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 email@example.com 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.
Dropping Schrödinger's Cat Into a Black Hole
Combining gravity with the process that transforms the fuzzy uncertainty of the quantum realm into the definite classical world we see around us could lead to a theory of quantum gravity.
On Friday, cosmologist Sean Carroll spoke about his latest research into the emergence of space — and maybe gravity — from quantum entanglement.
Sophie Hebden has profiled Carroll’s work for us, in the article “In Search of a Quantum Spacetime.” Many physicists, when trying to think about what the world looks like on small scales, start with a classical framework — a picture of the world in which objects have definite properties — and then try to modify it to make it quantum. Carroll and his colleagues argue that nature is fundamentally quantum and work their way back to the world we see around us from that staring point.
Listen to the audio from his talk to find out more about this, and the idea of describing the evolution of systems in terms of “quantum circuits.”
Sean Carroll asks What Happens Inside the Wavefunction? From the 5th FQXi International Meeting.
Audio from Matt Leifer’s talk from the FQXi meeting has now been posted here (video of this, and all other talks from the meeting will follow). If you’ve been following our essay contests over recent years, you’ll know that Leifer tends to place highly, and usually has something both profound and entertaining to say. His talk in the “Dirty Secrets” session lived up to expectations.
Leifer’s main target in his talk was the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, which he says most physicists subscribe to (though there were doubts expressed about that in the room). I’m wary of attempting to define what it is because a large part of Leifer’s argument is that there is no consistent definition. But it’s the interpretation attributed to a bunch of quantum theory’s founding fathers — and the one that physicists are often taught at school. It says that before you look, a quantum object is described by a wavefunction that encompasses a number of possibilities (a particle being here and there, a cat being dead and alive), and that when you look, this collapses into definiteness. Schrödinger’s equation allows you to calculate the probability of the outcome of a quantum experiment, but you can’t really know, and probably shouldn’t even worry about, what’s happening before you look.
Quantum physicist Matt Leifer reveals the dirty secrets of quantum foundations: the Copenhagen Interpretation does not exist and Copenhagen-like interpretations are as crazy as invoking parallel universes. From the 5th International FQXi meeting.
On top of that, Leifer argues that Copenhagen-like interpretations, rather than being the most sensible option (as is often claimed), are actually just as whacky as, for instance, the Many World’s Interpretation.
The FQXi pixies are working hard to bring you all the great content from our speakers and participants as fast as we can. First up, we have audio from Paul Davies talking about what we know — and what we don’t — about the origin of life. Is it as easy to explain as we might have been led to believe? Do we need to factor in quantum effects to understand it? Is Darwinian natural selection enough to explain what’s going on? Is Lamarckism dead? (Note: To be extra classy this year, we're conducting the conference in B&W.)
You can listen to his talk here. (We were running short on time, in case you’re wondering about the abrupt cut at the end.)
You can also read more about some of the ideas he discusses on the site. Carinne Piekema has written about evidence for quantum effects in biology (bird brains and in our noses), and how living organisms may use quantum processing to predict the future, and you can also listen to Susanne Still and Luca Turin talking about these issues on past editions of the podcast too.
There will be more audio, video and posts to follow soon. Stay tuned.
Last October, FQXi announced its new program on Physics of the Observer, including a request for proposals on research and outreach projects. We asked applicants to consider questions like, what does it mean to be an observer? What sort of systems can act as observers? And, how does the concept of an observer play into the nature of physics?
We are now happy to reveal the results of our proposal review. From an initial list of over 250 short proposals, our review experts have read, analyzed, and discussed applications, and finally recommended 23 proposals for funding. You can consult the full list here.
As always, the total amount we had available in this round — $2,000,000 — is tiny within the world of physics funding (and compared to the total amount requested), and we were not able to support many other excellent, worthy submitted proposals. This made for a painful process for the reviewers, though this pain was at least assuaged by how interesting the proposals were to read!
Each of the projects recommended by our review team has something novel, interesting, and important to offer on the topic of Physics of Observers. Just to mention a few examples:
Lidia del Rio and Renato Renner, Many Worlds, Many Times will connect the nature of observers with the nature of time, within the framework of the "many-worlds" interpretation of quantum theory. The aim is to study how to relate the experience of different observers across the "worlds," and possibly define a notion of common time.
Christopher Fuchs and Christopher Timpson, Does Participatory Realism Make Sense? seek to "dissect" interpretations of quantum mechanics that place the observer as a primary, fundamental element. The PIs have strongly opposed opinions on the material they will dissect, so the project is structured as a collaborative dialogue between the two viewpoints. Let the duel of the Chris's commence!
Markus Mueller, Emergent Objective Reality, asks, "What if the notion of ‘observation’ is truly fundamental, and physics is an emergent phenomenon?" This ambitious project will look at this question and others related to the nature of observers using techniques from information theory and theoretical computer science, applied across diverse topics in physics.
Chanda Prescod–Weinstein and Sarah Tuttle, Epistemological Schemata of Astro|Physics, will examine issues of diversity in physics, with a focus on assumptions and biases hiding in common notions of the "detached" or "unbiased" scientific observer. The project will create a discussion of critical issues that connect physics with society at large, while relating to fundamental questions in science.
We again congratulate our new grantees, and express our gratitude to everyone who applied, especially those who were invited to submit full proposals — which took a great deal of time and resources to prepare. We also thank our donors, and especially the John Templeton Foundation, for making this and other FQXi programs possible.
Believe it or not, it’s a decade since FQXi launched, back in May 2006. There’ll be more celebrations on the site to come, but to commemorate our birthday month, we invited one of FQXi’s directors, Anthony Aguirre, on to the latest edition of the podcast. He talks about why the institute was launched, its ups and downs, and one of his favourite research projects funded by FQXi. I’d be interested to know in the comments if you agree with his choice…
In the news round-up, Brendan and I chat through the launch of the first quantum science satellite, scheduled for July, in China. The project is led by FQXi member Pan Jian-wei. We also discuss Kepler’s announcement of the discovery of over a thousand new exoplanets, and Breakthrough Starshot — a mission to send tiny spacecraft to Alpha Centauri. (The latter is funded by Russian billionaire, Yuri Milner, who received some criticism over the feasibility of the project. I interviewed Milner for Science about these issues, and you can read that Q&A here.) Aguirre discusses some of these news items with us, along with the question of who should be responsible for funding the bulk of foundational research: the government, charitable foundations, or individuals?
Catalina Oana Curceanu, a quantum physicist at National Institute of Nuclear Physics, in Frascati, Italy, talks about her team’s experiments to test collapse models — rivals to standard quantum theory that explain why large objects don’t retain quantum properties, that is, why we never really see cats that are both alive and dead at the same time — with reporter Carinne Piekema. You can also read Curceanu’s Q&A, by Carinne.
And finally, cosmologist Sean Carroll explains his research on how space and time emerge from quantum theory, and talks about his latest book, The Big Picture, to reporter Sophie Hebden. If you like the sound of Carroll’s research, don’t worry, there will be a more detailed article by Sophie, on the site, soon.
David Ritz Finkelstein (1929 - 2016) By BOB COECKE
We all just enjoyed the detection of gravitational waves due to two colliding black holes. David Ritz Finkelstein, who passed away in January, was the first, in 1958, who identified Schwarzschild's solution of the GR equations as corresponding to a...
RIP Edgar Mitchell By WILLIAM OREM
Rest In Peace astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon and the last member of the Apollo 14 mission. He was oddly credulous for a man of science, confusing the public with his proclamations that alien visitors interceded in the...
How risky is too risky? Evaluating the expected... By ANTHONY AGUIRRE
[picture]On Dec. 8, 2015, two different groups (sharing an author) posted papers to the arXiv announcing the possible detection of planet-sized objects in the far outer solar system (Vlemmings et al, arXiv:1512.02650v2 and Liseau et...
Measuring Consciousness in the Lab By MAX TEGMARK
[picture]If you're driving, you're having a subjective experience of colors, sounds and vibrations. But does a self-driving car have a subjective experience? Does it feel like anything at all to be a self-driving car, or is it a zombie in the sense...
2015 in Review: New Podcast on Planets, Particles... By ZEEYA MERALI
We’re taking our annual look back at the physics highlights of the past 12 months — as chosen by FQXi member Ian Durham, a quantum physicist at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire. Ian will be counting down his top 5 picks in a special podcast...
Detecting Parallel Universes Hidden Inside Back... By ZEEYA MERALI
[picture]It’s hard to say what’s the most exciting element of this new paper on parallel universes, the inflationary multiverse, and black holes, by Tufts cosmologist (and FQXi member) Alex Vilenkin and colleagues. Is it the idea that black holes...
New Podcast: Shifty Neutrinos Win Big, a Cosmic... By ZEEYA MERALI
[picture]Congratulations to the 1300-strong group of physicists who won the Breakthrough Prize in physics on Sunday, for the discovery of neutrino oscillations—confirming that neutrinos can switch identities and have mass. This is the same...