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John Cox: "So Tom, now that you have retired, aside from honing your integrated..." in Ripping Apart Einstein

Thomas Ray: "Georgina, if you've never heard of Shakira, perhaps you can consider the..." in Ripping Apart Einstein

Steve Agnew: "The rabbit you pulled was dodging the black hole with an AGN, which of..." in Why Quantum?

Peter Jackson: "Steve, Suggesting AGN's are rabbits from hats to astronomers is like..." in Why Quantum?

Domenico Oricchio: "I am thinking that if there was a Big Bang, then there was many Big Bangs..." in Hanny's Voorwerp, and...

Steve Agnew: "I get a kick out of these sorts of discoveries...dark matter is a patch for..." in The Quasar Cluster that...

Peter Jackson: "John, That's as predicted by the 'kinetic decoupling' model in the..." in The Quasar Cluster that...

Thomas Ray: ""'science is a wholly rationalist enterprise.' But human affairs are not." ..." in “Utopia or Dystopia”

click titles to read articles

Heart of Darkness
An intrepid physicist attempts to climb into the core of black hole.

Why Quantum?
Entropy could explain why nature chose to play by quantum rules.

Reality's NeverEnding Story
A quantum version of Darwinian natural selection could enable the universe to write itself into being.

The Quantum Dictionary
Mark Van Raamsdonk is re-writing how we define the shape of our universe. Can such translations help to unite quantum theory and gravity?

Q&A with Paul Davies: What is Time?
Where does time come from? Why does it seem to flow?

July 23, 2014

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“Utopia or Dystopia”
By ZEEYA MERALI • Jul. 8, 2014 @ 14:03 GMT

Rick Searle of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies has a post up about this year’s essay contest. Check it out here.

The essay contest is now closed for votes, but as you know, it is still open for debate.

Also, don’t forget that there is still time to enter and vote in our video contest, Show Me the Physics!.
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Consciousness = Maths, Simulating Time Travel, BICEP2 Scrutinised and Quantum Entropy
By ZEEYA MERALI • Jul. 7, 2014 @ 17:23 GMT

Just a quick round-up of some more video and audio on offer.

If you've been following Max Tegmark's latest ideas on consciousness as a state of matter (which I blogged about in January), then you'll enjoy his TEDx Cambridge talk:

I've also posted the latest FQXi podcast, which this month includes physicists Andrew White and Martin Ringbauer talking about their quantum experiments to simulate time travel, in particular closed timeline curves (CTCs), in the lab. The team uses two photons -- one representing the older version of the time travel and the other its younger self -- and then monitors what happens when the two interact. When CTCs are involved, they have found that a some standard quantum rules need to be rewritten: Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is violated, and the quantum no-cloning theorem no longer applies.

Physicist Malcolm Fairbairn also chats about his analysis which shows that if the BICEP2 results stand, the model of inflation they favour -- combined with data we now know about Higgs boson -- suggests that the universe should have collapsed long ago. The BICEP2 results are, of course, under scrutiny, right now, as cosmologists ponder whether the results, which I blogged about in March, really do provide evidence of primordial gravitational waves, or were instead caused by contamination from dust in our galaxy. In the main podcast, we're hear Alan Guth's thoughts on the controversy (recorded in May). On the podcast page, you can also listen to a longer interview with Guth, where he discusses the implications for reconciling the data with Planck, models of inflations, grand unified theories and the multiverse, if the results do hold.

Plus, Colin Stuart talks to FQXi members Jon Barrett and Matt Leifer about their quest to explain why nature chose quantum theory, based on an investigation of entropy in thermodynamics and information theory. You can read and discuss Colin's profile of their work here too.

The podcast is available here.

And back to Max, on an older podcast special, in January, we shared the audio from his talk at the FQXi conference in Puerto Rico. The video of that talk is now up, if you haven't seen it already:

We've also uploaded this panel discussion on consciousness from that meeting, featuring Max, along with neuroscientists Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi, psychiatrist Larissa Albantakis and electronics developer Federico Faggin:


Show Me the Physics!
By BRENDAN FOSTER • May. 9, 2014 @ 16:19 GMT

Video idea 1: Debunk your favorite physics myth
Part of our goal at FQXi is to get people talking and wondering about the fascinating and confusing foundational physics research we support. We also want to be a point of connection between the researchers and teachers and everyone else who has an interest in physics.

That's why we are excited to announce our new VIDEO contest Show Me the Physics!

FQXi wants to see your best videos that highlight how fun and stimulating physics can be.This contest aims to get people around the world excited about studying physics, with the hope that some of them go on to make their own physics discoveries. This Contest will show people (and/or pets) exploring and learning about physics phenomena in wild, innovative, and fun ways.

Video topics and content can cover everything from unsolved physics mysteries, interviews with physicists, fictional tales (that use CORRECT physics), and even fuzzy animals doing cute things that Show Us the Physics!

Video idea 2: Explain your favorite equation
We welcome entries from everyone -- no experience required, all experience allowed. You can record using professional equipment, amateur camcorders, smartphones, tablets, or whatever. The main idea is that learning physics, doing physics -- and making videos about the experience -- is fun. We will judge entries based on the quality of physics content and their entertainment value, with less focus on the technical quality of the footage.

Entry is easy -- you make a video, post it on YouTube (with the hashtag #FQXiVideoContest2014), then fill out the application form. (Entrants under the age of 18 must be represented by an adult parent, guardian, or teacher.)

Video idea 3: Demo your favorite experiment
To stimulate the discussion, we will award prizes up to $10,000, including a 'Young Scientists' prize for entrants under 18--which includes a Skype chat with FQXi directors and foundational physicists Max Tegmark and Anthony Aguirre.

You can find our full rules here. Accepting entries until August 8, so you have some time to storyboard and round up your crew, or to charge up your iphone. Check the contest page for early entries now, and check back regularly for new entries.
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How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
By BRENDAN FOSTER • Apr. 19, 2014 @ 04:51 GMT

Greetings all -- Just a quick announcement to say our current essay contest -- How Should Humanity Steer the Future? -- is closed for entries as of now. We are currently reviewing all the great entries that arrived in the past few days, so expect to see new essays continuously posted over the next week. Enjoy!
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FQXb (bio)
By WILLIAM OREM • Mar. 23, 2014 @ 21:39 GMT

Everyone is talking this week about the dramatic confirmation of inflationary theory: those first-instant gravitational waves whose details may even point--being, if you will, quantum phenomena that went suddenly ultra-macroscopic--toward the correct way to unify QM and GR.

I myself have been musing on rather astonishing work in another field. Will you pardon the intrusion if we talk a little bit about biology?

Recently the big news there was released: an unprepossessing experiment involving a weak acid bath showed it's possible to revert mature, differentiated cells to a stem cell state, allowing for the prospect of wholesale repurposing. The surprise wasn't that reversion (or conversion from one mature type into another) can be done--genetics work in that direction took home a Nobel in 2012--but that it can be done so simply. Since FQXers are a physics crowd, you might say it's a bit like someone offhandedly noticing you can trigger a controlled fusion reaction by rewiring a microwave oven.

This is the angle most science journalists gave the discovery last month: "Outsider runs outrageous experiment, stumbles upon success." Charles Vacanti's brilliance, we were told--"outsider" because he's an anesthesiologist, without even a Ph.D.--came in trying something that anyone could have done, but nobody though to, because it was just too unlikely. There can be a virtue to not being too educated in a certain field; to get all Zen about it, "In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the adult's mind, there are few."

Alas--you knew this part was coming--it is now looking like the champagne may have been premature. There are certain "improprieties in the data," as it has been politely phrased in the weeks since. (Or, as a friend of mine--himself a Harvard neuroscientist--more trenchantly put it: "A weak acid bath? Give me a break.") One of the photographs in the article has already been confirmed to be a goof. No one is averring foul play, but whether we have a home-run or a whiff is in serious question.

Either way, though, I'm left musing.

Were I to win the Lottery tomorrow, I would immediately do two things: fund FQXi indefinitely and expand it into other fields. Imagine an FQXpb (psychobiology) or an FQXg (genetics). After all, it is not only cosmology and high energy physics that carry foundational questions. Who was it that floated the idea--wacky, but rather wonderful to contemplate--that if "junk DNA" really has no purpose, at some point we might want to mine it for communication, perhaps put there by the species that fabricated us? (In his novel Contact, Carl Sagan came up with lovely notion that pi, when you advance to the point of being able to decipher its pattern, turns out to be an instruction manual on how to operate reality from the beings who engineered this region of spacetime.)

So, in the spirit of FQX bio, let's just assume for the moment that Vacanti et. al. paper is correct. What follows? Therapies for spinal cord injury and damaged heart tissue, by all means; bring them on. But what really would be interesting would be the fact of simple cellular reversibility. This phenomenon would be telling us something completely surprising about what cells are, at a deep level--and what, by extension, we ourselves are.

As a finding, it's counterintuitive. Why should cells, already long since differentiated, be capable at all of reverting to a stem state, as if awaiting reassignment? (As Rabi said of the muon, who ordered that?)

Is this a natural propensity of all cellular life? Is mutability far more common than has been understood? Does cell reversion happen all the time in the body, and we just never noticed it? (Don't scoff; we should remember it was the 16th century before medical science understood the circulation of the blood.) Could this be a key to understanding what cancers are, at a deep level?

From Carolyn Y. Johnson's Boston Globe article of Feb. 17:

"Even normal cells appear to contain a capacity for regeneration far more powerful than anyone knew. This new idea is opening up profound, almost philosophical questions about why cells would have this capacity. [ . . . ]

'It's slowly changed how we think about life, and I know that sounds grandiose, but it's not grandiose at all,' said Dr. Richard T. Lee, a stem cell scientist at Brigham and Women's Hospital."

Life coming to know itself; not too grandiose at all, I should think.

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Recent Blog Entries

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