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RECENT FORUM POSTS

H.H.J. Luediger: "Even darker.... one can not easily downrate a racehorse to a donkey, but..." in Undecidability,...

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Zeeya Merali: "INSPYRE, INternational School on modern PhYsics and REsearch, organized by..." in Welcome to INSPYRE 2020 -...

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RECENT ARTICLES
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Building Agency in the Biology Lab
Physicists are using optogenetics techniques to make a rudimentary agent, from cellular components, which can convert measurements into actions using light.

Think Quantum to Build Better AI
Investigating how quantum memory storage could aid machine learning and how quantum interactions with the environment may have played a role in evolution.

Outside the Box
A proposed quantum set-up that could predict your game-playing strategy resurrects Newcomb’s classic quiz show paradox.

The Quantum Agent
Investigating how the quantum measurement process might be related to the emergence of intelligence, agency and free will.

First Things First: The Physics of Causality
Why do we remember the past and not the future? Untangling the connections between cause and effect, choice, and entropy.


FQXi BLOGS
May 29, 2020

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Welcome to INSPYRE 2020 - Hitchhikers in the Universe! by Catalina Curceanu
By ZEEYA MERALI • May. 22, 2020 @ 15:28 GMT

INSPYRE, INternational School on modern PhYsics and REsearch, organized by INFN Frascati National Laboratory is addressed to High School students and dedicated to the latest issues of modern physics and cutting edge technologies.

Keywords: #Introduction #Schools #Universe #quantum #cosmology


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INSPYRE 2020 -- Please join our free online course in modern physics
By CATALINA CURCEANU • Mar. 23, 2020 @ 15:55 GMT

I would like to inform you that next week, starting 30th March, we shall have-- online due to Coronavirus--the international school "INSPYRE," organized with support from FQXi.

INSPYRE 2020 is opened to all schools from all around the world. Many schools are now closing, but all students, parents, teachers--and anyone excited about science--is welcome to join.

For 10 years the International School on Modern Physics and Research, INSPYRE, has been one of the major and most prestigious events of the Educational program of INFN Frascati National Laboratory (LNF). The School is aimed at High School students, who have come from all over the world to explore the most relevant issues of Modern Physics.

Since its first edition in 2011, the program has involved 5 days at LNF, featuring lessons and experimental sessions performed in team with INFN researchers.

Due to the current emergency situation, LNF has rescheduled the 2020 edition of INSPYRE--“The Hichhikers's Guide to the Universe”--as an online course, live-streaming the School lessons directly on the INFN-LNF YouTube channel, in order to reach all the students who are passionate about science and technology at their home.

The YouTube lessons will be available at this link and will be held every day from March 30th to April 3rd, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

In the special program of this edition: Amedeo Balbi, professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Tor Vergata University of Rome, will talk about the search for life in the Universe. Fabio Sciarrino, professor of Experimental Physics of Matter at Sapienza University of Rome, will give a lecture about Quantum Mechanics and technologies. Lorenzo Maccone, professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Pavia, will deal with time in Modern Physics. Stefano Bellucci, INFN-LNF Senior researcher, and Antonino Cataldo, INFN-LNF researcher, will illustrate bionanotechnologies and their applications. Viviana Fafone, professor of Astrophysics at Tor Vergata University, will give a lecture about gravitational waves. Catalina Curceanu, director of the School and INFN-LNF Senior researcher, will explore the strangeness of the stars and how to study them using the Dafne accelerator. Frederick Van Der Veken, researcher of Theoretical Physics at CERN, will talk about particle physics and the research conducted at LHC, and Matteo Martini, professor of Particle Physics at Marconi University and President of Frascati Scienza, will give a lecture about the debunking of fake news using a scientific approach.

The aim of the School is to transfer knowledge in the context of frontier research, cutting-edge technologies and present the connection between science and society. The School will be held in English and students will have the chance to directly interact with the speakers by sending their questions live during the lessons.

The 2020 INSPYRE edition will be an exceptional opportunity extended to every student to take part of a School of international level.

Students and teachers are invited to join the lectures.

All details about the program and further updates will be available on the webpage:

edu.lnf.infn.it/inspyre-2020/

Stay tuned and get Inspyred!
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Emergent Reality: Markus Müller at the 6th FQXi Meeting
By IAN DURHAM • Jan. 10, 2020 @ 19:55 GMT

At the 5th International FQXi conference in 2016, participants were given a marker and asked to write something on their conference badge that might serve as a conversation starter. It could be a bold statement or a single word. The only requirement, if I recall, was that it had to have something loosely to do with the theme of the conference (that is, the organizers didn’t want anyone putting random words like “potato” on their badges). In what I perceived as a show of defiance against certain elements in the community, I wrote “objective reality exists” on mine. No one noticed. To be fair, I don’t think anyone actually paid much attention to anyone else’s name tag. Nevertheless, in my own mind, it felt like I took a stand on something important (feel free to laugh at that).

I still firmly believe that objective reality exists in some form, but in the past few years, I have begun to think that the story may be a bit more complicated than I’d originally thought. I have always thought that there are aspects of the universe that are necessarily emergent and I have also long believed that “reality” is fundamentally relational in a certain sense. As an anonymous reviewer once wrote in Philosophical Magazine (which, despite its name, is actually a physics journal), science is the “rational correlation of experience.” That is, if we view science as uncovering the parts of the world that can be “objectively” known, then this knowledge is necessarily correlative and therefore relational.

To be clear, this does not deny that there is a reality outside of this correlative experience. It simply says that this experience is what constitutes an objective reality since it assumes that objectivity, in this sense, is common experience that can be rationally agreed upon. Certainly this is not a perfect definition, but there is an element of truth to it. Falsifiability only has real weight in a relational sense since it requires some kind of comparison.

At any rate, this all suggests a number of things. First it suggests that objective reality is emergent (though, again, it does not outright deny a more fundamental, non-emergent reality). But it also suggests that the very concept of objectivity requires observers of some sort. To put it another way, if science is the rational correlation of experience, then there must be observers whose experience is being rationally correlated.

In his talk at the 6th International FQXi conference, Markus Müller
Markus Müller at the 6th FQXi meeting in Tuscany.
pointed out that this suggests that perhaps the laws of physics themselves only apply at the observer level. The external world described by these laws would thus be emergent. Specifically what Müller suggests is that this objective external world must be an emergent approximation of something more fundamental but potentially inaccessible.

Müller’s work, which is developed in detail in a recent preprint, specifically makes reference to John Wheeler’s concept of “law without law” according to which there actually are no fundamental laws and the universe’s basic building blocks are random, possibly chaotic quantum phenomena.
Physicist John Wheeler, originator of the concept of
He begins by committing to the first-person perspective of observers as being fundamental. This is in contrast to most theories which take the third-person perspective representing “the world” to be fundamental. In other words, Müller does not assume that there is necessarily an objective, external world. Rather, he seeks to place the question “What will I see next?” at the center of the story. Using algorithmic information theory, he then proceeds to show that an objective, external world naturally emerges from a basic set of postulates that includes the first-person perspective under the guise of “observer states”. Specifically he shows that, in the presence of enough information, the first-person and third-person perspectives are equivalent; absent sufficient information, they are not. Müller goes on to show that switching to a fundamental first-person perspective can dissolve the famous Boltzmann brain problem from cosmology and can offer interesting insights into the brain emulation problem from AI.
Ludwig Boltzmann, who originally proposed the idea of Boltzmann brains.


To be clear, Müller isn’t necessarily making the claim that this is how the world works. He’s simply attempting to show that one can devise a self-consistent theory that begins with a first-person perspective and that then leads to an emergent third-person perspective. As with most physical theories, the aim is to chip away at our understanding of the world. In Müller’s case, it is to say that maybe we should reconsider how we formulate our theories, which overwhelmingly assume a third-person perspective.

As I mentioned before, though I firmly hold that objective reality in some form exists, I have come to realize that it may not come in quite as simple a form as I had originally thought. One of the reasons for the change in my thinking on this topic is my recent involvement in a program called Science for Monks and Nuns which aims to bring science to Tibetan Buddhist monastic communities. (Several FQXi members have been involved in this program including Tim Maudlin, George Musser, Howard Wiseman, and the late David Finkelstein.) Buddhist philosophy, like science, does not have a single, established view on reality. Rather it is divided into various schools of thought. One such school of thought, known as Cittamātra or Yogācāra, sometimes referred to as the “Mind Only” school, flatly denies the existence of an objective, external world. By contrast, Madhyamaka, also known as the “Middle Way”, posits that the external world is essentially one of co-dependent origination. That is, it posits that nothing has its own intrinsic nature. In other words, nothing has any meaning without reference to something else.
A Buddhist philosophy classroom at the Tibetan Government in Exile compound in Dharamsala, India.


In his FQXi conference talk, Müller employed the phrase “mind before matter” to emphasize the point that, in his model, the observer state is fundamental and gives rise to an objective, external world. His model seems to include elements of both the Mind Only and Middle Way schools of Buddhist philosophy. Similar to the Mind Only school, Müller’s model takes first-person perspective observer states as fundamental. However, his model allows for the mutually dependent emergence of a third-person external world in a manner that is reminiscent of the Middle Way’s co-dependent origination.

I want to emphasize that I am not an expert on Buddhism by any stretch. But my time working with the monks and nuns has changed my perspective on reality and I found the similarities with Müller’s purely scientific model to be striking.

At any rate, I think Müller’s model holds a great deal of promise for explaining the quantum/classical contrast. Perhaps the world really is fundamentally quantum and the objective reality of classical physics is an emergent phenomenon. It doesn’t make that reality any less real. It simply might be that it’s not fundamental.
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2019: The Physics Year in Review
By ZEEYA MERALI • Dec. 29, 2019 @ 19:47 GMT

As 2019 draws to a close, we're counting down some of the biggest stories in foundational physics and related fields.

Once again, items have been chosen by quantum physicist Ian Durham, of Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.

In the first part of the rundown, Ian lists a few highlights that haven't quite made his top 5, but which are nonetheless noteworthy. I'll be posting his top 5 soon. Listen to the podcast and let us know, if you agree (or disagree) with his choices.

And in the second part, Ian completes his list -- and admits he struggled with which of top two should come in first.

Free Podcast

2019: Year in Physics Review Part 1 Beginning our countdown of the biggest stories of the year in physics, as chosen by quantum physicist Ian Durham.

LISTEN:

Go to full podcast



Free Podcast

2019: Year in Physics Review Part 2: Concluding our countdown of the biggest stories of the year in physics, as chosen by quantum physicist Ian Durham.

LISTEN:

Go to full podcast


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Consciousness in the Physical World: Call for Proposals
By DAVID SLOAN • Dec. 28, 2019 @ 16:56 GMT

We're happy to announce that we are opening a call for proposals to focus on 'Consciousness in the Physical World'. Generously supported by the Fetzer Franklin Fund, we're looking for ideas coming from a broad range of scientists on the nature of consciousness and what makes for a conscious agent.

Following on from our calls on intelligence and agency, this time the focus on consciousness aims to promote the use of the large swath of recently developed tools and ideas to look for new insights.

The complete timeline is available, together with an FAQ and some examples of ideas and questions.

We have around $1.8 million in total funding available, so get your thoughts and ideas together, build a proposal and head over to the application form.
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