Search FQXi

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 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.

Contests Home

Current Essay Contest

Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fnd.

Previous Contests

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

Forum Home
Terms of Use

Order posts by:
 chronological order
 most recent first

Posts by the author are highlighted in orange; posts by FQXi Members are highlighted in blue.

By using the FQXi Forum, you acknowledge reading and agree to abide by the Terms of Use

 RSS feed | RSS help

Lawrence Crowell: on 3/22/17 at 17:26pm UTC, wrote Great essay. I am not sure I totally agree with this, but it certainly is...

Shaikh Raisuddin: on 3/21/17 at 19:20pm UTC, wrote Dean Rickles There is no subjectivity, but only objectivity! If we shrug...

Richard Stafford: on 3/20/17 at 20:56pm UTC, wrote I just finished reading your essay and found it interesting; however, I am...

Joe Fisher: on 3/19/17 at 15:55pm UTC, wrote Dear Professor Dean Rickles, Please excuse me for I have no intention of...

Peter Jackson: on 3/19/17 at 13:25pm UTC, wrote Professor Rickles, Very nice essay with some provocative and interesting...

Steve Agnew: on 3/18/17 at 15:15pm UTC, wrote This is an interesting address the question by arguing that...

Satyavarapu Gupta: on 3/18/17 at 0:14am UTC, wrote Nice essay Rickles, Wonderful sentences!….. “The brain is small. The...

sridattadev kancharla: on 3/17/17 at 19:39pm UTC, wrote Dear Dean, Universe is an i-Sphere and we humans are capable of...


leonae gonzales: "This seems to be very interesting site. Professionally i am a writer at the..." in Quantum Replicants:...

James Putnam: "Quoting Gary D. Simpson: "If you disapprove of one-bombing and wish to..." in FQXi Essay Contest 2016:...

Steven Andresen: "It might be that I have come to know where the hidden variable is, to..." in 80 Years of EPR —...

Lawrence Crowell: "The choice for anonymous commenting is a good idea. A person scoring less..." in FQXi Essay Contest 2016:...

dieu le: "The Creation of Momentum From the gigantic Milky Way Galaxy to the..." in Alternative Models of...

dieu le: "What causes Things Move in Universe? Things move when encountering a..." in Alternative Models of...

leonae gonzales: "I would like to prepare a review of this topic with the help of research..." in Quantum Replicants:...

Thewitcher: "Đến với dịch vụ chữ ký số bạn sẽ được..." in Riding the Rogue Quantum...

click titles to read articles

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

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

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

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.

March 23, 2017

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: World without World: Observer-Dependent Physics by Dean Rickles [refresh]
Bookmark and Share
Login or create account to post reply or comment.

This essay's rating: Community = 4.7; Public = 6.0

Author Dean Rickles wrote on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 20:16 GMT
Essay Abstract

The viewpoint expressed in this essay is that a pressing problem of physics is to recognize that our role as observers is more deeply embedded in our theories and laws than is often realised. This is developed by looking at two possible observer-inclusive approaches to physics.

Author Bio

Professor Dean Rickles is Professor of History and Philosophy of Modern Physics and Australian Research Council Future Fellow at the University of Sydney, where he is also co-director of the Centre for Time. He has written several books, including most recently A Brief History of String Theory and Philosophy of Physics.

Download Essay PDF File

Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 00:17 GMT
Dear Dean Rickles,

I believe you're close to expressing Wheeler's conception when you state:

"The laws of physics… are heavily laden with material from humans devising such representation and laws.… The structure of the universe, on such views, is intimately connected with our own existence."

I would prefer to state that "the perceived structure of the universe…...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Lee Bloomquist wrote on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 00:51 GMT
"a pressing problem of physics is to recognize that our role as observers is more deeply embedded in our theories and laws than is often realised."

Maybe there is a common language of possibilities. Laws say what's impossible and afford possibilities; an observer should see these possibilities and eliminate the impossibilities.

report post as inappropriate

Conrad Dale Johnson wrote on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 13:01 GMT
Hi Dean – thanks for a lively and very readable overview of the literature on the “participatory universe.” But I’m afraid I disagree with the notion that the laws of physics are “infused with features of our cognitive framework.” On the contrary, I think the reason we struggle so much to make sense of these issues is that our traditional framework is so badly suited to sorting out...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

David Brown wrote on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 17:15 GMT
"The viewpoint expressed in this essay is that a pressing problem is to recognize that our role as observers is more deeply embedded in our theories and laws that is often realized." The Copenhagen Interpretation seems to me to be a minimalist, agnostic epistemology that works extremely well in terms of its pragmatic success but might suffer a reverse from the Fredkin-Wolfram challenge.

Where Are the Dark Matter Particles?

My guess is that the Gravity Probe B science team misinterpreted their own results — despite the fact that I might be a minority of one in making this particular guess.

report post as inappropriate

peter cameron wrote on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 21:41 GMT

Glad to see your focus on mindful/mindless rather than aims and intention. It nicely sidesteps the problem of emergence of sentience, which appears to be the only realistic option in our present understanding.

imo you've nailed it with your take on the role of the observer. Interesting you precede that discussion with

"...mathematical laws are not mindless but are instead infused with features of our cognitive framework."

This has me wondering if such mindfulness is essential for your discussion of the observer. In any case, I think a strong argument can be made for use of the geometric Clifford algebras of 3D space and 4D spacetime in attempts to formalize the mindfulness you envision.

I much like the FQXi search engine. Searching for any of the three terms 'geometric Clifford algebra' gives what appear to me to be useful links to other essays in this year's Forum Posts section. You might find helpful ideas there in terms of "...features of our cognitive framework."

Best regards,


report post as inappropriate

Alexey/Lev Burov wrote on Mar. 17, 2017 @ 03:08 GMT
Dear Dean,

I fully support your firm insistence on the importance of the mind-universe problem, and I appreciate your quotations. I think, my son Lev and clearly refuted the Wheeler's closed loop in our essay awarded at the previous fqxi contest. I would be grateful for your comments to our Moira and Eileithyia for Genesis.

All the best,

Alexey Burov.

report post as inappropriate

sridattadev kancharla wrote on Mar. 17, 2017 @ 19:39 GMT
Dear Dean,

Universe is an i-Sphere and we humans are capable of interpreting it as 4 dimensional dual torus inside a 3-Sphere, which consists of Riemann 2-sphere as Soul as depicted in S=BM^2 diagram in the attached doc. Soul is the simplest of the complex manifolds with in the 3-sphere, Mind and Body constitute the remaining complexity. Soul, Mind and Body are in a toroidal flux in human beings, exactly at the center of the 3-sphere one can experience the unity of the trinity and that is the now moment we experience. As there are 4 dimensions required for a 3-sphere, the regular 3 dimensions of space and the fourth dimension of time, it is obvious that the 2-sphere (Riemann sphere) of consciousness with in us is with out the time dimension and hence the saying "eternal soul". Poincare` conjecture implies that consciousness is homeomorphic (same or similar) in all beings manifested in all dimensions of the universe, as i have shown that Riemann sphere can serve as the fundamental unit of consciousness in There are no goals as such its all play.

PS: i thinks therefore we are VR(Virtual Reality), i "am" not GOD but i "is".

zero = i = infinity = sqrt ( e power (i * pi) )



attachments: 12_zero__i__infinity.docx

report post as inappropriate

Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Mar. 18, 2017 @ 00:14 GMT
Nice essay Rickles,

Wonderful sentences!….. “The brain is small. The universe is large. In what way, if any, is it, the observed, affected by man, the observer? Is the universe deprived of

all meaningful existence in the absence of mind?”

We get 5 different pictures of the Universe using our five senses viz, “Vision, Smell, Taste, Touch and by Hearing” ....

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Steve Agnew wrote on Mar. 18, 2017 @ 15:15 GMT
This is an interesting address the question by arguing that physical laws are not mindless. Rather, physical laws are part of our subjective and not objective reality.

You state that the goal of the scientist is to uncover the universe's invariant features, its laws. You also state that the goal of science is to predict the future and that is the goal of rats as well. Granted.

However, physical laws are by definition objective since many people agree with them, and so what you seemed to have done is simply redefine the word subjective to include objective notions about the physical world.

It would seem that redefining the words in the question does not address the core issue...the core issue of subjective versus objective realities. The observer of a source always perturbs the source just as you note.

The core issue dividing our subjective and objective realities is whether the observer can always know the causes of those source perturbations, i.e., the physical laws, not whether the perturbations exist. You do not seem to have addressed this core issue.

If an observer cannot actually know a physical cause that does exist, this means that there is choice without the possibility of knowing a cause for that choice. This differentiates the objective nature of the world where all effects have a knowable cause from our subjective experience where there is choice without cause just like quantum uncertainty means there are effects without knowable causes.

report post as inappropriate

Peter Jackson wrote on Mar. 19, 2017 @ 13:25 GMT
Professor Rickles,

Very nice essay with some provocative and interesting views. I hadn't seem QBism and found it close to previous essays of mine, equivalent to the 'wavefunction' not collapsing but being reborn' by each interaction.

However I have to suggest that from there it descends largely into utter nonsense, purely and demonstrable due to our incomplete understanding of nature. I show in my own essay how QMs predictions CAN be produced by classical mechanisms, and exactly as John Bell predicted, by identifying a momentum exchange in observer/detector interactions NOT accounted for in QM's formulation.

I didn't find your "mathematical laws are not mindless but are instead infused with features of our cognitive framework." shocking at all. If you like 'shocking' then do take a look (and try to disprove) at the simple reality exposed in my essay. (the first part predicts it'll be 'invisible' to most minds, as is most new physics, and shows why).

As one expert in the philosophy of science and QM I'd greatly value your response.

Well done and thank you for your own, confirming the limited 'front line' of our current state of understanding.



report post as inappropriate

Joe Fisher wrote on Mar. 19, 2017 @ 15:55 GMT
Dear Professor Dean Rickles,

Please excuse me for I have no intention of disparaging in any way any part of your essay.

I merely wish to point out that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) Physicist & Nobel Laureate.

Only nature could produce a reality so simple, a single cell amoeba could deal with it.

The real Universe must consist only of one unified visible infinite physical surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light.

A more detailed explanation of natural reality can be found in my essay, SCORE ONE FOR SIMPLICITY. I do hope that you will read my essay and perhaps comment on its merit.

Joe Fisher, Realist

report post as inappropriate

Richard David Stafford wrote on Mar. 20, 2017 @ 20:56 GMT
I just finished reading your essay and found it interesting; however, I am of the opinion that you still overindulge yourself in the "beliefs" held by the scientific community (an issue I often refer to as a

religion" which upsets them to a rather unbelievable extent).

People seem to be incapable of comprehending what I say and I have hopes you might be able to understand what I am talking about. It might be beneficial for you to read part 3 of my Essay ignoring everything else.

Mindless mathematics is the supposed starting point of these essays.

Part 1 of my essay is no more than a comment that role and structure of language is the first issue to be understood.

Part 2 is no more than a comment that any communication (think language) can be transformed into collections of numbers. If you have any understanding of computers, you should be well aware of that fact.

Part 3 is no more than a definition of Understanding.

The rest of the essay is no more than a demonstration of how "mindless mathematics then yields some rather astounding facts. This is an issue I barely touch in my essay. The work can be extended a thousand fold easily.

Please take a look at part 3 and see if you are capable of comprehending my definition.

Thank you - R.D. Stafford

report post as inappropriate

Shaikh Raisuddin wrote on Mar. 21, 2017 @ 19:20 GMT
Dean Rickles

There is no subjectivity, but only objectivity! If we shrug off anthropocentrism--the way of looking from man's perspective.

The perspective that needs to adapted is physicalism by translating each word of dictionary into their "physical correlate".

For example I define mind as the physical process by which a response is decided.

An epistemological revolution is needed to acknowledge that, "Physics is behavioral science of matter". It is not Physics that give behavior to matter instead behavior of matter give Physics.

Matter has its own mind and language. Matter expresses and matter comprehends. How matter knows that its reaction is equal and opposite to an action?

We need a paradigm shift to answer the question of the Essay Contest.

report post as inappropriate

Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Mar. 22, 2017 @ 17:26 GMT
Great essay. I am not sure I totally agree with this, but it certainly is something with which to reference developments in physics. It is sort of the ultimate bootstrap principle and it could ultimately prove to be the final principle of physics and cosmology.

When I was in high school I purchased the big "Gravitation" book of Misner, Thorne and Wheeler. As a high school senior I struggled hard to read the book. Around that time I was perusing the local university library and found this book "Quantum Gravity," pulled it off the shelf and looked in it. I read the essay by Wheeler at the end on the Participatory Universe. I was utterly thunderstruck that anyone would write in a book of hard physics something of this nature. I remember this reading experience as bordering on mystical.

If you look in my essay you will see where at the end I talk about the role of Goedel's theorem and self-reference in the open world or universe (multiverse). This is one one cornerstone that Wheeler appeals to with his participatory universe.

I am not sure I will live long enough to know whether this weltenschauung will prove to be the ultimate final theory of physics. I think or suspect we might be trying to find the penultimate theory, or maybe the pre-penultimate theory. This will be around though haunting us so long as we are doing physics.

Cheers LC

report post as inappropriate

Login or create account to post reply or comment.

Please enter your e-mail address:

And select the letter between 'B' and 'D':

Note: Joining the FQXi mailing list does not give you a login account or constitute membership in the organization.