Nautilus

The Comforting Certainty of Unanswered Questions

Light was thought to travel through aether like waves on a lakeShutterstock

You might know the anecdote. In April 1900, Lord Kelvin, one of the most prominent physicists of the 19th century, stands in the speaker’s well of the Royal Society in London. Surveying the state of scientific knowledge at the dawn of a new century, he declares the sky to be clear as far as the eye can see, with the exception of two pesky “clouds.” “Cloud No. 1” is physicists’ inability to detect the aether, the lake-like medium along which waves of electromagnetism must presumably travel. “Cloud

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus3 min read
This Famous Aging Researcher Doesn’t Want Us to Live Forever
In the Netflix anime series Knights of Sidonia, humankind is marooned in a spaceship 500,000-strong, refugees constantly on the run from shapeshifting aliens who destroyed Earth over 1,000 years ago. Both the patriarchy and poverty have been smashed.
Nautilus9 min read
Can We Revive Empathy in Our Selfish World?: An experiment shows how to rebuild human compassion.
You wake up on a bus, surrounded by all your remaining possessions. A few fellow passengers slump on pale blue seats around you, their heads resting against the windows. You turn and see a father holding his son. Almost everyone is asleep. But one ma
Nautilus11 min read
The Ancient Rites That Gave Birth to Religion: Sacred beliefs likely arose out of prehistoric bonding and rituals.
The invention of religion is a big bang in human history. Gods and spirits helped explain the unexplainable, and religious belief gave meaning and purpose to people struggling to survive. But what if everything we thought we knew about religion was w