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If you are aware of an interesting new academic paper (that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal or has appeared on the arXiv), a conference talk (at an official professional scientific meeting), an external blog post (by a professional scientist) or a news item (in the mainstream news media), which you think might make an interesting topic for an FQXi blog post, then please contact us at forums@fqxi.org with a link to the original source and a sentence about why you think that the work is worthy of discussion. Please note that we receive many such suggestions and while we endeavour to respond to them, we may not be able to reply to all suggestions.

Please also note that we do not accept unsolicited posts and we cannot review, or open new threads for, unsolicited articles or papers. Requests to review or post such materials will not be answered. If you have your own novel physics theory or model, which you would like to post for further discussion among then FQXi community, then please add them directly to the "Alternative Models of Reality" thread, or to the "Alternative Models of Cosmology" thread. Thank you.

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RECENT FORUM POSTS

Joe Fisher: "Dear Steve, Please try to understand that infinite surface am not a..." in Watching the Observers

Steve Agnew: "Supposing the universe is infinite is simply another way of supposing the..." in Watching the Observers

kurt stocklmeir: "spring constant of time and space is not linear - this influences a lot of..." in Alternative Models of...

Kevin Adams: "Very interesting theme! Thanks a lot for this information. I just going to..." in Multiversal Journeys —...

Colin Richardson: ""According to quantum mechanics, a vacuum isn't empty at all. It's actually..." in Manipulating the Quantum...

Lorraine Ford: "Dear Rajiv, I have already addressed your 3 points, but I will put it to..." in FQXi Essay Contest 2016:...

Peter Morgan: "An e-mail sent to me by Springer Nature today tells me that because I am at..." in Manipulating the Quantum...

munized ward: "Variety exists inside all populaces of life forms. This happens somewhat in..." in Natural Selection in...


RECENT ARTICLES
click titles to read articles

Watching the Observers
Accounting for quantum fuzziness could help us measure space and time—and the cosmos—more accurately.

Bohemian Reality: Searching for a Quantum Connection to Consciousness
Is there are sweet spot where artificial intelligence systems could have the maximum amount of consciousness while retaining powerful quantum properties?

Quantum Replicants: Should future androids dream of quantum sheep?
To build the ultimate artificial mimics of real life systems, we may need to use quantum memory.

Painting a QBist Picture of Reality
A radical interpretation of physics makes quantum theory more personal.

The Spacetime Revolutionary
Carlo Rovelli describes how black holes may transition to "white holes," according to loop quantum gravity, a radical rewrite of fundamental physics.


FQXi BLOGS
June 24, 2017

New Blog Entries
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We Are All Connected
By BRENDAN FOSTER • May. 5, 2017 @ 21:25 GMT

Can you write a song about physics that is actually a good song? Not a joke song or a spoof song; not a song whose only purpose is to teach you the parts of an equation. A song that is on its own simply a good song, but that is also somehow about physics.



To do that you have to understand at a deep, intuitive level what physics tells us about our world. And then you have to translate that into music.



I know of one person who can do it. Sabine Hossenfelder has just released two new songs, "Catching Light" and "Schrödinger’s Cat". To go with the songs, there are two excellent videos that include short explainers of the physics from Sabine. I am happy to say the videos were funded by an FQXi mini-grant.

As well as a songwriter and videomaker, Sabine is a physics research fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, where her research is supported in part by an FQXi grant for her project on spacetime defects.

There is more information about the videos on Sabine’s blog.

(And for an earlier song, which won “best/worst earworm” in our FQXi video contest, watch “I saw the future”.)
24 comments | view comments


Towards a Goal — Two Weeks to Go
By BRENDAN FOSTER • Feb. 21, 2017 @ 14:45 GMT

We are not slouching towards our goal, we are not wandering towards it, we are stepping firmly towards it.

We have just under two weeks left until the closing date of our 2017 essay contest, Wandering Towards a Goal, and we have over 80 entries so far. (60 posted, and the rest in processing.) Historically, the number of entries at this moment in the contest triples over the last two weeks. At this rate, we may end up with 240, which smashes our past record.

The due date to enter is next Friday March 3, 2017, just before midnight Eastern Time. Take some time to read our summary of the theme, and the full rules; then think deeply and creatively; then write your essay!

You can also read submitted essays and leave comments and questions for the authors.

Good reading, good writing, and good luck.
39 comments | view comments


Review of “A Big Bang in a Little Room: The Quest to Create New Universes” by Zeeya Merali
By IAN DURHAM • Feb. 9, 2017 @ 16:51 GMT

In all the talk of the multiverse that gets tossed around these days, there's a subtle but important point that is often lost: there are really two completely different notions of a multiverse. What one thinks of when someone utters the word "multiverse" likely depends on whether one is most influenced by cosmology or by quantum physics. To the latter, the multiverse is typically viewed in the context of the Everett-DeWitt interpretation of quantum mechanics in which every process that includes more than one possible outcome, leads to a bifurcation of the universe in which the process occurred, into multiple universes, one for each possible outcome of the process. In such a multiverse (whose core idea is due more to DeWitt than Everett), everything that can happen, will happen.

In the inflationary multiverse, each "universe" is really a patch of space that becomes isolated due to eternal inflation. This is subtly different than the Everett-DeWitt model which suggests an actual bifurcation of reality. As it turns out, the difference could also have ethical and moral implications, some of which are discussed in Zeeya Merali's new book A Big Bang in a Little Room: The Quest to Create New Universes (Basic Books, 2017; $27.99).

Merali's book explores the quest by some physicists to produce new, "baby" universes in a lab. As preposterous as it sounds, the idea is largely grounded in accepted physics, though does remain highly speculative. In an Everett-DeWitt model, new universes are constantly being created ad infinitum as we blithely go about our day. There appears to be little we could do to affect change in any branching universe within this multiverse model. On the other hand, the inflationary universe model of the multiverse holds the promise of intentionally planning the creation of a baby universe which raises the thorny question of whether we would be responsible for the suffering of any living beings produced in that universe. We would, to some extent, be playing God.

These and other issues are tackled head-on in Merali's book, but in an engaging and subtle manner. The book is largely constructed from a series of interviews with physicists around the globe who are either actively thinking about how to create baby universes or who played a role in the development of inflationary theory. As someone who has been interviewed by Merali multiple times, I can personally attest to her ability to make the interviewee feel at ease and this sense clearly comes across in the book. Interviews are more like discussions with Zeeya.

One get’s the sense, though, that this project was less about writing a book and more about her own quest to more fully understand the universe. At times, one gets the impression that she is wrestling with some deeply personal questions. Far from detracting from the narrative, however, I think it adds to the human aspect of the story.

I did have a few minor quibbles here and there, but Merali is an accomplished scientist herself having received her PhD in physics from Brown University under noted cosmologist Robert Brandenberger, and so some of my quibbles might be considered "professional differences." In all, it was an enjoyable book that addressed an exciting area of modern physics research in a thought-provoking way. For anyone interested in the "big questions," this book is essential reading since it deals with perhaps the biggest question of all: can we—should we—humble human beings create a universe?

A Big Bang in a Little Room: The Quest to Create New Universes is available to buy here.
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2016: The Physics Year in Review
By ZEEYA MERALI • Dec. 30, 2016 @ 23:34 GMT

Free Podcast

Counting down the biggest physics breakthroughs of 2016, with Ian Durham.

LISTEN:

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Cutting things fine, but just before we say goodbye (and good riddance!) to 2016, we're taking a look back at the physics highlights of the past year.

As usual, I'm joined on the year-end podcast by quantum physicist and FQXi member Ian Durham of Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, who has chosen his top 5 physics stories of the year, plus a couple of bonuses.

The first part of the countdown is now up, with the rest to follow soon. See if you agree with his choices, and can guess what's next on the list.

Free Podcast

Concluding our list of the top physics breakthroughs of 2016, as chosen by Ian Durham.

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Updated on New Year's Eve to add the second and last part of our countdown, revealing the top 4 physics breakthroughs of 2016.
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Retrocausality, Terrorism, and How to Write Bestsellers: New Podcast is live!
By ZEEYA MERALI • Dec. 14, 2016 @ 17:18 GMT

LIGO/A. Simmonet
The latest edition of the podcast is now up. (For those expecting our regular December countdown of the year’s top physics stories with Ian Durham, do not fear: I will be posting that too, later this month.)

I recorded a couple of the interviews featured in this edition back at FQXi’s meeting in Banff, back in August. As well as the main talks (videos of which are constantly being added to our Youtube channel), we also have a “lightning round,” in which participants have a few minutes to talk about their latest research. Two of those, in particular, caught my attention, so I asked the speakers to explain a bit more for the podcast.

Free Podcast

Retrocausal reality with Ken Wharton; tips for FQXi's new essay contest; the Breakthrough prizes in physics; the science of terrorism, with Peter Byrne; & Carlo Rovelli gives a brief lesson on writing a physics bestseller.

LISTEN:

Go to full podcast

First up is physicist Ken Wharton, of San Jose State University, who talks about retrocausality—the idea that at the microlevel, events in the future can influence the past. This time-twisting view of reality might help solve some quantum paradoxes, if we’re willing to give up our everyday notions of cause and effect. Listen to Wharton to find out more about why some physicists are taking this so seriously. You can also read more about the topic in this profile of quantum physicist Matt Leifer, who is also delving into retrocausality, by Kate Becker.

If that wasn’t provocative enough, journalist Peter Byrne’s lightning talk was called “The Science of ISIS”—which certainly made the audience sit up and take notice. In his podcast interview, he explains why this topic, which he is researching for a new book, fitted well with one of the themes of the conference, “the Physics of the Observer.”

We should also congratulate Byrne because he recently won a gold award in the Kavli Science Journalism awards.

Two other FQXi members, string theorists Joe Polchinski and Andrew Strominger, along with Cumrun Vafa, were honoured in recent weeks, sharing the $3 million Breakthrough prize for Fundamental Physics. Polchinski was nominated in part for his work on the firewall paradox; with colleagues, he realised that if quantum theory is correct, then black holes are surrounded by a firewall, a ring of high energy particles (contradicting general relativity), or there is no firewall, but quantum theory is wrong. The LIGO collaboration also won a special Breakthrough prize for their discovery of gravitational waves generated by the merger of two black holes, earlier this year.

In the news round-up, Brendan and I chat about the Breakthrough winners—as well as a new piece of research that brings both Breakthrough physics awards together: Cosmologist Niayesh Afshordi recently carried out an analysis looking for echoes of the gravitational wave signals, which would signal the breakdown of general relativity at the black hole’s edge, its event horizon, which could even, he says, be signs of a firewall, or other exotic physics. As I wrote in a news article about the work for Nature, Afshordi’s team has found tentative signs of such echoes—potentially the first signs of general relativity unravelling. You can read more about that in my story, "LIGO Black Hole Echoes Hint at General-Relativity Breakdown."

Plus Brendan offers more information and tips for this year’s $40,000 essay contest, “Wandering Towards a Goal.”

And finally, Carlo Rovelli chats to reporter Colin Stuart about how to write an international bestseller, like his phenomenally successful “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.” You can also read Colin’s profile of Rovelli, and his work looking for observational signs of loop quantum gravity, in the form of black holes turning into white holes, in the article, “The Spacetime Revolutionary.”

Enjoy!
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Recent Blog Entries

FQXi Essay Contest 2016: Wandering Towards a Goal
By BRENDAN FOSTER
In physics we tend to stick to asking what happened, how did it happen? We like to describe, usually in minute details. We like to use the smallest possible components, “building blocks”, “unit cells".

But there are other ways to think...
December 2nd, 2016 | 430 comments | view blog entry & comments

The Disintegration of the Moon; Art & Jazz Meet...
By ZEEYA MERALI
[picture]While you weren’t looking, more content from FQXi’s 5th International meeting in Banff has started to trickle through, including a bit more audio and a lot more video. Thanks for your patience.

First up, Brendan Foster and I...
November 11th, 2016 | 130 comments | view blog entry & comments

Koalas, Quantum Mechanics and My Role as the 2016...
By CATALINA CURCEANU
[picture]This August, I was honored to make my first visit to Australia as the winner of the 2016 Women in Physics International Award of the Australian Institute of Physics (AIP). I gave a series of lectures across Australia, holding about 30...
November 2nd, 2016 | 8 comments | view blog entry & comments

Defining the Observer
By IAN DURHAM
The main theme of August's FQXi conference was centered around the physics of the observer and so, in wrapping up our discussion of the conference, it remains to be asked if any progress was made toward a better understanding of the concept. As with...
October 5th, 2016 | 141 comments | view blog entry & comments

Defining Existence
By IAN DURHAM
What exists? On the one hand, this seems like the kind of naval-gazing question that provokes derision and mockery from those more interested in practical matters. I exist, you exist, this blog post exists. It's self-evident, right? Of course one...
September 15th, 2016 | 257 comments | view blog entry & comments

Science Funding in an Evolving Economy
By IAN DURHAM
While it isn’t the sexiest topic for a blog post, this year’s FQXi conference did include a panel discussion on science funding that raised a number of salient points worth discussing. I will slightly abuse this space and pontificate a...
September 5th, 2016 | 246 comments | view blog entry & comments

Debating Consciousness and its Measurability
By IAN DURHAM
One of the many highlights of the recent FQXi conference on the Physics of the Observer was the session on consciousness. Consciousness is quite possibly the most enigmatic aspect of human existence. It is at the core of who we are as individuals...
September 1st, 2016 | 32 comments | view blog entry & comments

What Happens Inside the Wavefunction? Sean Carroll...
By ZEEYA MERALI
Updated on 11 November 2016. Video of Sean Carroll's' talk is now up. More video is available on FQXi's youtube channel.

[video]

From 21 August 2016:

On Friday, cosmologist Sean Carroll spoke about his latest...
August 21st, 2016 | 69 comments | view blog entry & comments

Dirty Secrets of…Quantum Foundations: Matt...
By ZEEYA MERALI
Updated on 11 November 2016. Video of Matt Leifer's' talk is now up. More video is available on FQXi's youtube channel.

[video]

From 20 August 2016:

Audio from Matt Leifer’s talk from the FQXi meeting has now been...
August 20th, 2016 | 151 comments | view blog entry & comments

Dirty Secrets of...Life: Paul Davies at the 5th...
By ZEEYA MERALI
Updated on 11 November 2016. Video of Paul Davies' talk is now up. More video is available on FQXi's youtube channel.

[video]

From 19 August 2016:

Greetings from Banff, Alberta, where FQXi is currently holding its...
August 19th, 2016 | 16 comments | view blog entry & comments

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