing. With this amount of questions out there one tends to think we are only looking for the answers. Sometimes, however, it is the other way round. Surprisingly often the answer has been around for quite some time and could not be read, since we did not ask the right question.

What if weight wasn’t the only physical property a metal can have?

One of the best known examples is probably the one of Archimedes. While entering a full bathtub, he realized that it will overflow. As he probably wasn‘t the first person to take a bath, this behavior was known for quite some time.[3] Nevertheless, he was the first to ask how much water will be lost (as this story was written down approx. 200 years after it is said to have happened, it is quite likely that this is more of an urban myth than an actual historic encounter. But its a nice one tho). This then directly lead to the concepts of density and buoyancy as we know them today. Of course those concepts were further developed and so eventually someone dared to ask: “What if some water was denser than normal water?”, which might have been a strange question at that time, if you think about it. This “Finding the right question” dilemma is not a problem of the past. Quite modern scientists had to deal with it, too.

What if we could measure the origins of the universe?

In 1964, for example, two scientists found an answer to a question they did not ask. Furthermore, they had no other option than to ask until they found the right one. What had happened? While they were trying to detect earth born radio waves that got reflected from echo balloon satellites, they encountered a noise in their data (imagine trying to listening to music on really bad equipment). They tried to get rid of it by checking the software and cleaning cleaned their antenna, but the noise stayed. What seem to be an unwanted by-product turned out to answer the question: “What temperature was the Universe shortly after its origin?”. This later on was used to discard the steady state model of the universe and to empower the theory of the big bang origin. [3]

To understand the history of the planet we live on, a different question had to be found. The data and the answers are lying at our feet.

What if (earth)history was written with(in) stone?

Image of an otcrop in Palermo (Italy)

This question lead Nicolas Steno at the end of the 17th century to the realization that earths history is preserved in the ground we walk on. By finding this ‘book’, science just had to learn how to read it layer by layer and from fault to fault. This change in viewing the sediments, thus offered mankind a new source of knowledge and made way for more ground breaking thoughts. Fossils, for example, commonly had been viewed as an odd play of nature, but now had an time information coming with them.[5]

All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it’s pretty damn complicated in the first place. [1]

As implied by this quote, the exhausting truth about those kind of questions is, that they lead to even more data that has to be interpreted and thus to more questions still to be found.

In the context of this groups project being able to date different strata (only on a professional basis, of course), determine their composition and thus to their origin caused huge amount of imformation accumulating over the last 40 years. In that case finding the right way to interpret this treasure seems to be quite challenging and has been a source for vivid arguments for years.

The chances of finding out what’s really going on in the universe are so remote, the only thing to do is hang the sense of it and keep yourself occupied. [1]

This of course could be an approach to a quiet and relaxed life, but a rather boring one.  Thus I will stick to the more romantic approach of Eichendorff.

“Schläft ein Lied in allen Dingen,
Die da träumen fort und fort,
Und die Welt hebt an zu singen,
Triffst du nur das Zauberwort.”
Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff, 1835
“A song sleeps in all things around
Which dream on and on unheard,
And the world begins to resound,
If you hit the magic word.”
Translated by Natias Neutert

Being provided with tons of data from different fields (physically and scientifically) we try to get as much out of it as possible and I therefore hope we will be able to present the right questions in the not so far future to interpret the data we have.

Stay curious, ask questions and always have a towel with you!



[1]   The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy book series
[3]   Wikipedia, Cosmic microwave background
[4]   Wikipedia, Nicolas Steno
[5]   Wikipedia, Law of superposition


[1] Henn and Egg

[2] To sink or not to sink

[2] To sink or not to sink

[3] Cosmic microwave background

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s