Allow me, for once, to distance myself from current events, at least in appearance.

Every day brings us new, shocking descriptions of what the universe is like at a few distances from us. In particular, every day the James Webb Space Telescope brings us new, stunningly beautiful galaxies, raising more questions than it answers. For example, it has just detected traces of water, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide on an exoplanet just 70 million light years away. This is only the beginning. For the most fundamental mysteries of the universe remain unresolved:

To name but a few, which specialists will forgive me for simplifying here:

  • We still know nothing about ‘dark matter’, a hypothesis that is necessary to account for certain observations on galaxy masses and fluctuations in the cosmological flux. It is an astonishing matter that does not interact with ordinary matter or photons, even though, according to the model that makes it necessary, it weighs five times more than all the ordinary matter in the universe. Does it really exist or will it one day be considered as absurd a hypothesis as the aether, which all physics theories needed until the discovery of special relativity?
  • We still don’t know anything about the nature of time. Is it a wave? Is it matter? Is it space? Should we distinguish between the time of nature and the time of human consciousness? If time has a beginning, what exists before time? And if it has no beginning, what is it? And where is it before the Big Bang, which is supposed to mark the beginning of the universe?
  • We still know nothing about the ultimate, first particle, from which all the others would come: Does it really exist? Will it allow us to unify the laws governing the three known forms of interaction (electromagnetic, weak nuclear and strong nuclear) and to unify them with those of the fourth (gravitation)? Is it possible that there was an era at the beginning of the universe when these four fundamental forces were one? What then differentiated them?
  • We still know nothing about the nature of the laws that govern the universe: if we manage to theorise some of them, very simple ones such as gravitation, or more complicated ones such as the various forms of relativity, or more uncertain ones such as string laws, we know nothing about the most dizzying question: do these laws of the universe all arise, conceived, and immediately operational, in the first instant following the Big Bang? and if so, where do they come from? From before the Big Bang? From universes prior or parallel to ours? If this is not the case, and these laws are formed over time, after the Big Bang, how can we explain that they give such a good account of what happens just after it? And if they have evolved since the Big Bang, could they still change? Could we one day, for example, no longer be subject to the laws of gravitation, electromagnetism or the various forms of relativity, which order the galaxies, the stars, the planets and, more prosaically, life on this planet?

Since the dawn of time, millions of pages have been written by scientists, philosophers and religious figures on these questions. No one has yet come up with an answer. And it is in this very enigma that faith takes refuge, that philosophical discourse unfolds, that scientific research is nourished.

Today, too few people devote their lives to it. Too few people talk about it. Too few people teach it. Too few children in the world learn that these questions concern all of humanity, that we all have to seek common answers together, whatever our beliefs, without being satisfied with ready-made phrases, with definitive words, by accepting to be contradicted by the facts, and by the observations of science.

Without ever giving up on making progress in research. Without resigning ourselves to the fact that the answers remain unknowable, because they are inaccessible to the human mind. With the humility of Socrates who said: “I know that I know nothing”; with the impertinence of Montaigne who added: “I do not even know that I know nothing”. Which I would like to complete with “I will never give up trying to know”.

Painting : Vincent Van Gogh, La Nuit étoilée, 1889