2019: A World on the Margins
- Is there a difference between a mystery and an unanswered question?
- Are most mysteries solved by individuals, by governments, or by the private sector?
- Are some mysteries more worth solving than others?
- What distinguishes mysteries that are solved from those that go unsolved?
- Why are so many people fascinated by mysteries? What features might make one mystery more fascinating than another?
- Can you think of any mysteries that are better left unsolved?
- Do people who solve mysteries have an obligation to share the solution?
- How do we deal with questions that we are unable to answer?
- Can you imagine a circumstance in which someone would solve a mystery and then decide to keep the solution secret?
- Have you ever had something happen in your life for which you lack an explanation? Do you want that explanation?
Contending with the Unknown
- Investigative Methods
- Guesses, Estimations, Hypotheses, Theories
- Inductive vs. Deductive vs. Abductive Reasoning
- Elements of the Scientific Method
- Hard Evidence: Forensic Science
- Philosophy of the Unexplained
- known knowns | unknown unknowns | epistemology
- Johari window | belief vs. knowledge | intuition
- Contests to Uncover the Unknown: Effective or Not?
- Millennium Prize Problems | Loebner Prize
- One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge
- Additional Terms to Know
- cognitive dissonance | whodunit | John/Jane Doe
- fata morgana | cold case | preternatural vs paranormal
Where Did They Come From?
- Pyramids of Egypt | Stonehenge | Hanging Gardens | Zuni language
- Nazca Geoglyphs | Flying Dutchman | Giant Spheres of Costa Rica
- Terracotta Warriors | Puma Punku | Ulfberht swords
Where Did They Go?
- Dale Kerstetter | Mandy Hampton | Amelia Earhart
- Sodder Children | Edgar Allan Poe | DB Cooper
- Starlite | Roanoke | Library of Alexandria
- Mayan Civilization | Dinosaurs | Lost Tribes of Israel
Do They Exist? Did They Ever?
- Atlantis | tenth planet | Land of Punt | El Dorado | Area 51
- Holy Grail | New Zealand | Fountain of Youth | dark matter
What Were They?
- Monsieur Chouchani | Lori Erica Ruff | Atacama skeleton
- Taured Man | Somerton Man | bog bodies | Sky Object
- Greek Fire | Archimedes Death Ray | Mithridate | Havana Syndrome
What the Heck?
- magnetic pole reversals | Bermuda Triangle | Oak Island Money Pit
- Great Blue Hole | Dyatlov Pass incident | Hollinwell Showground
- Solway Spaceman | airfares
What Do They Mean?
- Voynich manuscript | Kryptos | Cicada 3301 | Wow! Signal
- Rongorongo | Toynbee tiles | Circleville letters | Linear B | quipu
- Phaistos Disc | Singapore Stone | Rohonc Codex
Mysteries of the Living
- function of the appendix | need for sleep | evolutionary Missing Link
- right-handedness | fingerprints | laughter | yawning | dreaming
- interstitium | blood types | altruism
- vanishing honeybees | white-nose syndrome | immortal jellyfish
- tardigrade indestructibility | animal intelligence | cryptids | baobab death
- zebra stripes | Monarch migration | giant squid
Cases & Guiding Questions
- Consider the case of this supposedly alien skeleton and the process by which its actual origin was determined. Are there times when people would rather that science leave certain questions unanswered?
- Where did the Neanderthals go? Scientists have proposed several theories to explain the disappearance of the Neanderthal branch of the human family tree. Discuss with your team: how would you feel if you discovered you were part-Neanderthal? If the Neanderthals had survived, do you think “modern” humans could have coexisted peacefully with them?
- Consider the long-awaited discovery of the San Jose. Discuss with your team: who has the right to lost treasure when it is finally found? Does solving a mystery give you ownership over the results?
- Are lost pets a mystery? How about lost socks?
- Is there an ancient city lost beneath the waters of Fuxian Lake in the Yunnan province of China? Researchers (and sources) disagree. Discuss with your team: how could we best confirm whether such a city exists and, if so, its historical origins? Does anyone have a stake in the outcome? Are there other lost cities of interest around the world?
- Did scientists really just discover a new human organ? What mysteries do some people believe this new organ could explain? Discuss with your team: what aspects about humans are the most mysterious to you?
- Discuss with your team: does this explanation of how the ancient pyramids were built make sense to you, and why does it matter that we know how they came to be? What are some other theories that people have posited to explain their construction, and do any of them have past or present sociocultural implications? Are there viable alternatives to scientific research for solving mysteries from so long ago? Be sure to investigate other architectural mysteries; are some more mysterious than others?
- In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it turns out that the smartest creatures on Earth were not humans, but mice. While there is no evidence for this particular theory, there is evidence that animals such as dolphins and octopi might be exceptionally intelligent. Is there a way to decipher exactly how intelligent they are—and would confirming their intelligence make a difference in how we treat them?
- What conclusions might people have drawn (or jumped to) if this had happened in 1976? What if it had happened in 2016? Discuss with your team: to what extent are mysteries a product of their time? Are there mysteries today that may seem quaint or nonsensical in the future?
- In 2002, the Secretary of Defense of the United States discussed the existence of "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns". What did he mean by these two phrases? Could there also be, as philosopher Slavoj Žižek has suggested, unknown knowns?
- Evaluate this suggested explanation for the mystery of the Flying Dutchman. Then, consider with your team: are there other mysteries that could be attributed to "fata morgana" or other tricks of light? To what degree should we distrust what we see with our own eyes?
- Where did the ten “lost tribes of Israel” end up? One theory is that their descendants now live in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Discuss with your team: why would governments have an interest in finding evidence to support (or disprove) such a theory? Why might it matter where the descendants of long-ago people live today?
- Some mysteries are political: why did the United Kingdom vote for Brexit? What’s the matter with Kansas? Are political mysteries actual mysteries, or just unlikely outcomes that happen at about the expected rate?
- Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare’s plays—or did someone else write some or all of them? Explore other instances in which the authorship of works has come into question. Should the identity of the writer affect how we appreciate his or her writing?
- Consider these “six strange facts” about an astronomical object named ‘Oumuamua. Do you agree with the author that these strange facts could launch a whole new age in space science? Discuss with your team: how would the world react if it were proven ‘Oumuamua was a probe from a distant alien civilization?
- Some have suggested it was an atomic weapon from outer space, or even a collision of matter and antimatter; no one knows for sure what caused a giant explosion in Siberia in 1908. Discuss with your team: was this “Tunguska Event” a cautionary tale from which we should learn a lesson, or was it an ultimately inexplicable one-off that we should let recede into history?