The Big Question

What Is Humanity’s Most Enduring Mystery?
Photo by Akua Asa-Awuku Associate Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
 Why are we here? Why Earth? Of all the planets in the galaxy, Earth is an improbable place, a planet that has evolved over billions of years to foster and support human life. Our atmosphere, oceans and land are composed to facilitate human comfort. Why would we knowingly destroy our comfort via anthropogenic climate change? Will humanity change for the better? Will our ability to create, innovate and engineer overcome our ability to destroy? 
Andrew Baden Chair, Department of Physics The origin of the universe is one of the most fundamental mysteries, driving personal and professional dedication. We live in an age where technology enables the kind of precision measurements that are needed to unravel this mystery. The feeling of awe from understanding that comes from combining data, computation and the sheer beauty of mathematics rivals the humility one feels standing before the Grand Canyon, seeing something truly beautiful and larger than us.
Andrea Chronis-Tuscano Professor, Department of Psychology What motivates some people to behave kindly while others have a tendency to respond aggressively? Is this something in our biology or learned in our environments? How can we as a society alter these individuals’ natural tendencies from the earliest possible age? What a wonderful world this could be!
Merle Collins Distinguished Scholar-Teacher, Department of English Over the centuries, human beings have settled in various places, marked territory acquired and found ways to keep others out. The “why” that this makes me ask is more than just about the attitude of one particular nation or the other. It is about humanity’s attitude to humanity, humanity’s fear for and of itself. One of the great mysteries of life is humanity’s lack of “human” understanding.
Eliza Kempton Assistant Professor, Department of Astronomy Are we alone? Is there life beyond Earth and the solar system? While these have typically been the topics of science fiction, we are amazingly now on the verge of being able to answer these questions. Astronomical observatories such as NASA’s Kepler mission have revealed that planets are commonplace around the stars in our galaxy. With such a vast multitude of exoplanets, it is hard to believe that Earth is the only place where life arose.
Fatemah Keshavarz-Karamustafa Professor and Director, Roshan Institute for Persian Studies Humanity’s most enduring mystery is its search for its own inner mystery. We have conquered mountain peaks and ocean floors. We have played God with genome projects and brain imaging technologies that increasingly explain our behavior. But we are still baffled by what happens in that special place in our hearts where something seemingly beyond ourselves gives us comfort and makes us feel connected.
Elaine Oran Glenn L. Martin Institute Professor of Engineering, Department of Aerospace Engineering Humanity’s most enduring mystery is answering the question: What is humanity’s most enduring mystery? Share your answer or suggest a future question in the Comments section.


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