The Foundational Questions Institute, FQxI, is an independent grant-making agency and think-tank which provides support for blue skies research in the physical sciences. Founded in 2006 by Professor Max Tegmark and Professor Anthony Aguirre, FQxI has awarded over US$29 million in grants to researchers around the globe to work on issues ranging from the origin of the arrow of time in quantum gravity to the nature of consciousness.
The Institute’s five goals:
1. To expand the purview of scientific inquiry to include scientific disciplines fundamental to a deep understanding of reality, but which are currently largely unsupported by conventional grant sources and academic institutions;
2. To redress incrementalism in research programming by establishing or expanding new “islands” of understanding through flexible funding of high-risk, high-reward research in these areas;
3. To create opportunities for meaningful convenings and useful collaborations between researchers working on the foundations of science;
4. To make the pursuit of science more equitable by addressing the marginalization of students, researchers, and outreach specialists due to racism, sexism, ableism, and other oppressive biases that result in certain groups of people being underrepresented in the foundations of science;
5. To increase public understanding of known and future discoveries in these areas and the potential implications for our worldview.
FQxI, therefore, aims to support research that is both foundational (with potentially significant and broad implications for our understanding of the deep or “ultimate” nature of reality) and unconventional (enabling research that, because of its speculative, non-mainstream, or high-risk nature, would otherwise go unperformed due to lack of funding).
The Institute’s scope and impetus:
In the centuries since Galileo revolutionized human thought by insisting that physical phenomena be observed systematically and described mathematically, physics and cosmology have formed the bedrock of our understanding of the physical world, as well as the pre-eminent source of new insight into our deepest questions of reality.
A few examples, now familiar but profoundly radical in their time:
1. Isaac Newton showed that simple equations and a clockwork conception of space and time well described most motions of earthly and nearby heavenly objects.
2. Albert Einstein realized our conceptions of space and time must be fundamentally reworked, and by doing so, we may describe the structure of the entire observable universe within physical theory.
3. Emmy Noether showed that conservation laws followed from symmetries, which is a profound connection between the beauty of geometry and the most powerful ideas in physics.
4. The creators of quantum mechanics produced equations explicating reality on the smallest scales but were forced to dispense with or generalize prior notions of causality, repeatability, and objectivity in ways we still may not fully appreciate.
At FQxI, we know further paradigm-shifting discoveries are to be found in physics, cosmology, and related fields. For, as far as we have come, many unanswered questions at the foundations of science remain—some arising from the scientific progress we have achieved and some even predating science. For example:
Why does the universe seem so complex, given its simple initial conditions and the elegant mathematics that describes it? Is life ubiquitous in the universe (or beyond)? How does matter give rise to consciousness—or does it?
What distinguishes the future from the past if the universe is governed by physical laws that make no such distinction? How does duration, which we experience, relate to the time described by physics and mathematics?
What, if anything, happened before the Big Bang? What determined the characteristics of the universe? Is our observed universe all that exists, or is it just one “universe” among many, a mere part of a much bigger picture in which we misinterpret local conditions as fundamental laws? What will happen in the distant future? Will dark energy collapse or rip apart our universe? Will all particles and black holes ultimately decay away?
What do the fantastically effective but bafflingly counterintuitive laws of quantum mechanics tell us about reality? How do quantum measurements occur: Are there really “many worlds,” and if not, how do quantum possibilities collapse into a single observed reality? Can we find a self-consistent theory of nature that unifies gravity and quantum mechanics?
Questions like these lie at the frontier of science and at the foundation of our understanding of the universe. Answers to these questions will have profound intellectual, practical, and spiritual implications for anyone with a deep curiosity about the world’s true nature.
The deep philosophical implications of scientific work have motivated a huge number of scientists, from the giants who reconceptualized the notion of reality on which their theories are based to those advancing the horizons of those theories. Their bold discoveries expanded rigorous science to encompass many matters considered the purview of mere speculation or philosophy.
At FQxI, we encourage this thinking and these lines of discovery. We stand in contrast to most research organizations whose primary focus is on short-term returns on narrow fields of work. FQxI encourages the uncertain and often interdisciplinary methods required to develop and comprehend prospective revolutions in physics and cosmology.
We work to support researchers who can revolutionize our understanding, facilitate discoveries that change our place in the universe, and increase the excitement and importance of modern science in the public consciousness.
Video: Wine, Quantum, a Life Worth Living
Is quantumness in the eye of the beholder?
Quantum Bayesianism, or QBism, is an interpretation of quantum mechanics in which probabilities in quantum theory are personal to the agent in quantum theory. Join QBism co-founder Chris Fuchs for cocktails and conversation with Adán Cabello, Marissa Giustina and Rüdiger Schack—discussing probability, chaos, quantum randomness and the meaning of life, whilst trying to convince them that QBism is the ultimate quantum mechanical interpretation.
- Read more in Mitch Waldrop’s article, “Painting a QBist Picture of Reality.”