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Pentcho Valev: on 2/4/13 at 22:50pm UTC, wrote Ken Wharton showed that the basic physical assumption: "The universe is a...

Brendan Foster: on 2/4/13 at 22:15pm UTC, wrote Just a bit of news--I've heard that Ken Wharton, one of our third prize...

Paul Reed: on 12/24/12 at 6:38am UTC, wrote Curt Not exactly, but I have the impression that you know there is a...

Curt Youngs: on 12/23/12 at 20:38pm UTC, wrote Yes, congratulations to all the winners, and boo to all the whiners. ...

Paul Reed: on 12/18/12 at 17:57pm UTC, wrote Eckard I have looked at Giovanni’s essay, and the posts, to try and...

Eckard Blumschein: on 12/18/12 at 17:48pm UTC, wrote Correction: I meant revelation of "The Mistake by Michelson and Morley"...

Paul Reed: on 12/18/12 at 17:10pm UTC, wrote Eckard I cannot properly follow this, perhaps because it is an interaction...

Eckard Blumschein: on 12/18/12 at 15:09pm UTC, wrote Not just Paul and Giovanni do not doubt each being factual correct. Cannot...


Steven Andresen: "James Have a look over these two diagrams. I drew these up quite a while..." in Alternative Models of...

Steven Andresen: "James I've just returned home from a long day of surfing, so dont have the..." in Alternative Models of...

Georgina Woodward: "Pentcho, though the speed of the source will affect the spatial..." in 2016: The Physics Year in...

Pentcho Valev: "What Was The Worst Mistake Ever Made In Theoretical Physics? My reply in..." in 2016: The Physics Year in...

Lorraine Ford: "This is my comment on H Chris Ransford’s essay “Where the Question..." in FQXi Essay Contest 2016:...

Ted Erikson: "Is anyone aware of a geometric model or mechanism for "panpsychism"? In..." in FQXi Essay Contest 2016:...

micheal le: "thuốc bổ thận là bệnh hiếm gặp ở nam giới, tuy nhiên..." in New Podcast: A MICROSCOPE...

Joe Fisher: "Dear Anonymous, If anybody wishes to know more about me, they are welcome..." in Riding the Rogue Quantum...

click titles to read articles

Painting a QBist Picture of Reality

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.

Riding the Rogue Quantum Waves
Could giant sea swells help explain how the macroscopic world emerges from the quantum microworld? (Image credit: MIT News)

Rescuing Reality
A "retrocausal" rewrite of physics, in which influences from the future can affect the past, could solve some quantum quandaries—saving Einstein's view of reality along the way.

Untangling Quantum Causation
Figuring out if A causes B should help to write the rulebook for quantum physics.

January 22, 2017

CATEGORY: Blog [back]
TOPIC: Questioning the Foundations: Results [refresh]
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FQXi Administrator Brendan Foster wrote on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 17:26 GMT
And now! I am happy to announce the winners of our 2012 Essay Contest, "Questioning the Foundations: Which of Our Assumptions Are Wrong?"

Without further ado, here are the winners:

First prize of $10,000 goes to ...

Rob Spekkens, for his essay, The Paradigm of Kinematics and Dynamics Must Yield to Causal Structure.

Rob, a researcher at Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada, asked whether we should reconsider the conventional dichotomy of "kinematic" and "dynamic".

Our Second Prize winners, who both receive $5,000, are ...

George Ellis and Steven Weinstein

George Ellis, from University of Cape Town in South Africa, asked in his essay, Recognising Top-Down Causation, whether nature might contain fundamental but complex structures that we cannot derive from more basic entities.

Steven Weinstein, from University of Waterloo and Perimeter Institute, asked in Patterns in the Fabric of Nature whether what happens at one point in space is really independent from what happens at other points.

A further five essays received Third Prize, receiving $2,000 each (and a Membership invitation where applicable), and ten other essays received Fourth Prize and $1,000. Visit this link to view the full list of winners.

On behalf of all the FQXi administration, I want to thank our cosponsers -- The Peter & Patricia Gruber Foundation, and Submeta. And I also want to thank our media partner Scientific American.

And finally, all of us at FQXi want to say thank you to everyone who participated, including the authors of all 271 entries, who helped make this our biggest contest ever. Here's to the next contest!

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FQXi Administrator Brendan Foster replied on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 20:09 GMT
AND Finally, I am happy to announce that we have two Special Commendation Prizes to award this year. As stated in the contest rules, these prizes (officially "Judging Panel Discretionary Prizes") go to non-professional and/or non-academic entrants, and come with a cash award of $1,000 each. The panel nominated the following essays for being well-written with interesting presentations. Congratulations go to:

Karl Coryat, for Toward an Informational Mechanics


Amanda Gefter, for Cosmic Solipsism

We had so many strong entries, many of which did not even make the final pool. So to be fair, I have to emphasize that the special commendations do not mean that the panel necessarily ranked these two entries above all others in terms of all-around score. The panel did, though, find them to be good reads and worthy of commendation.

One more time, then -- Thank you to all the entrants, our sponsors, our panel, and everyone who stopped by to read and discuss.

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John Merryman wrote on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 17:47 GMT
I would say this contest proves to be a cautious, but very definite step forward in bringing physics back from its current theoretical extremes.

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James Putnam wrote on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 18:07 GMT
Thanks for another valuable and open essay contest. Congratulations to all the winners. I'll try again next time.

James Putnam

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James Putnam replied on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 20:57 GMT
Just read this from the Contests link: "Stay tuned ... FQXi will be announcing its new Essay Contest soon!". An unexpected, by me, "...soon!". Yeah!

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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 18:45 GMT
Congratulations to all the winners!

An interesting and eclectic field indeed. I note that when comparing the judges' decisions and the community ranking - Causal Structure came out on top both times. Perhaps Ben and Robert can work together, at some point, or now that he will be a member - if I recall the rules correctly.

Someone in my shoes can always wish FQXi had found room for one or two more prizes, but I understand that might have been difficult. Seeing how many very fine essays there were in the tier just below the finalists, I can understand that there might have been several essays tied for honorable mention - making it impossible to pick one or two.

Next year perhaps....


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Georgina Parry wrote on Nov. 30, 2012 @ 19:33 GMT
Congratulations winners! I haven't yet read all of the winning entries but look forward to doing so.

Well done FQXi for hosting an amazing contest. Thank you for giving us all the opportunity to see such a marvellous, diverse array of ideas.Thank you too to all of the participants. I have enjoyed the many discussions and the kind responses to my own essay were very much appreciated.

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AndyM wrote on Dec. 1, 2012 @ 03:20 GMT
It is gratifying to see that in the end the contest worked out so well. 7 out of the top 8 and 12 out of the top 13 highest rated essays won prizes and deservedly so. Congratulations to the winners and all the essayists.


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James Putnam replied on Dec. 1, 2012 @ 05:55 GMT
Dear AndyM,

It has worked out well for every contest thus far. As you say: "It is gratifying...". This experiment by is an amazing occurance. is the best location on the Internet for discussions about physics and its effects upon other branches of science. The discussions are open. Professionals and non-professionals say what they think about how to move forward our understanding of the operation of the universe.

While such discussions can be very 'trying' on the professionals, it is not easy for the non-professionals either. I think that it should be expected that the professionals, with their 'real' education, should fare well. And, I think that the 'understandably' limited potential for non-professionals to be recognized for contributing to scientific learning is unmatched, here at, anywhere else on the Internet.

I expect that there are professionals that have found themselves turned away elsewhere on the Internet. I know that there are non-professionals, including myself, who have been dispatched summarily elsewhere on the internet with pronouncements of 'Crackpot', 'shudder shudder'. :)

These contests, participated in by both professionals and non-professionals, despite the inevitable and sometimes deserved conflcts, break the 'Internet mold' and might propel the scientific community to greater understanding or, probably much more often, new guesses about what may be greater understanding of the operation of the universe. Either way, more is said because provides the avenue for more to be said!

James Putnam

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qsa replied on Dec. 1, 2012 @ 06:57 GMT
Dear James,

While the FQXI contest is very valuable to see all the alternatives that people can come up with, but I find the process is really lacking ANY practical usefulness. The reason is that for anybody who is really interested in the foundation issues even the non-professionals should be familiar with all the basic professional theories including the non-classical like string, lqg, AS …. And so on. And so in that respect there is no need for the professionals since their research is published and you can understand them much better than the so called laymen explanation in these contests. I doubt any true casual laymen are really going to go through this humongous amount of info and get anything out of it.

Even worse, Most of the non-professionals give highly philosophical ideas that are impossible to make a remotely viable theory, And some of the non-professional ideas which seem to be viable no professional seem to be interested in taking them up seriously, rendering them useless. That is what I think this contest should be really about, professionals criticizing the nonprofessionals work, at least the viable ones in a meaningful and helpful way. But what you will see is that the nonprofessionals arguing endlessly among themselves, and even the professionals very reluctant to even explain their own positions for whatever reason like time and assuming people should go and read their publications!! And let alone other nonprofessional’s work.

So my conclusion is that the contest is fun with very little value if any the way professional are participating.

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Philip Gibbs replied on Dec. 1, 2012 @ 10:17 GMT
You have categoried everyone as "professionals" or "casual laymen". There are many authors in the contest who do not fit either description, and even those who do have made "useful" contibutions to this contest.

Congratulations to the winners. I am looking forward to the next one, both as an author and a reader.

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doug wrote on Dec. 1, 2012 @ 14:27 GMT
Congratulations to all the winners and everyone who participated!

Can someone now please answer my balloon question? [as example: when a cold balloon is taken out of the freezer we go from x volume of space to 3x : where/how/why and at what expense to save conservation of energy laws (given that space has energy), do the new volumes of space come from]? Additionally, please correlate your answer to the newly created space that justifies the presence of that new space needed for there to be an "Expanding Universe", if such correlation exists.

thx for a great essay contest - I plan to eneter the next one - sorry I missed this one


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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Dec. 1, 2012 @ 16:30 GMT
I have some thoughts I hope will be seen as constructive.

There is in the life of any human being limited time, and the need to accurately assess the viability of various pursuits - in order to make intelligent decisions about how to spend that precious resource. When hidden variables affect the valuation of the products of our efforts, or our perceived value, by calling what we believe to...

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John Merryman replied on Dec. 1, 2012 @ 20:30 GMT

While I address this to you, since you ask what the criteria are, it is also to Pent ho and qsa.

You are thinking of this in normal, individual desires and expectations, but if you really want to understand the process, it is crowd dynamics that must be considered. You are thinking linear, but it is the non-linear, thermodynamic processes which prevail, no matter the stated understandings. The very existence of this contest is like peristroka in Soviet Communism. The system assumes it operates under honest and reasonable principles and has simply grown stagnant ,so a little frsh air is in order. The reality is that anyone professionally engaged in the dis ipline of physics is profoundly commited to a set of assumptions, both theoretical and professional, that are beyond question. So the essays close to these lines are beyond the pale. The reality though is that a process is being set in motion that will eventually go beyond their control. That non-linear effect is what those of us on the outside need to keep in mind.

Sorry for typos. Phone is uncooperative.

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Rick Lockyer replied on Dec. 1, 2012 @ 21:55 GMT
In some regards I agree with Jonathan. I was a bit put out that my finalist essay and non-professional physicist status was not enough to surpass essays with community ratings 51 and 60 positions lower than mine for the special commendations awards. But the contest was worthy as a marketing tool for my ideas.

I am not under the illusion that talking in FQXi is talking to the physics establishment, nor that a plurality of the distinguished list of members knew about the contest in the first place or even read ANY of the essays. Most of these people have better things to do with their time. I know this for a few as fact, it is not speculation. So none of us should think that they were rejected by the totality of the professional community. It was a minuscule subset. Their anonymity prevents us from knowing how relevant or important they are.

I fully expected subjective judging rather than a technical merits based scoring. I suggested a narrative scoring at least for the finalists not just for constructive feedback, but also to expose potential subjectivity and possible technical judgement errors on the part of the judges. I am quite sure my own essay is mathematically correct, but I am not sure the judge(s) that took a look at it were familiar enough or had the time to come to an informed position. We would know they had if there was a narrative score, or at least statements of agreement or challenges with the opportunity for us to defend within the blog space.

I blasphemed the physical religion of the relativists, the quantum theorists, the cosmologists, the standard modelists, the emergence (gag me) philosophers, and a host of others, so I guess I should feel lucky to have been a finalist. But nobody has come back to me with any indication outside their own orthodoxy of where I went astray. I think perhaps this is because I haven't.


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Joy Christian replied on Dec. 2, 2012 @ 10:10 GMT
Hi Jonathan and Rick,

I feel your pain. Whether in science or in politics, the powerful elite will always be able to suppress the proletarian effortlessly. While FQXi strives to rise above such petty forces, we must remember that in the end it too is a political institution, simply because it is made of people. The results of this contest reflect this fact in no uncertain terms. They send out a clear message of what is acceptable and what is not. As is often the case in such peer-review processes, insistence on arbitrarily set standards and norms is usually the means to control how much of the current paradigm is allowed to be shaken by the proletarian. Inevitably, this amount is determined by the narrowness of the collective brain of the elite judges, which again can only be a socio-political construct.

So what I am trying to say is that, although I feel your pain, there is not a whole lot one can do about this. There do exists some guidelines for the scientific dissident, but it remains to be seen how much of them can be implemented by an individual.


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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Dec. 2, 2012 @ 14:32 GMT
It should be readily apparent that a mixed field of entrants, especially one with individuals whom as Phil suggests are hard to fit in one category, is most qualified to judge whether an essay contains a good blend of interesting and meaningful Science and understandability for laymen. This makes the organizers' choice to look outside the circle of finalists for the Special Commendations especially questionable. If they are qualified to judge anything; the participants themselves have the highest qualifications - in the aggregate - in this category. It is arguable that a team of experts is less qualified to judge what is readable to lay people, rather than scientists, because they are themselves experts in some academic field.

All the Best,


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Neil Bates wrote on Dec. 2, 2012 @ 15:38 GMT
Thanks for releasing results, Brendan. In addition to congratulating all winners, I want to hat tip two (at least, pardon any omissions) of my Facebook Friends, Ian Durham and Sabine Hossenfelder (physicists and bloggers, Ian also edits The Quantum Times e-zine) for winning prizes, Sabine for the second time (more?) Second, I and surely many others appreciate FQXi having added the category for...

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James Putnam wrote on Dec. 2, 2012 @ 15:49 GMT
There are no fees charged for participation.

Authors are given great leeway in the form of their presentation.

Anyone can submit an essay. Some are rejected but not by unreasonable standards. The standards are set low enough to allow for the possibility that there may be something of scientific value cloaked in weak presentations.

Judges need to be allowed to use their own...

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Neil Bates replied on Dec. 2, 2012 @ 16:23 GMT
James, your comments have some abstract merit on their own, but do not provide relevant responses to any of my or others' criticisms of the Contest (if any were intended as such.) My [now three] points of critique stand independently as possible shortcomings of the FQXi Contest process, regardless of how they would relate to my own submission or anyone else's in particular. The author's situation or traits do not matter to the intrinsic merit of either their essay concepts or their critiques of the Contest. Even if I was not an entrant, those three points are the sort of thing I and many others would notice - and did notice - as possible points for improvement. Indulging in faint pokings at presumptive self-absorbed attitudes by authors albeit noted per yourself (we all wish readers would pay more attention to our own work, yadda) is rather pointless and diversionary, isn't it? Do you have opinions on any specific *issues* about the process (do you really think for example, that community ratings are a good idea?) etc? Finally, please don't imply that the Contest is above criticism because we didn't pay to get in (?! ;-) But yes, I appreciate the overall good tone and I wish you luck in promulgating your insights. BTW I added a third point above.

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James Putnam replied on Dec. 2, 2012 @ 18:31 GMT
Dear Neil Bates,

"James, your comments have some abstract merit on their own, ..."

Well we see things differently. My comments were not abstract to me.

"...but do not provide relevant responses to any of my or others' criticisms of the Contest (if any were intended as such.)"

That is because I did not intend to tell the organizers how to run their contest. I am...

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Neil Bates replied on Dec. 2, 2012 @ 18:45 GMT
James, thanks for replying (FQXi, could we have reply to specific messages, with original at least shown below for easier response? tx.) I am glad you had some critical thoughts of your own to offer (such as agreeing with me that community ratings were not such a great idea.) Hence, I don't understand your contradictory-seeming meta-point, as you seem suspended between implying that FQXi is so wonderful we shouldn't pick on them yet you say they should do X differently. Please note that offering criticism, to be considered, is "telling so and so how to run X" in some inappropriate way that implies actual forcing - it is game.

Well on a constructive note, if you have carefully studied the process here - could you concisely explain just how the community rating system worked? I gather it's a combination of entrants' ratings and member ratings, but not sure of details. Thanks.

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Pentcho Valev wrote on Dec. 3, 2012 @ 07:52 GMT
Not only have FQXi, through this contest, failed to identify the basic physical assumptions which are wrong, but they have also managed to additionally obscure the mere concept of "basic physical assumption". In my view, had the wrong assumptions been identified and explicitly rejected, the decay of science could have been stopped and even reversed:

Mike Alder: "It is easy to see the...

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John Merryman replied on Dec. 3, 2012 @ 15:22 GMT

"Bureaucrats favour uniformity, it simplifies their lives. They want rules to follow. They prefer the dead to the living. They have taken over religions, the universities and now they are taking over Science. And they are killing it in the process. The forms and rituals remain, but the spirit is dead."

Think of this interms of time and process; We know and understand what...

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Jin He wrote on Dec. 3, 2012 @ 19:27 GMT
Supersymmetry Theory, String Theory, and Big Bang theory are killed by LHC results

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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Dec. 3, 2012 @ 20:56 GMT
I'd like to let FQXi off the hook,

After conferring with some professors - including one FQXi member - I get the impression that the contest organizers deserve a little more slack, given that Mainstream Science still gets the lion's share of the respect and funding, and folks like FQXi are in a difficult spot to create an opportunity for innovative new work - while still showing respect for...

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Anonymous replied on Dec. 4, 2012 @ 19:04 GMT

"I'd like to let FQXi off the hook". I agree the judges have a balancing act. I've been an award assessor myself and hadn't realised the difficulties before doing it. I also learned the judgements judge the judges more than the entrants!

But your original point was very valid and I think needs expansion. Firstly the whole point of the foundation was to AVOID the effects of...

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Anonymous replied on Dec. 5, 2012 @ 03:40 GMT

I disagree with the other Anonymous. You are spot on when you say:

"I also learned the judgements judge the judges more than the entrants!"

This is true in this case more than I have seen elsewhere. The social skills of some of the winners were not on display here on these pages but elsewhere in the corridors of other institutes and universities.

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Georgina Parry replied on Dec. 5, 2012 @ 04:10 GMT
Anonymous, that's rude.

However I will accept the complement. It does take time and effort to be nice to others, to pay attention and show interest in what they have to say. That's demonstrating community spirit rather than mere self interest, apathy, or a sense of entitlement to consideration without any effort. That involvement with the community comes with the unspoken expectation of reciprocation, which is a normal, natural social behaviour among social animals and among humans, not some kind of evil manipulation.

If I want people to read and comment upon my essay, and possibly vote for it, I should read and comment upon theirs because I am nobody and there is no reason for my essay to be chosen for reading over anyone else's. As you noticed some people made more effort in that regard than others.Those with a well known reputation or good personal profile do not need to make such an effort, as people will want to know what they have written because of who they are or their previous work. It was wonderful that George Ellis did participate in discussions, even though he did not need to do so.

To imply there was no merit at all in Peter's, Eckard's or my own essays shows either 1) You have not read them and so do not know what you are talking about; 2) You are an ignorant person who can not see, due to your own stupidity, that there is some great stuff presented in each of them; 3) or are just a sad person who gets pleasure from insulting other people anonymously.

Learn something from Thumper

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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Dec. 3, 2012 @ 22:02 GMT
Jin He's words above prompt me to say some more.

In today's world; the volume of information, and the rapidity of the growth of knowledge, are greater than ever before. Some cherished beliefs of the mainstream are now falsified, or called into doubt. But still supersymmetry, string theory, and the big bang, are described as our best answers. I don't believe it. For innovative theorists, however; it is like what is seen by musicians who invent a new style of music, and must wait for someone notable to get attention for it - before their innovation can become popular.

Before internet marketing; it used to be that if your music did not already have a shelf or aisle in the record store, and a genre category that was played on the radio, there was no way to promote your music - so you were forced to write tunes in an accepted style, if you wanted to make money. It's the same in Science. Ben Dribus confided that he would like to go into Physics, but is somewhat dismayed that this career choice might required him to declare a specialization in loops, strings, or some other approach that has already been shown to have difficulties. Why not pursue something you are confident can work?

So far as I am concerned; we've institutionalized looking where the answers were, instead of looking where they are now. But some day we must learn better.



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John Merryman replied on Dec. 4, 2012 @ 02:34 GMT

What I find most ironic about this situation is the degree to which the social/political dynamic is following such a basic and obvious physical pattern, where the longer the status quo is maintained, the greater the consequences will be when it does unravel. We can only wonder what pin will pop that bubble. What spark will ignite all that tinder. What crack in the dam will unleash the flood. What shot will be heard around the world. What snowflake will start the avalanche. What straw will break the camel's back.

Future generations will only marvel at the blind gullibility of our most acclaimed minds.

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Jonathan J. Dickau replied on Dec. 4, 2012 @ 04:02 GMT
Thanks John,

It is called the Einstellung effect, when people cling to an old model that sort of works, even when a demonstrably better model exists - so long as the old way can be somehow servicably adjusted. I guess that there sometimes has to be an obvious disconnect of a model with the facts, before it will finally be abandoned. What snowflake will start the avalanche? Who knows? We will probably get to see that snowflake here.

All the Best,


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John Merryman replied on Dec. 4, 2012 @ 15:52 GMT

The problem is whether the variable is the system, or the facts. Most people understand a better keyboard than the qwerty could be devised, but changing the entire system over isn't worth the trouble. With religion and physics, the variable is with the facts. For religion it is considered a test of one's faith if worldly realities intrude on the belief system. With physics, it is "naive intuition" and "mere philosophy," to let worldly observations conflict with the model. If the model is infallible, then any anomaly cannot be due to flawed assumptions in the model, but some undetected aspect of reality, be it more epicycles, or multiworlds.

I think the snowflake will be some observation, such as evidence of ever more distant galaxies in the background radiation, rather than evidence of a singularity. Though they have already
smology-science-or-folktale]swept significant facts under the rug already. I suspect this is part of the ensuing avalanche that will form the next reality.

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doug wrote on Dec. 4, 2012 @ 13:20 GMT
and yes Frank, that was very profound

THX for letting a non-scientist post/blog on a very nice site with such intelligent people

Were it not for FQXi, my other option would be to take my theory on a very windy day and simply throw it up in the air

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Anonymous wrote on Dec. 4, 2012 @ 14:33 GMT
Dear Brendan,

The following changes may improve the contest: I propose that a given author may receive one prize in three years only. If an author received a prize in 2012, the next prize he may obtain in 2015 only. Otherwise you will have the same winners in every contest. For esample Amelino-Camelia can win all prizes in every contest, up to year 2100.

The 2012 winners may participate in 2013 contest but they cannot obtain prizes. It is a very usefull improvement.

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Georgina Parry replied on Dec. 4, 2012 @ 18:58 GMT

That would be like asking the stars of tennis to perform at Wimbledon and then have to let their competitors win the contest, no matter how well they performed.Seriously doubt that will work. Take away the potential benefits, why should they enter?

I suppose there could be some demonstration articles, identified as such, by professionals, to show how its done well. Set the bar, so to speak. Like the interlude in a dance competition when some professional dancers perform, or last year's winner does his/her act. Though when the number of articles is already much higher than any one person can read, what benefit is there in including extra articles that are not from competitors and can not be voted upon?

I think that the winners won because the judges considered that they had done the best work and their decision is final. That's the nature of competitions. In most competitions the entries would be submitted and nothing would be known, not even the content of the entries, until the winners are picked. That's asking people to give up their ideas or creations for -absolutely- nothing in return. The surprising thing is that people do it again and again because of unreasonable hope, or optimism, or self belief.

Maybe the entrants should be seeded as in a tennis contest. Then the expectation that the top competitors will win, may be time and again, will be perfectly obvious. It doesn't stop people watching Wimbledon. Many people watch because they want to see the stars and former winners perform well again. Good tennis players play good tennis.

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doug replied on Dec. 7, 2012 @ 02:03 GMT
Hi Georgina,

40 Love

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Anton Lorenz Vrba wrote on Dec. 4, 2012 @ 16:16 GMT
Congratulations to the winners and thank you FQXi for providing a platform where amateurs can rub shoulders with the professionals; although, sadly, it seemed that the amateurs where ignored by the professionals.

It will be interesting some time in the future if any idea expressed in any essay will have had some impact to our understanding of things. More interesting would be if such an idea originated from a professional or an amateur.

Looking forward to the next challenging subject for the next competition, this years topic is hard to beat.

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AndyM wrote on Dec. 4, 2012 @ 21:16 GMT
Everyone should keep in mind that while creativity is wonderful, to actually create new understanding in physics that is worthwhile means that the new model/idea/theory needs to both subsume the old physical theories and then make new useful predictions. Making new theories and predictions is not difficult at all. Subsuming the old physics is perhaps the most difficult part, because it means the new model must agree with and predict a very large set of physical data across many disciplines. Just to be aware of many of the observations and phenomena that need to be predicted correctly requires quite a bit of study.

Let me give an example. To correct problems with for example the seeming reversibility of time in current mathematical models used by theoretical physics is a more difficult task then for example just saying "time does not exist, it is just represents a sequence of change," or the "mathematics used makes unwarranted assumptions." What's required is to carefully examine the implications of such ideas, and how they modify everything from Newton's laws to optics and QFT. This is not trivial, and would require significant work and scholarship. For example, If one gets irreversible time at the cost of losing predictability of particle physics, it will not be considered viable by the mainstream, nor will it be particularly useful for practical applications.

The bottom line is that "fixing" some part of physics while losing some of the predictive power of current theory will not be acceptable in a new theory or idea, unless that loss of predictability is actually because the original theory predicted incorrect results.

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John Merryman replied on Dec. 5, 2012 @ 03:52 GMT

I agree with you completely, but...

A big part of the problem is very conventional politics. Those with the most influence are the most committed to a model which has required exceedingly far fetched patches, both macro and micro-scopic, for the last several generations, from multiworlds to multiverses and all the blocktime, inflationary wormholes inbetween. So what would it take for the profession to really go back to the drawing board and ask what the junk in is, that results in the junk out? Otherwise they will continue to keep looking for the next epicycle to solve whatever anomaly attracts the moments attention. So long as the funding exists there will be people looking for the next string theory.

I think it will take a paradigm shift that is not currently contemplatable within the current context. For example, thought is a function of making distinctions, so we have followed this tendency to the vey edges of perception, yet in all this digitized, atomized, quantified, particlized, compartmentalized, codified, measured, weighed vision, have we asked what holds it together? What are the connections, rather than the distinctions? Are these units of units of units really things themselves, or are they really reflections of each other? Might there be something staring us in the face and not hiding in a corner?

Sometimes Frank makes more sense than Julian.

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Jonathan J. Dickau replied on Dec. 5, 2012 @ 04:10 GMT



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Helmut Hansen replied on Dec. 10, 2012 @ 05:52 GMT
Dear Andy,

I agree with you more than you can imagine.

It is actually the most difficult task in having a new idea or approach to subsume the old physics, especially if a fundamental theory like special relativity is just that old physics that is under consideration.

I actually found an interesting idea offering a new physical perspective but the most time I am struggling with the old physics. It is overshadowing the new idea in such a way, that it is almost impossible, to maintain it all, though this idea is so simple that - to quote Einstein - God could not have passed it up.

When I presented this idea to the FQXI-Essay-Contest of this year I was surprised how little attention it got. I thought every physicist ought to be electrified, but nothing happened. Am I completely wrong? I admit I am layperson, but I think I got a glimpse of a deeper truth.

What can I do? The FQXI-Contest is actually one of the very rare ways to publish a new idea without the need to present a complete theory.


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Hoang cao Hai wrote on Dec. 6, 2012 @ 04:12 GMT
Dear to all of you

To me: FQXi really is a bright spot in the "dim" and "despair" of theoretical physics today.

The selection of these essays is a separate issue of the jury, the result of the contest will determine the value of their and FQXi.

If you are not successful, probably because we do not fit with the view of the jury.

Do not be sad about that, because "when the night ended, the sun will rise," if we are to Truth, will always have the opportunity to be recognized, when humanity was "fed up" ambiguity, illusion and abstract science background current (even more obscure than the Theology)

Again sincerely thank FQXi was for us to have the nice opportunity to : be comfortable to know each other and express their own opinion.

Many thanks to all of you and FQXi.

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Dec. 6, 2012 @ 20:12 GMT
On Friday, April 27, 1900, the British physicist Lord Kelvin gave a speech entitled "Nineteenth-Century Clouds over the Dynamical Theory of Heat and Light," which began:

The beauty and clearness of the dynamical theory, which asserts heat and light to be modes of motion, is at present obscured by two clouds.

Kelvin went on to explain that the "clouds" were two unexplained phenomena, which he portrayed as the final couple of holes that needed to be filled in before having a complete understanding of the thermodynamic and energy properties of the universe, explained in classical terms of the motion of particles.

This speech, together with other comments attributed to Kelvin (such as by physicist Albert Michelson in a 1894 speech) indicate that he strongly believed the main role of physics in that day was to just measure known quantities to a great degree of precision, out to many decimal places of accuracy.

What are the Clouds?:

The "clouds" to which Kelvin was referring were:

1. The inability to detect the luminous ether, specifically the failure of the Michelson-Morley experiment

See "The mistake by Michelson and Morley".

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Jonathan J. Dickau replied on Dec. 7, 2012 @ 01:56 GMT
You stopped half-way Eckard,

The second cloud is the Maxwell-Boltzmann doctrine regarding the partition of energy. Of course; this helped to set the stage for the Quantum Revolution, but I guess you knew that. Interesting though, that Kelvin had the impression only minor refinements were needed to fix the problems.

And your Michelson-Morley paper makes some good points.



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Peter Jackson wrote on Dec. 9, 2012 @ 21:06 GMT

To find a 'frequency' we need a dielectric detector lens and min 2 wave peaks. So if the detector is in motion through the 'approach frame' as the waves arrive (at relative c+v), will the distance between the peaks (on the arrival of the second peak) then be the same as during the approach?

Obviously not. And, as we know the constant c = f*lambda is universal. Ergo f and lambda change to give local propagation speed c.

So change in f does indeed imply c+v, indeed almost every relative speed everywhere is c +/- v. It is not however a speed of 'local propagation'. Yes?


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Pentcho Valev replied on Dec. 9, 2012 @ 21:33 GMT

"So change in f does indeed imply c+v..."


"It is not however a speed of 'local propagation'. Yes?"

No. This second statement of yours doesn't make any sense. This video shows that, at least for water and sound waves, the wavelength remains unchanged and the apparent speed of the waves, that is, the speed of the waves as seen by the observer, increases (v'=v+u) when the observer starts moving towards the wave source. Try to disprove this by explaining how exactly the wavelength changes.

Pentcho Valev

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Pentcho Valev replied on Dec. 10, 2012 @ 10:00 GMT

In natural sciences you have either "does" or "does not" - if one is false, the other is true, and vice versa. For instance:

The speed of sound waves, relative to the observer, does vary with the speed of the observer.

The speed of sound waves, relative to the observer, does NOT vary with the speed of the observer.

One of the statements is true, the other false, and there is no third alternative. Similarly:

The speed of light waves, relative to the observer, does vary with the speed of the observer.

The speed of light waves, relative to the observer, does NOT vary with the speed of the observer.

(Sane) scientists are only allowed to defend one of the statements (the thesis) and refute the other (the antithesis). Any refusal to face the antinomy in an explicit manner, or reference to a third alternative, or statements of the sort "Both thesis and antithesis are true in a sense", can only suggest that basic human logic has been abandoned and there is a movement towards insanity.

Pentcho Valev

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Anonymous replied on Dec. 10, 2012 @ 19:19 GMT

you have highlighted what has been a huge problem for physics and that is the sort of black and white thinking you are demanding. Mathematics on the whole has black and white definite answers but I am aware that social science and the biological sciences do not to the same extent. It is my opinion that the same is true in physics.

In real life 'it depends' is often true and the better answer. The full context of reality is more than the brief statement given to which an answer is demanded. If the full context, all parameters and variables and observer perspective (or non observed theoretical perspective) and all scales and all ways of interpreting the question are not considered either of the alternatives you allow, given with confidence, could be incorrect. Due to the information that has not been taken into account in giving that definite answer.

"Freakonomics" - By Steven Levitt, gives many examples of false assumptions that don't match reality because of the failure to take full account of environmental influences. In 'Surely your joking Mr Feynman' By Richard Feynman, he talks about the way in which rats know their way in mazes by the sound of the floor as the rat runs over it. Which can be overcome by use of sand. Though this is not taken into account in most maze experiments. In science experiments it is very important to control the variables and parameters and take account of as many environmental influences on the outcomes as possible.

Is the observer on the Earth, who is standing still stationary or moving? - If you think the answer is either of the alternatives given then perhaps you should think again. The alternatives you allow are working assumptions that can be used in different models but to think that they are TRUTH is, I think, misguided. As is your assumption that 'it depends' is a step closer to insanity

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doug wrote on Dec. 10, 2012 @ 00:45 GMT
To Brendan Foster -

Thank you for putting up with me.

You see, when your the only one that believes in something, it rather strange.

I need to be convinced I'm wrong, or have others join in on the fun! [experimentally verifiable]


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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Dec. 13, 2012 @ 17:35 GMT
Shouldn't science have learned from Piltdown Man to be much more cautious in particular if there is evidence that seems to confirm theories? We need not suspecting deliberate fake and hoax. The contest gave rise to ask for possibly wrong basic assumptions. Community and jury applauded to most speculative ideas instead, and and it will perhaps continue to do so.


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Pentcho Valev replied on Dec. 13, 2012 @ 18:59 GMT
Piltdown Man - the greatest hoax in the history of science?

No. The Sirius B hoax was even greater:

"In January 1924 Arthur Eddington wrote to Walter S. Adams at the Mt. Wilson Observatory suggesting a measurement of the "Einstein shift" in Sirius B and providing an estimate of its magnitude. Adams' 1925 published results agreed remarkably well with Eddington's estimate. Initially...

view entire post

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Eckard Blumschein replied on Dec. 14, 2012 @ 05:20 GMT

Let's not ask who was wrong but which BASIC assumptions were wrong. If Michelson's expectation was wrong, as I maintain, then this implies that you as well as Lorentz and eventually Einstein were misled. Did you check "The Mistake by Michelson and Morley"?


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Pentcho Valev replied on Dec. 14, 2012 @ 15:07 GMT

Michelson's expectation was based on at least two BASIC assumptions:

1. The speed of light (as measured by the observer) is independent of the speed of the light source (a tenet of both the ether theory and special relativity).

2. There is a preferred reference frame, that is, the principle of relativity is false.

If you reject the consequent (Michelson's expectation) as wrong, then some assumption or assumptions must be false. If you believe the above two assumptions are true, then there must be a third assumption involved in Michelson's expectation which is false. Can you identify the false assumption?

Pentcho Valev

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FQXi Administrator Brendan Foster wrote on Feb. 4, 2013 @ 22:15 GMT
Just a bit of news--I've heard that Ken Wharton, one of our third prize winners, will have a version of his essay appear in the Feb 9 issue of Scientific American. Watch out for that!

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Pentcho Valev replied on Feb. 4, 2013 @ 22:50 GMT
Ken Wharton showed that the basic physical assumption:

"The universe is a computer"

is wrong. Is that a basic physical assumption?

I tried to show that the basic physical assumption:

"The speed of light is independent of the speed of the observer"

is wrong but it turned out that this is not an assumption - rather, it has been an absolute truth since 1905.

Pentcho Valev

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