Large Grants
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Previous Programs

2016 Physics of the Observer
2016 Awardees

2015 The Physics of What Happens
2015 Awardees

2013 Physics of Information
2013 Awardees

2010 The Nature of Time
2010 Awardees

2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
2008 Awardees

2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
2006 Awardees

Adam Brown
Stanford University


Leonard Susskind, Stanford University

Project Title

Complexity, Black Holes, and Observers

Project Summary

There are some things that no single observer can know, even in principle. Thanks to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, they can know both the position and momentum of a particle; thanks to the finite speed of light, they can observe two causally disconnected points. What do we make of this? You might think these are just accidental inconveniences. But the principle of complementarity -- in the first case quantum complementarity, in the second case causal complementarity -- says these are essential obstacles, required for the consistency of the laws of nature. Some paradoxical thought experiments may be resolved by restricting attention to only that which is actually observable. In this proposal, I explore a third, more radical, proposed complementarity principle. Some computations are easy, but some computations are hard. If the computation required to exhibit a would-be inconsistency in the laws of physics is sufficiently complex as to be impossible without dramatically transforming the system under study, perhaps that is reason enough to say that there is no inconsistency. I investigate moving computational complexity from an epiphenomenon to a central role in understanding the physics of the observer.

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