Search FQXi

If you have an idea for a blog post or a new forum thread, then please contact us at, with a summary of the topic and its source (e.g., an academic paper, conference talk, external blog post or news item).
Current Essay Contest

Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

Previous Contests

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013

Contest closed to Entries. Submit Community Votes by August 7, 2013; Public Votes by October 31, 2013.


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
April 17, 2014

CATEGORY: What's Ultimately Possible in Physics? Essay Contest [back]
TOPIC: The Fundamental Importance of Discourse In Theoretical Physics by Philip Vos Fellman, Jonathan Vos Post, and Christine Carmichael [refresh]
Bookmark and Share

Author Philip Vos Fellman wrote on Oct. 2, 2009 @ 09:40 GMT
Essay Abstract

The purpose of the following paper is to demonstrate that the “limits of physics” is in a very important way determined by the conceptual framework and language of discourse that we use in describing physical reality. In this paper we examine three particular problems, the problem of time, the problem of non-locality and the concept of maximality in quantum cosmology.

Author Bio

Philip Vos Fellman is a graduate of California Institute of the Arts and Yale University. He possesses multiple advanced degrees from Cornell University, including a doctorate earned in 1990. Jonathan Vos Post studied under Richard Feynman at California Institute of Technology, earning degrees in English and Mathematics. His 1978 doctoral dissertation was among the first written on the nonlinear dynamics of cellular metabolism. Christine Carmichael earned an honours B.Sc. in physics from the University of Edinburgh. She holds multiple advanced degrees, including a doctorate in physics from the University of New South Wales.

Download Essay PDF File

Steve Dufourny wrote on Oct. 8, 2009 @ 13:51 GMT
Dear Mr Philip Vos Fellman, Mr Jonathan Vos Post, and MssChristine Carmichael ,

Congratulations for this very informative essay .

Very interesting about the points of vue of Einstein and Bohr .

Two big minds ,creatives .

The problem isn't their ideas but the interpretations of humans ,people ...and thus the problem of limits .

The expansion ,it's the same problem ,that needs datas ,and that's all in fact .

The relativity is to adapt our perception with the physicality and its limits for a real thermodynamic ,without that it's not utile I think .

All is linked with the same fundamentals ,the quantum ,the perceptive systems and our cosmological dimensions .

Only a real data gives the true nature of our physicality in my opinion.

Best Regards and good luck for the contest too .


Terry Padden wrote on Oct. 13, 2009 @ 00:35 GMT
Philip, Jonathan, Christine

A thoughtful, well written essay that I found very enjoyable. I agree that the effective use of linguistics is of crucial importance in all discourse; which implies all of us must understand semiotics and be multi-lingual if we want to be effective. Successful politicians are the best role models. To choose to use the language of "discourse" or "body of theory' to an audience of physicists is very courageous (in the Sir Humphrey Appleby sense). Some minor points.

1. You write "Even more subtly, are we sure that PlancK's constant is a real number? The two best measurements at NIST differ with statistical significance." We can be sure that the measurements are NOT real numbers.

2. and "Could "h" be a complex number, with a small non-zero imaginary component? Could it be quaternionic or octonionic?". in the Platoist realm now ventured into it can be anything you want. Back here in the physical world we only have rational numbers and integers. Letting h = 1 makes a lot of sense. I can't think of anything else that does; but you never know.

3. and "Conclusion: Just because we all know it doesn't mean it's true " Perhaps; but it does mean it is "Correct" (or vice-versa). You are confusing Reason with Rationality.

Terry Padden wrote on Oct. 13, 2009 @ 10:59 GMT

I should have written conflating, not confusing. Whatever, hoist by your own petard.

Author Philip Vos Fellman wrote on Oct. 13, 2009 @ 15:00 GMT
Hi Terry:

Nice to hear from you. Yep it's taking on a bit to try to explain discourse to an often unreceptive audience, as well you know. Nonetheless, I'm surprised by how many people don't get Bell, either the meaning behind the Bell inequalities - even in this contest I have seen several papers outright denying all the experimental confirmations as "an inade

Author Philip Vos Fellman wrote on Oct. 13, 2009 @ 15:08 GMT
Hi Terry:

Got cut off as I was writing. As I was saying above -

Nice to hear from you. Yep it's taking on a bit to try to explain discourse to an often unreceptive audience, as well you know. Nonetheless, I'm surprised by how many people don't get Bell, either the meaning behind the Bell inequalities - even in this contest I have seen several papers outright denying all the experimental confirmations as "an inadequate sample", OK, so why then do all sample data violate the Bell inequalities?? (Not directly speaking to your argument, but thought I'd throw it in for consideration) Ditto on Bell's points about Bohm (which we didn't really have time to go into, but essays like "On the impossibility of the pilot wave" do have a significant point to make) and Bohr. A bit of spitting into the wind on that section of our paper I fear. Argument isn't going to change anyone's mind, else Bell would have done it 25 years ago.

You're right to catch out the last additions to the paper which were a bit hastily edited and could have been said more clearly. Also the quaternions/octonions theme should have been referenced to our earlier work on quantum Nash equilibria and to John Baez work in category theory. We take it for granted because we work in that area, but it looks a bit like throwing in the kitchen sink when there's no further explication of why we invoke those concepts. Part of the trouble is a 27,500 character limit and the other part is last minute editing with three authors. Every time someone adds a good idea, you have to cut two ideas or three explanations from some other part of the paper. The "just because we all know it, doesn't mean it's true" was a bit of a poke on my part at conventional wisdom and received doctrine. I didn't mean to criticize established fact, I was just poking fun at some of the theoretical elements of physical systems discourse which are taken as true when, in fact, they are stipulations rather than verifiable facts or theories.



Author Philip Vos Fellman wrote on Oct. 13, 2009 @ 23:25 GMT
Again, a response to Terry -

Yes, we are all Sir Humphrey Appleby fans, and I've always had a particular fondness for his abililty to draw distinctions like "Bernard, what you fail to understand is that the Offical Secrets Act was designed to protect officials, not to protect secrets." He would have made a wonderful discussant for John Bell :-)

Terry Padden wrote on Oct. 14, 2009 @ 11:34 GMT

I had the same problem of closure with my effort, and as far as I know there is only one of me; but recent theories of the Self suggest even that can be doubted.

I would have liked my conclusion to be really sharp, and find it quite disappointing. Still I am having lots of fun with a variety of conversations which as usual are nearing their tolerance limits. I hope to last the distance, but often the powers that be and i tend to go our separate ways.

I am finding the group sociology and psychology very interesting. So far with the ratings I have 3 "very goods" and 6 "get losts". My bio consciously invites some negative responses, which I have received. Thank you for welcoming an amateur inside the tent.

PS What I am finding really annoying is those authors who are not responding to posts promptly and directly, even if only with a "Thanks for the fish"; "For Shame" as Homer's father would put it.

Steve Dufourny wrote on Oct. 14, 2009 @ 13:12 GMT
Hi all ,

If some people can explain what is this Nash equilibrium ,it will be well .



Ben Baten wrote on Oct. 15, 2009 @ 19:14 GMT
Dear Philip, Jonathan Vos Post, Christine,

I enjoyed reading your essay. The introduction gives a good overview of the issues with current physics. I believe that these issues cannot be resolved without adopting a fundamentally different perspective. The incompatibility of Quantum Theory and General Relativity (GR), at very small scales, is an indication that either both have issues, or ne...

view entire post

Steve Dufourny wrote on Oct. 15, 2009 @ 19:34 GMT
Hello all,

Dear Mr Baten

You say

"where I fundamentally disagree is his idea that time does not exist"

I agree too,it's the reason why I desagree too,

we can't interpret our physical universe without this constant

,without time ,it's impossible to evolve ,it's a main piece of the puzzle of evolution.The time exists ,not palpable but real in its sequence ,frequence ,oscillation.

Best Regards


Ben Baten wrote on Oct. 15, 2009 @ 20:35 GMT
A clarification of my previous posting.

At the end of my last posting, I was thinking about an ideal gas (thermodynamics). Then, all particles are approximately free.

Obviously, in general, the "Schrodinger's equation holds for a massive particle (electron) in an electric potential. In that case, my remark also holds: "The fact that Schrodinger's equation is time symmetric is a mathematical artifact, because it ignores the irreversibility of time at a more fundamental level."


Ben Baten

Author Philip Vos Fellman wrote on Oct. 17, 2009 @ 01:39 GMT
Hi Steve:

Hi Steve:

There are several excellent non-technical explanation of Nash equilibrium available on the web, starting with Wikipedia and moving on to Roger McCain from Drexel University's wonderful game theory tutorial. I did a kind of general review on Nash Equilibrium, chaos and complexity back in 2004 which you can find at Jonathan and I also did several papers on quantum Nash equilibria, the best review paper (as opposed to one stating anything particularly original) is also on the arXiv at (that's the one we did in conference with John Nash - now there's a "sweaty palm" experience although later we had a wonderful brunch with Nash, his wife Alicia and their son John, so apparently we, at least, did nothing to offend). We haven't yet published on Nash equilibrium in quantum cosmology but are working on a paper linking Peter Lynds' work "On a Finite Universe with No Beginning or End" with the Nash equilibrium in attempting to understand the thermodynamic arrow of time in the early universe. This constitutes a particularly thorny problem in non-extensive statistical mechanics and some of it is presently primarily conjectural. The link between our FqXi paper and the paper we are currently working on is the section where we use John Bell’s stochastic perturbation of the Schrodinger wave equation (which we renamed the Bell-Lynds metric because of the context in which we use it) to illustrate an alternative way of looking at time rather than as a flow of static, dimensionless instants, with the concomitant “dire implications” for thermodynamic reversibility.



Author Philip Vos Fellman wrote on Oct. 17, 2009 @ 01:40 GMT
Hi Terry:

Getting closure is always difficult - ask Kurt Godel (whose name has always fascinated me by being a homonymn for a "short corset"). Nonetheless, I enjoyed your essay tremendously and found it one of the best and most interesting in the entire contest.



Steve Dufourny wrote on Oct. 17, 2009 @ 08:29 GMT
Hi Mr Philip Vos Fellman ,

Thank you very much for this explaination and link .I am going to learn more about it .It's interesting .

Best Regards


Jonathan Vos Post wrote on Oct. 19, 2009 @ 18:32 GMT
To the commenter who raised MOND. I'm not speaking here as to my class when I was Professor of Astronomy, nor to my NASA colleages when we plotted interplanetary and interstellar trajectories. What is MOND to we coauthors of this essay, as we don't (in this essay) care about Newtonian/Keplerian orbits nor Dark Matter one whit. Isn't the protocol to vote on the actual papers listed, rather than riding a hobbyhorse, however interesting a tangent it might be?

Eckard Blumschein wrote on Oct. 27, 2009 @ 10:59 GMT
Dear P & J & C:

Terry Padden already objected to your idea: "Could "h" be a complex number, with a small non-zero imaginary component?" I feel such suggestion on the same level as uncle Al's conjecture that there is no equivalence between inert and heavy mass.

Maybe, someone will be correct with such wild guess.

Why not spending more effort to be at least aware of ignored compelling arguments as well as stubbornly denied unwelcome direct measurement? When I mentioned Galilei, Gold, and Ren, I intended to provoke a bit more awareness. Nobody is perfect, and I doubt that Thommy Gold contributed much to cosmology. However his objection to v. Békésy's choice of a passive traveling wave made him immortal. Questioning anything besides what the mainstream believes might be too simple if we rate originality and simultaneously not simple enough if we conjecture that nature tends to be different from theory in a surprising simple manner.



Jonathan Vos Post wrote on Oct. 31, 2009 @ 16:29 GMT
Eckard Blumschein objects to one minor conjecture, equating it with an utterly unrelated paper, dismissing it as a "wild guess", while ignoring the hard data from NIST which gives a statistically significant difference between the two most accurate measurements of Planck's constant. He then impeaches his testimony by incorrectly spelling Tommy Gold and downplaying his merit for no stated reason See: Tommy Gold Revisited: Why Does Not The Universe Rotate?

Eckard would be more entitled to his opinions if they were informed opinions. But he is clearly not in the target audience of this paper, which is aimed at people who know History, appreciate Theory, and pay attention to experimental data.

Hadassah Tatelman wrote on Dec. 17, 2011 @ 02:20 GMT
I sent two emails to Jonathan at Earthlink that did not go through so if you read this please contact me at alec1dassah1 that's at gmaildotcom. I was at Northwestern with your cousin Muriel and I know that she has died but I would like to contact her children. Pat and Jerry were also at Northwestern at the same time as I. Hope this reaches you.

Please enter your e-mail address:
Note: Joining the FQXi mailing list does not give you a login account or constitute membership in the organization.