What keeps me up at night is the question whether mankind will be able to solve all the problems it is causing, and do so in a timely manner. The question whether, from here on, the suffering on Earth will increase and progress will turn into regress, or whether we will manage to find a sustainable balance. I am wondering how to stabilize our economies, and how to complement them with desperately needed global political institutions.
What keeps me up at night is the question whether the gap between the rich and the poor will ever close, how to ameliorate hunger and disease, war and corruption. Whether climate change will increase the pressure on our political, social, and economic systems so much we'll be tumbling back into the middle ages and our children will speak with awe of the times when everybody had an iPod.
What keeps me up are stories about families losing savings for their children's college education as a consequence of our lacking understanding of the financial systems, stories about people fixing their teeth with glue because they're not able to afford health insurance, and food crisis caused by our inability or unwillingness to comprehend the responsibility a global economy brings. What keeps me up are articles claiming that "a truly free market would enable us to find superior substitutes long before we run out [of oil]," as if anybody could reliably predict successes of creativity and innovation. What keeps me up are people still believing and trusting in the wisdom of some invisible hand, unwilling to realize that there's nobody watching over us and past success is no predictor of future success, unable to learn and to adapt to change they're causing themselves, a species believing itself superior to natural selection, blind to its own stupidity.
When I follow these thoughts, I always end up at the same point, at the question whether humans will ever be able to organize their collective actions smartly enough to manage the effects their presence has on this planet, if we are able to make intelligent enough decisions in a world in which events are getting closer connected every day, or if some brainless slime mould will remain ahead of us. I worry if we will ever be able to make this step or if progress will stop here and now, forever being limited by our inability to grasp the dynamics of global social systems.
What keeps me up at night is the question what I can do to help alleviate unnecessary suffering. Not much ever comes to mind - What is a PhD in physics really good for? - except possibly write about it, talk about it. If you open a newspaper, look beyond the stories. Everybody has an opinion on everything and you'll disagree with many of them, but that's not the relevant layer to look at. What's relevant is that it doesn't matter what all these opinions are, as long as there's no way to intelligently use them. It's all talk and no action. It's all well-meant, but no outcome. It's all rhetorics, but no conclusion. It's all, still, trial and error till one day we'll make an error we won't be able to fix.
That's what keeps me up at night. And then there's Stefan's snoring.
What I do in these sleepless moments is to focus on the problems that I understand well. Why is the cosmological constant so small, yet nonzero? Does the universe have the same laws of nature everywhere? What is space and time? Questions to which I'm sure there is an answer, and though I'm unlikely to find one, nobody will die and nobody will suffer if I wake up in the morning and still don't know why the neutrino masses are so small.
And next time we'll talk about these questions that let me sleep at night.