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What Is “Fundamental”
October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018
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Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
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Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
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Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
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It From Bit or Bit From It
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Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
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Is Reality Digital or Analog?
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Tommaso Bolognesi: on 6/11/15 at 14:09pm UTC, wrote Well, thank you Giovanni. I hope we'll meet again here in a few months! ...

Giovanni Prisinzano: on 6/11/15 at 12:43pm UTC, wrote Best congratulations, Tommaso, for the prize you have won! Your very...

Jonathan Khanlian: on 4/23/15 at 19:35pm UTC, wrote Hey Tommaso, Armin directed me here, and I’m glad he did. I enjoyed...

Alma Ionescu: on 4/22/15 at 17:54pm UTC, wrote Ciao Tommaso, You have spherical chicken and I have spherical cows. I...

Patrick Tonin: on 4/22/15 at 17:42pm UTC, wrote Dear Tommaso, I was attracted to your essay because of the original title....

Tommaso Bolognesi: on 4/22/15 at 14:45pm UTC, wrote Thank you Michel. I just mention that when I wrote about the 'downgrading...

Michel Planat: on 4/22/15 at 13:46pm UTC, wrote Dear Tommaso, Your dialogue is enjoyable to read with several layers to...

Tommaso Bolognesi: on 4/21/15 at 17:02pm UTC, wrote Marc, thanks for your message. I have not been able to read and review as...


Georgina Woodward: "Joe, sensory products are what is seen. Illumination matters because it..." in The Sudoku Universe, Why...

fally jonash: "It is a well-maintained site where people can learn about various topics. I..." in A Wonderful Outcome

fally jonash: "Your article is very interesting and fantastic, at the same time the theme..." in In Search Of Other Earths

Joe Fisher: "Dear Georgina, The (INVISIBLE) “sensory products” you keep writing..." in The Sudoku Universe, Why...

Joe Fisher: "Dear Georgina, I failed to mention that although conventional chess game..." in The Complexity Conundrum

Joe Fisher: "Dear Steve Agnew, On December 7, 2017, I have emailed : “Dear..." in The Complexity Conundrum

Lena Smith: "All HP printers carry a unique qualities. if the product is still under..." in Conjuring a Neutron Star...

Lena Smith: "All HP printers carry a unique qualities. if the product is still under..." in Conjuring a Neutron Star...

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The Complexity Conundrum
Resolving the black hole firewall paradox—by calculating what a real astronaut would compute at the black hole's edge.

Quantum Dream Time
Defining a ‘quantum clock’ and a 'quantum ruler' could help those attempting to unify physics—and solve the mystery of vanishing time.

Our Place in the Multiverse
Calculating the odds that intelligent observers arise in parallel universes—and working out what they might see.

Sounding the Drums to Listen for Gravity’s Effect on Quantum Phenomena
A bench-top experiment could test the notion that gravity breaks delicate quantum superpositions.

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

December 11, 2017

CATEGORY: Trick or Truth Essay Contest (2015) [back]
TOPIC: Let's consider two spherical chickens by Tommaso Bolognesi [refresh]
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Author Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Feb. 11, 2015 @ 21:58 GMT
Essay Abstract

Confronted with a pythagorean jingle derived from simple ratios, a sequence of 23 moves from knot theory, and the interaction between a billiard-ball and a zero-gravity field, a young detective soon realizes that three crimes could have been avoided if math were not so unreasonably effective in describing our physical world. Why is this so? Asimov's fictional character Prof. Priss confirms to the detective that there is some truth in Tegmark's Mathematical Universe Hypothesis, and reveals him that all mathematical structures entailing self-aware substructures (SAS) are computable and isomorphic. The boss at the investigation agency is not convinced and proposes his own views on the question.

Author Bio

Tommaso Bolognesi (Laurea in Physics, Univ. of Pavia, 1976; M.Sc. in CS, Univ. of Illinois at U-C, 1982), is senior researcher at ISTI, CNR, Pisa. His research areas have included stochastic processes in computer music composition, models of concurrency, process algebra and formal methods for software development, discrete and algorithmic models of spacetime. He has published on various international scientific journals several papers in all three areas. He obtained two 4th prizes at the FQXi Essay Contests of 2011 and 2014.

Download Essay PDF File

Anonymous wrote on Feb. 12, 2015 @ 16:12 GMT
Dear Tommaso,

Your essay is one of the best so far IMHO. Your idea is somewhat close to mine. Dr. Tegmark is 100% correct. I proved that in my last essay and I will have much more evidence in my upcoming essay.

“Reality is nothing but a mathematical structure, literally”

FQXI article

more info

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Akinbo Ojo wrote on Feb. 14, 2015 @ 13:05 GMT

A very entertaining way of presenting this very topical issue. What do you think Prof. Priss answer would be to the questions

- whether space was continuous and infinitely divisible or whether there is a limit to the divisibility of distance?

- If discreteness applies to space, what will separate the fundamental elements so that discreteness can be realized

- Can the bottom layer of your so-called Mathematical Universe perish or is it an eternally existing structure?



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Sujatha Jagannathan wrote on Feb. 16, 2015 @ 05:30 GMT
It's coherent to deliver the conclusion as your work per tails to, as I find more tricks of theories jargoning in the networks of quantum spaces.


Miss.Sujatha Jagannathan

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Author Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Feb. 17, 2015 @ 11:09 GMT
Dear Akinbo Ojo,

I introduced the character of Prof Priss for two reasons: (i) to provide a third example of the effectiveness and reliability of mathematical laws in describing the physical world (after the examples from acoustics and knot theory), and (ii) as an opportunity to briefly discuss Tegmark’s conjectures on the mathematical universe and to speculate on their possible future...

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Author Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Feb. 17, 2015 @ 11:20 GMT
Dear Joe Fisher,

thank you for pointing out the typos. Actually, I did write "could't" with a missing "n" - but I don't see errors in "lethal".



Joe Fisher replied on Mar. 6, 2015 @ 15:05 GMT
Dear Tommaso,

You are right. The misspelling of "lethal" was my error. Please accept my apology.


Joe Fisher

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Hasmukh K. Tank wrote on Feb. 25, 2015 @ 13:04 GMT
Dear Tommaso,

Very interesting way of expressing your view.

From various essays, including yours, the connection between maths and physics is becoming clear.

Yours sincerely,

Hasmukh K. Tank

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Sophia Magnusdottir wrote on Feb. 26, 2015 @ 15:43 GMT
Dear Tommaso,

Clearly the most creative essay of this contest! I am sure you will score highly and certainly make it to a special award :) I wish you good luck!

-- Sophia

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Author Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Feb. 26, 2015 @ 17:10 GMT
Dear Sophia,

thanks for your support. It balances the painful ’1’ that I got as 4th (and last) score from a community member - a score I would not even assign to an essay written by a spherical chicken. Anyway, the algorithmic universe conjecture is indeed looked at with much skepticism by most FQXi citizens (not all, fortunately!). But the essay also includes some light discussion on a possible, long term, positive development of the Mathematical Universe Conjecture, in the form of a theorem that was not meant to be totally bizarre. I plan to be still around in 2031 to check out the details of its proof...



Alex Newman wrote on Mar. 1, 2015 @ 19:06 GMT
"...The Universe is not a static mathematical structure - a huge, pre-de ned

set of elements and relations that we progressively discover. It is the unfolding of a computation..."

What computation are we talking about here? We do computations, nature is out there. "Universe is the unfolding" means a rejection of positivism and a rejection of computation. Something that "is" cannot be the unfolding of a computation.

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Author Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Mar. 3, 2015 @ 09:25 GMT

a few people, including Konrad Zuse, Ed Fredkin, Stephen Wolfram, Seth Lloyd, Hector Zenil (the last three are FQXi members) have proposed convincing arguments in support of the idea that the peculiar mix of order and chaos that we observe in the physical universe might be understood as the manifestation of the emergent properties of a computation. Interesting nature-like phenomena can be observed in the spontaneous computations of simple programs, including periodicity, self-similarity, pseudo-randomness, emergent 'particles', self-reproduction.

Of course something that "is" cannot be the unfolding of a computation; but people disagree on attributing the same existential status ("is") to the past and the (unknown) future of the universe. What may be valid for a rather unstructured, infinite spacetime, may not be valid for one pullulating of evolving biospheres...



George Gantz wrote on Mar. 5, 2015 @ 23:15 GMT
Tommaso - Bravo! Definitely the most playful essay yet submitted! Nice to see you again this year. My essay is far more pedantic fare (again), but I hope you can give it a read. I take a less sanguine view of reductionism. Reading your essay reminded me of how much I enjoyed Rucker and Hofstadter's popular works - great fun.

Question for you - if all SAS are computable, do you worry about the Halting Problem?

Cheers - George Gantz

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Mar. 7, 2015 @ 18:25 GMT

Remembering your entry last time, I looked forward to reading your essay, rather your fetching drama. The boss (your voice), erudite and "Sherlockian," unravels a spoofy mystery that is yet mathematically and scientifically emblematic. Though chickens are not spherical, I found the etchings of them attractive. Considering the size and intricacies of the universe and the universe in our bodies, we do need a "gigantic computer"

Esoteric and entertaining at the same time.


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James Lee Hoover replied on Apr. 9, 2015 @ 00:29 GMT

My non-GMO robins are not spherical but "free-range". Have you had a chance to read about them?


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Author Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Mar. 7, 2015 @ 22:15 GMT
Dear George,

if the Priss-Goedel-Priss theorem is right, then the mathematical structure that corresponds to the physical universe is made up of sets and functions (as in Tegmark’s MUH), and the latter are total and computable, hence they can be implemented by Turing machines (conputable) that are guaranteed to terminate on each output (total). Now, I am not completely sure about what...

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George Gantz replied on Mar. 9, 2015 @ 19:16 GMT
Tommaso -

Thanks. While I was thinking about #2 (which I now see your essay did answer), I suppose #1 is actually the more pressing concern, and I am much relieved with your reply!

The MUH does become much more understandable when we discard all assumptions of continuity. If we are indeed in a finite universe (planck units - finite number of states) then everything becomes computable (although some computations may take a long time.....). No infinities to worry about! Of course, that's not quite what Tegmark seems to say ...

If this is the case, what is the ontological status of mathematics, its theoretical continua and infinities? Mere symbols without content? Epiphenomenal finite brain states? And (this may be a dumb question) what is the hardware on which the computing algorithms are being run, and where did that hardware and those rules come from?

With many thanks, and sincere respect - George

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Member Rick Searle wrote on Mar. 8, 2015 @ 02:03 GMT
Hello Tommaso,

I always love your essays! You have a rare talent of both being able to make readers laugh out loud while tackling difficult subjects at the same time. Wish my own essay was half as clever as yours- though I tried. I would greatly appreciate if you would check it out and give me your vote.

Best of luck in the contest!

Rick Searle

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adel sadeq wrote on Mar. 15, 2015 @ 02:14 GMT
Hi Tommaso,

I was the first to post in your thread, and agree with your point of view. Now you can check out my essay which has the links to the programs that confirms my claims(at the of the sections "program link"). Now, whether my theory is the right one or not that is another matter, although it looks like it. however, is it possible for you to at least confirms some of the results.


Thanks and good luck.

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Lorraine Ford wrote on Mar. 15, 2015 @ 12:28 GMT
Hi Tommaso,

I think you should win an award for the best writing, and the best title! I found your essay to be a very entertaining read. But who (or what) wrote this algorithm that you say runs the universe, and why did they write it?

I quote from your article "Do Particles Evolve?" in my essay "Reality is MORE than what maths can represent".


Lorraine Ford

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Author Tommaso Bolognesi replied on Mar. 17, 2015 @ 18:26 GMT

who wrote the code? This is a question that I carefully avoid :-} But I am in good company with many people who refuse to answer the similar question 'Who wrote wrote the Einstein equations, or the Schroedinger equation'. ('Einstein and Shroedinger'? Sure, but that is not the point.) The question you pose is of course about who decided that the physical universe should obey those laws. Many people do not feel too frustrated for not being able to answer this question, about the origin of laws expressed in continuous mathematics, but feel just happy when they discover those laws. Switching to another form of math, algorithms and maybe discrete math, should not change that attitude...



Giovanni Prisinzano wrote on Mar. 24, 2015 @ 17:41 GMT
Caro Tommaso,

I read and re-read your brilliant essay, finding in it a lor of precious suggestions, concerning e. g. the discrete vs continuous or the teterminismus vs indeterminismus relationship and concerning, in particular, the problem of computability, in which I am very interested from the time when I developed the ideas that I partially sketched in my contest essay.

Although I find the "Priss-Goedel-Priss theorem" (that you place significantly in 2031) not easy to be accepted, I am inclined to believe (maybe agreeing with you) that all existing facts or empirical objects of the universe (no matter if they exist in the past, the present or the future), are in principle representable by computable functions.

But, on the other hand, I am not sure that consciousness is a fact or an empirical object. (As well as I am non sure that all merely possible state of affairs can be described by computable functions, if only because their set is probably uncountable, while the set of all computable functions is certainly denumerable.)

I wonder if these will be still issues in 2075..

Tanti cordiali saluti


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Author Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Mar. 26, 2015 @ 11:54 GMT
Caro Giovanni,

what I find original in the Priss-Goedel-Priss Theorem (2031) is that it reverses the intuition that the phenomenon of consciousness is too complicated to be part of a universe constrained by discreteness and denumerability (of the computable functions). According to the Theorem, a universe in which consciousness exists - a universe that can be perceived by sentient entities...

view entire post

Joe Fisher wrote on Apr. 2, 2015 @ 14:46 GMT
Dear Dr. Bolognesi,

I thought that your engrossing essay was exceptionally well written and I do hope that it fares well in the competition.

I think Newton was wrong about abstract gravity; Einstein was wrong about abstract space/time, and Hawking was wrong about the explosive capability of NOTHING.

All I ask is that you give my essay WHY THE REAL UNIVERSE IS NOT MATHEMATICAL a fair reading and that you allow me to answer any objections you may leave in my comment box about it.

Joe Fisher

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Janko Kokosar wrote on Apr. 19, 2015 @ 10:50 GMT
Dear Tommaso Bolognesi

Last year you asked me, where I have correction to Tononi's model. Now I find that my inclusion of quantum free will is this difference. Thus, if free will is excluded, every answer given by neural network is defined in advance. Thus in principle there is not a lot of options for various qualia, but only one option. But free will must be added that many options are obtained.

You give a cue that you do not believe in quantum randomness ('t Hooft), and that you do not believe in existence of consciousness. It is oppositely at me. And, I think that consciousness does not exist without quantum randomness. (I think these two sentences agree, this means that we agree here?)

I also agree with you that consciousness can be reduced more and more. I think that at the end some primitive consciousness remain, but you think that it completely disappears at the end?

I have some questions. Platonic level 4 is often mentioned in this contest. Let us say that mathematical functions exist independent of physical world. But why it is necessary here to introduce this Tegmark's complicated anthropic principle? Namely, I think that physical world is build up from one very simple math, maybe it is so simple that it does not contain axioms. Thus what is the reason for introduction of this anthropic principle?

Why do you think that we do not live in simulation? I think that space around us is real in the same manner as web pages inside computer.

Tononi believe in panpsychism, does this means that you do not?

This is a very artistic piece of work, similarly as a year before. You also have some specific knowledge, so I hope that you will find something new.

One metaphor: ''You are Tomaso, who do not believe in consciousness, although he put fingers in it.'' :)

My essay

Best regards

Janko Kokosar

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Member Marc Séguin wrote on Apr. 21, 2015 @ 16:27 GMT
Dear Tommaso,

Once again this contest, you submitted an original, entertaining and thought provoking essay! I had read it with great interest shortly after it was posted and now realise I'd never gotten to comment on it and rate it. I like the reference to Isaac Asimov's classic story, "The Billiard Ball"!

I agree with many things that future-fictional-scientist Priss says about the...

view entire post

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Author Tommaso Bolognesi replied on Apr. 21, 2015 @ 17:02 GMT

thanks for your message. I have not been able to read and review as many essays as I would have wanted this year. Your title was one of the few that kept attracting my curiosity, so I'll give a try tonight - likely the last reading before the end of the voting phase.

The isomorphism conjecture is quite bold indeed; it would gratify the ego of all owners of some degree of consciousness, and could perhaps be criticized for suggesting that the phenomenon of consciousness is in some sense unique (although occurring in several blends in the only universe where it emerges). What I found attractive, however, is the idea that an understanding of this phenomenon might help in catching the ultimate theory of the physical world, somehow reversing the expected logical order of discovery...

Confusing? Maybe, but it's late.. Ciao!


Michel Planat wrote on Apr. 22, 2015 @ 13:46 GMT
Dear Tommaso,

Your dialogue is enjoyable to read with several layers to decipher. There is music, geography, time events, algebra, murders, the number 42 and a pizza in Pisa! You anticipated a 2031 theorem relating 'total computability' and conscious states. You write " The Universe is not a static mathematical structure ... It is the unfolding of a computation, and a relentless source of novelty; its future gifts are mathematically unknowable until they actually come into existence." You show how unexpected structures may emerge from computation. This asks the question what are those that don't emerge from an algorithm and how it relates to Tegmark's MUH. The "downgrading of quantum mechanics to the status of a mere tool" is quite surprising. I liked your essay anyway and it merits more attention.

Best wishes,


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Author Tommaso Bolognesi replied on Apr. 22, 2015 @ 14:45 GMT
Thank you Michel. I just mention that when I wrote about the 'downgrading of Quantum mechanics', which is looked upon as a tool, not as a theory, I am almost directly quoting:

Gerard ’t Hooft - The Cellular Automaton Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics - arXiv:1405.1548v2 (2014)

Not my idea (but I look forward for it to come true!)



Patrick Tonin wrote on Apr. 22, 2015 @ 17:42 GMT
Dear Tommaso,

I was attracted to your essay because of the original title.

I was not disappointed, it is original and very interesting.

If you think that the Universe is the unfolding of a computation, you might want to take a look at my essay and if you want to find out how I got to those equations you can check out my website.

All the best,


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Alma Ionescu wrote on Apr. 22, 2015 @ 17:54 GMT
Ciao Tommaso,

You have spherical chicken and I have spherical cows. I propose to put them together after the end of the contest and start a farm; at least something good can come out of the contest this way. I'm sorry for dropping by so late. I just read one of your comments upper on the page and I want to say that I perfectly understand what you mean; for which reason I hope to compensate with my vote. I enjoyed your essay because it was designed to be entertaining; apparently not everyone has a stomach for humor these days. I also enjoyed your essay because it's a study in topology, symmetry, computability and randomness, which should not be discounted just because they were presented in a light-hearted manner. I like very much how you described the real value of having mathematical models. You have a very good writing style and talent for writing beyond those of a non-professional writer; it is a bit like imbuing a cyberpunk writer such as William Gibson with humor.

Warmest regards,


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Jonathan Khanlian wrote on Apr. 23, 2015 @ 19:35 GMT
Hey Tommaso,

Armin directed me here, and I’m glad he did. I enjoyed your essay, even though I was a little confused trying to visualize the knot and billiards scenes.

I think you'd like my Digital Physics essay, and the actual movie. The movie was inspired by the likes of Wolfram, T’Hooft, Fredkin, Chaitin, Leibniz, Turing, Shannon, and others. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on my essay, which only briefly touches on some of the themes explored in the movie. There are also some questions at the end of the essay that might interest you, though.

Thinking towards the future… Suppose a deterministic model started to become more accepted in the physics community, and then people started to believe that we don’t have free will. Do you think we’d have more empathy at that point towards people that committed crimes? Do you think we would be more concerned with rehabilitating people as opposed to punishing them? My optimistic view is that maybe we’d feel like we were all in this crazy computation together at that point:)

Are you familiar with James Gates’ “Adinkras” which are visual representations of super symmetry functions? Dr. Gates says that representing the super symmetry equations in this graphical way reveals that they are isomorphic to error correction code, like the kind used to fix bit flips when information is transmitted over the internet. “Error correction” sounds so benevolent and like a real mature way to handle our human mistakes. I only mention it because I thought it sort of tied in with that optimistic view of a future I just imagined.

Feel free to sign up for the mailing list if you want to know when and where “Digital Physics” is going to be shown.



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Giovanni Prisinzano wrote on Jun. 11, 2015 @ 12:43 GMT
Best congratulations, Tommaso, for the prize you have won! Your very beatiful and creative essay surely deserved it!

Ciao, un caro saluto,


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Author Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Jun. 11, 2015 @ 14:09 GMT
Well, thank you Giovanni. I hope we'll meet again here in a few months!

Grazie e a presto!


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