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CATEGORY: Questioning the Foundations Essay Contest (2012) [back]
TOPIC: Physics Needs a Physical Theory of Observation by Chris Fields [refresh]

Author Chris Fields wrote on Sep. 4, 2012 @ 11:58 GMT
Essay Abstract

The ubiquitous assumption that ``systems'' can be taken as ``given'' is wrong. Viewing observation physically as entanglement allows this assumption to be dropped. In the framework that results, initial conditions play no role, time is emergent, observers are ubiquitous, and both ``systems'' and the theories that describe them are purely model-theoretic entities.

Author Bio

Chris Fields started his research career as an experimental physicist, branched into artificial intelligence and applied software, and ended up doing bioinformatics in the Human Genome Project. His current research focuses on describing how humans identify systems across observations at the implementation level, and on building a realistic representation of observation into a physical formalism.

Yuri Danoyan wrote on Sep. 4, 2012 @ 18:41 GMT
Chris

You touched the perennial problem

"What is the same information?" is the modern version of oldest problem starting from Plato question: What makes beautiful things "beautiful". Problem of universals is an ancient problem in metaphysics. Bertrand Russel wrote that all Western philosophy is the comment to Plato.

In my Opinion Plato's question is tautological question and according to Wittgenstein does haven't sense,but....

major propositions in physics connected with notion"the same"

For example:

1.Einstein's relativity of simultaneity. The same time doesn't exist...

2 Heisenberg's uncertainty. The same time can't to measure....

3.Pauli's exclusion principle. The same energetic level only one fermion....

It seems to me very interesting.

Somebody thought of that?

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DANIEL WAGNER FONTELES ALVES wrote on Sep. 23, 2012 @ 16:29 GMT
Dear Chris

I´m deeply impressed by your essay. I will read it more carefully before making any comments though. I have also thought of relations between semantics and physics, but I found category theory was a better tool than model theory for investigating that. Please take a look at my essay

, for I think that there could be some link.

Best regards

Daniel

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Chris Fields replied on Sep. 25, 2012 @ 22:03 GMT
Dear Daniel,

Please see my comment on your paper. From a category-theoretic perspective, a semantic model is just a mapping from a category being modeled (e.g. physical states and physical dynamics) to a "model" category in which the objects are descriptions encoded using classical information and the morphisms are operations defined over those descriptions. Classically-specified execution traces of classical algorithms as semantic models of the dynamics of physical systems that we call "computers" provide a canonical example.

Cheers,

Chris

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Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Sep. 23, 2012 @ 23:08 GMT
I found your paper interesting; I read it twice today. In comparing that you advocate a theory of observation with what I consider as the need for generalizing unitarity and removing quantum field locality, I would say your foundations are in some sense on a deeper level. A theory of observation, one which physically describes the observation process, I think leads into some bizarre...

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Chris Fields replied on Sep. 27, 2012 @ 20:43 GMT
Dear Lawrence,

Thank you for your comments. You say, "a trace operation is an arbitrary nonphysical process." I don't think this is really correct. When we do trace operations - when we choose to ignore certain degrees of freedom - we are doing something. The issue is to understand what we are doing, and then to ask if "trace" is an adequate mathematical model.

This is a place...

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Lawrence B. Crowell replied on Sep. 27, 2012 @ 22:41 GMT
I called the trace operation unphysical because it is something we do by fiat. I agree there is something going on, but we in effect “trace over it.” It is rather similar to the problem of metric back reaction with Hawking radiation. This is something one imposes, using classicality of spacetime, which is suggestive of some quantum gravity process. In fact the problem of measurement in...

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Chris Fields replied on Sep. 28, 2012 @ 10:44 GMT
Dear Lawrence,

"The existence of a classical world is the big mystery." Indeed.

It is an irony of history that physicists, with the notable exception of Helmholtz, never seem to have become very interested in the "measurement problems" of classical physics - the problems of how observers differentiate systems from their environments and of how they determine that multiple observations are observations of the same system. Had they been, the variations introduced by quantum theory might not have seemed so surprising or shocking.

As far as I know, the first experimental studies of the object identification problem were those of Burke, who showed in the 1950s that how an object moves in part determines whether humans see it as remaining the same object over time. The frame problem wasn't formulated as such until McCarthy and Hayes in 1969. Now, however, these questions are an industry - much larger than the foundations of physics! If you really want to understand how humans implement the trace operator, you use an fMRI machine, or study the cytology of Alzheimer's disease.

Self-reference enters into this as the question: how does an observer know that part of the observation is observation of a memory? How is this tag implemented? It seems obvious when you're looking at your instrument and looking at a logbook page. But it's less obvious when the memory is in your head.

So yes, it is the classical versions that are the really hard ones. When we understand how someone knows that her coffee cup is the same thing as it was 10 minutes ago - really understand it - we'll be making progress.

Cheers,

Chris

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Hoang cao Hai wrote on Sep. 24, 2012 @ 03:18 GMT
Dear Chris Fields

We observe with the eye but found and recognize by the mind of knowledge ?

Kind Regards !Hải.Caohoàng of THE INCORRECT ASSUMPTIONS AND A CORRECT THEORY

August 23, 2012 - 11:51 GMT on this essay contest.

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Peter Jackson wrote on Sep. 24, 2012 @ 17:50 GMT
Chris

Well argued, but I disagree with some key concepts (I think). The first is your point 1. I claim that sophisticated observation can detect and define a physical boundary to all inertial frames, which are mutually exclusive. I agree that this; "distorts physical theory, renders our perspective special, turns the universe into a 'multiverse' and makes time objective." However all these are part of an ontological construct build on fully logical foundations which is more consistent with reality than current theory.

Also; "the "External Reality Hypothesis (ERH)": the claim that 'there exists an external physical reality completely independent of us humans' As an external reality "completely independent" of the physical states of human observers." I show how this need not violate energy conservation, because I find BOTH! Real and apparent. i.e. Light pulses that go PAST the observer in motion through a medium are observed as being at a different speed to the one measured after detection by interaction with the lens. I describe how this can be entirely self apparent and intuitive.

Nevertheless well written and a valuable contribution. I hope read my essay, fit the parts together and report on the outcome in your terms.

Best wishes.

Peter

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Member Hector Zenil wrote on Sep. 25, 2012 @ 05:06 GMT
Dear Chris,

I agree that the role of the observer is key in modern accounts of scientific theories that currently leave observers outside. And unfortunately, some researchers working in models that do take into consideration the observer, such as quantum mechanics (QM), often make adventurous claims about the properties of such observers by making interpretations about the model (such as free will theorems based in indeterministic randomness of QM).

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Amanda Gefter wrote on Sep. 29, 2012 @ 07:58 GMT
Hi Chris,

I really enjoyed reading your essay. I'll have to give it a second read to wrap my head around it, but the question of the meaning, import and ontology of systems is fascinating. What are your thoughts on Carlo Rovelli's relational quantum mechanics? I've been impressed by the clarity of his thinking on this issue - in a nutshell, that quantum physics is about what information one system has about another, and that such relations exhaust what we can say about the world. In any case, you've put forward some intriguing ideas.

If you have a moment to look at my essay, it may be of some interest to you. While very different, it focuses on a kind of radical frame-dependence that also invokes a relational view of systems, and of the boundary between observer and observed, which clearly is itself frame-dependent. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Best,

Amanda

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Chris Fields replied on Oct. 9, 2012 @ 21:48 GMT
Hi Amanda,

I think Rovelli is clearly on the right track. We just need to go farther, from a relational approach to quantum states to a relational approach to quantum systems. Both of our essays seem to be making this point, although from quite different perspectives.

Cheers,

Chris

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Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Sep. 29, 2012 @ 13:31 GMT
Chris,

An observer can include any classical information recording system. Consider a cosmic ray that interacts with the atmosphere, scatters and its muon decay product is caught in a piece of flint. The rock has a path of the muon recorded in it, and serves as a type of particle detector. The set of possible quantum amplitudes for the cosmic ray interaction and subsequent decays has...

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Stefan Weckbach wrote on Sep. 29, 2012 @ 17:58 GMT
Dear Chris,

your approach is very interesting to me. The idea that even in a single-"particle"-experiment the degrees of freedom aren't what we assume to be is really new to me. In fact, to model a realistic information transfer of Qubits on has to define things in a classical manner: environment, measurement device and the object of measurement (and probably the final observer). From a classical point of view this seems to be easily feasible. But as you outlined in your essay from the view of QM it is non-trivial.

So, in my own essay i come to similar conclusions as you ("Treating such boundaries as “given” distorts physical theory: it renders our perspective special, turns the universe into a multiverse and makes time appear objective.").

This non-triviality may be one reason why Hawking stated that, for him, "many-worlds" are "trivially true". In my own essay i refute the MW-assumption in favour of a more non-trivial explanation: Namely that entanglement does render every measured system to be consistent with logic and our trivial understanding of physical causality. I differenciate between this causality and non-physical reassons because i think to have found a new explanation of QM that at least is isomorphic to some other attempts here at fqxi and because i also think that Wheeler's "utterly simple idea" could be that the very framework of physics - the causality-concept - does no more fully hold in the domain of QM. How it can be nonetheless, that we experience strong causal effects in our classical world is outlined in my essay.

I would be happy if you could take a look at it!

Best wishes,

Stefan

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Georgina Parry wrote on Sep. 30, 2012 @ 10:35 GMT
Dear Chris Fields,

I agree very much with the title of your essay. I did read what I could of your essay but I'm afraid it became very difficult for me to follow as I got further into it. It is an interesting subject and no doubt those with an adequate training in the background science and mathematics will get far more from it than I managed.

Good luck in the competition. Kind regards Georgina.

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Georgina Woodward replied on Oct. 2, 2012 @ 00:17 GMT
Dear Chris Fields,

I'm sorry if my review sounded unkind, it was not meant so. It was unnecessarily honest. My lack of comprehension is not any reflection on the quality of the material you have presented. Your reply to Lawrence Sep. 28, 2012 @ 10:44 GMT is really interesting to me. I also think Lawrence's point about observer's not having to be human is important. I talk about the output generated by artificial devices and sensitive materials as well organisms. The most important feature in all cases is the function of a Reality Interface, that converts input data into an output that is distinct from the source of the data and the data itself. That is what I regard the classic space-time to be, an emergent output reality. That overcomes a lot of problems in physics.

Just noticed this in your biography. "His current research focuses on describing how humans identify systems across observations at the implementation level, and on building a realistic representation of observation into a physical formalism." That sounds fascinating. How physics and the output of observation are related has been an interest of mine for a number of years. It has been mostly a philosophical/problem solving inquiry rather than the sort of in depth practical work I am imagining you are engaged upon.

I have enjoyed seeing how evidence from the study of biology, such as presented by David Eagleman at the last FQXi conference, fits with the "Reality in Physics" framework.I would very much appreciate you opinion of the summary of that framework, used in my essay to answer the essay question. There is a high resolution version in my essay discussion thread which is the correct way around. Kind regards Georgina

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Chris Fields replied on Oct. 9, 2012 @ 23:46 GMT
Dear Georgina,

Thinking about physics from a more biological viewpoint may indeed be useful. We as observers are in the position of individual neurons trying to figure out what the brain they are part of is doing. The brain is thinking about something or other, but all the neurons see are superimposed patterns of local excitation. What kinds of theories can such neurons build?

Cheers,

Chris

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Yuri Danoyan wrote on Sep. 30, 2012 @ 15:46 GMT
"Neither the prestige of your subject, and the power of your instruments, nor the extent of your erudition and the precision of your planning, can substitute for the originality of your approach and the keeness of your observation."(Hans Selye)

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Frederico Pfrimer wrote on Oct. 1, 2012 @ 19:37 GMT
Dear Chris,

That’s a very interesting essay! You brought light and focus to a subject that is often overlooked by physicist: the Hilbert space itself. What defines what is the Hilbert space of a system? How do we know what is the Hilbert space of the specified system? I think almost nobody asks these questions, but they are very important. I wouldn’t say I agree with all your answers, however, the most important here is not giving the right answers, but asking the right question. This is questioning the foundations. You have shown that there many problems on a fundamental notion that are often overlooked.

I have also tried to answer some of these questions in a previous work of mine (aXiv: 1208.4474). I suggest you using the identity of the Hilbert space as a mathematical tool for understanding these notions. The many Hilbert space can all be identified by their associated identities, which are projectors. Knowing which is the Hilbert space means knowing which is the identity associated with it. I also suggest you visiting and rating my essay: The Final Theory and the Language of Physics , you might find it interesting…

Great work! Regards,

Frederico

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Sergey G Fedosin wrote on Oct. 4, 2012 @ 04:47 GMT
If you do not understand why your rating dropped down. As I found ratings in the contest are calculated in the next way. Suppose your rating is
$R_1$
and
$N_1$
was the quantity of people which gave you ratings. Then you have
$S_1=R_1 N_1$
of points. After it anyone give you
$dS$
of points so you have
$S_2=S_1+ dS$
of points and
$N_2=N_1+1$
is the common quantity of the people which gave you ratings. At the same time you will have
$S_2=R_2 N_2$
of points. From here, if you want to be R2 > R1 there must be:
$S_2/ N_2>S_1/ N_1$
or
$(S_1+ dS) / (N_1+1) >S_1/ N_1$
or
$dS >S_1/ N_1 =R_1$
In other words if you want to increase rating of anyone you must give him more points
$dS$
then the participant`s rating
$R_1$
was at the moment you rated him. From here it is seen that in the contest are special rules for ratings. And from here there are misunderstanding of some participants what is happened with their ratings. Moreover since community ratings are hided some participants do not sure how increase ratings of others and gives them maximum 10 points. But in the case the scale from 1 to 10 of points do not work, and some essays are overestimated and some essays are drop down. In my opinion it is a bad problem with this Contest rating process. I hope the FQXI community will change the rating process.

Sergey Fedosin

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Jayakar Johnson Joseph wrote on Oct. 11, 2012 @ 09:12 GMT
Dear Chris Fields,

In Coherently-cyclic cluster-matter paradigm of universe, as the source and observer are two independent systems, the emergence of time is expressional with two series of events by eigen-rotational quanta, in that a third series of reference time is imperative for both series. With this framework we may develop a physical theory of observation.

With best wishes

Jayakar

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