(part of an occasional essay series)


You know, there are many imponderables and enigma's that remain to be addressed in the world around us, and lets not forget plain unexplained phenomenon. This is the essence of life. We live - some of us, at any rate - to address these, to untie these Gordian knots, to overturn old ideas, to incrementally evolve explanations for the mysteries of life. And in doing so, we open Pandora boxes, and then suddenly there are a 100 more question marks where once only one existed. This is the life of a researcher, one which many voluntarily embrace, and despite its many frustrations, the satisfaction of having nailed down one good idea makes all the pain worthwhile.


As one such masochistic individual, I decided this morning to list the most important questions mankind currently has on the table, circa 1999:


1. the cure for cancer

2. the cure for AIDS

3. How to improve economic welfare

4. How to eat whatever you like, and not put weight on

5. how to understand women

6. how to understand men

7. are there space aliens, and if so, does anyone have their phone number.

8. male pattern baldness

9. God - who saw him last, and why isn't he paying child support.

10. 42 what?

11. Gloria Estefan: why do people buy her albums.


Some of these are deep and complex, such as (11), and are best left for anthropologists and archaeologists to figure out in the third millennium when they run out of primitive cultures and dinosaurs to study. (1) and (2) are being addressed by hordes of doctors, so we should have an answer any day now, (4) will probably be revealed to us one day by Oprah Winfrey, who has made it her life study. Male pattern baldness, frankly, will never be solved, and I believe, will become to be seen as the ultimate 'cool' thing in the future. Not only is Jean Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise (as in Star Trek: the next generation, for those of you who are ignorant) completely hair-free 300 years in the future, but so is the doctor on 'Starship Voyager'. This last example is very significant, because he is a computer-generated doctor for godsakes, all it would have taken is a couple of extra megabytes of memory. But no, he is follically challenged, which seems clear evidence of the way of the future. Both men, I might point out, are chick magnets. And not just the blonde bimbo women that men such as Captain Kirk (lots of hair) seemed to attract (and who follically challenged men scorn), but intelligent, sharp, humorous and colourful women with more personality than Yeltsin with a vodka bottle on a friday evening.


Bible thumping priests and dead sea scrolls will probably address the God question, Douglas Adams will finally tell us about 42 before he keels over, but I personally can assure you that no one is even close to figuring out the welfare problem. Economists. Go figure.


As for Men, Women and Space Aliens, I think the answers are all there in one single place, and its right under our nose. Witness the phenomenal success of the X-files on TV. There are millions of people who dutifully tune in once a week (and for those of us blessed with cable TV, more often), to find out whether Scully and Mulder have uncovered the truth that is supposedly out there. It is no coincidence, of course, that there is a second mystery perpetually being unravelled on this show: just when is all that sexual chemistry between the two ever going to boil over.


I blame Mulder, of course. Along with a good proportion of the male population of this planet (and not just limited to homo sapiens sapiens) he suffers from a deep-seated emotional immaturity, perhaps greater even than mine. Scully, in her turn, acts out all the symptoms of the female version of the problem. Along with the rest of my sex, I cannot quite put my finger on what these symptoms underlie, because while mankind may have walked on the moon, cracked the atom, interpreted DNA, learnt how to programme VCRs, and found a 101 ways to skin a cat, I am yet to meet anyone (male of female, straight or gay) who can explain women. Why ever not, you may well ask. Its simple, if you ask me. The problem is entirely scientific. Men are too subjective about these things, because we have women all round us, all our lives. It is impossible for men to be independent, scientific and logical about this question, because there are too many hormones involved. The problem is exactly the same on the other side. Show me a woman who says she understands men, and I'll show you a woman who needs more Prozac. What is called for is a bunch of aliens from another planet (preferably of a third, or even fourth sex), because only they can have the distance, the perspective and provide the control sample for us to scientifically evaluate the sexes. And that, dear friends is why we are all so obsessed with X-files, because subconsciously we are all waiting for Scully and Mulder to meet the right aliens, so they can bring the truth back home to the rest of us slobs who haven't got the equipment, clothes and credit limits on our cards that FBI officers are provided with, and are so necessary in the search for extra terrestrial life (with the possible exception of Bill Gates).


That's one Gordian knot untied, huh? Now if only I can bring my superlative powers of analysis to that pesky welfare problem….