Search FQXi

If you are aware of an interesting new academic paper (that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal or has appeared on the arXiv), a conference talk (at an official professional scientific meeting), an external blog post (by a professional scientist) or a news item (in the mainstream news media), which you think might make an interesting topic for an FQXi blog post, then please contact us at with a link to the original source and a sentence about why you think that the work is worthy of discussion. Please note that we receive many such suggestions and while we endeavour to respond to them, we may not be able to reply to all suggestions.

Please also note that we do not accept unsolicited posts and we cannot review, or open new threads for, unsolicited articles or papers. Requests to review or post such materials will not be answered. If you have your own novel physics theory or model, which you would like to post for further discussion among then FQXi community, then please add them directly to the "Alternative Models of Reality" thread, or to the "Alternative Models of Cosmology" thread. Thank you.

Contests Home

Current Essay Contest

Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Previous Contests

Undecidability, Uncomputability, and Unpredictability Essay Contest
December 24, 2019 - April 24, 2020
Contest Partners: Fetzer Franklin Fund, and The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation

What Is “Fundamental”
October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018
Sponsored by the Fetzer Franklin Fund and The Peter & Patricia Gruber Foundation

Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fund.

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

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

Sreenath N: on 8/2/13 at 9:51am UTC, wrote Dear Stuart, You have made a very brave and innovative effort to explain...

Peter Jackson: on 7/29/13 at 9:46am UTC, wrote Stuart, Your description of Physical Relativism is very close to the...

Antony Ryan: on 7/21/13 at 17:38pm UTC, wrote Dear Stuart, I like what you say about abstract Universe, reality and...

James Hoover: on 7/3/13 at 19:03pm UTC, wrote Stuart, If given the time and the wits to evaluate over 120 more entries,...

Joe Fisher: on 7/3/13 at 16:33pm UTC, wrote Dr. Heinrich, I found your essay to be exceptionally well organized and...

Hoang Hai: on 7/3/13 at 2:49am UTC, wrote Dear Stuart It seems that you are a follower of relativity - while the...

Edwin Klingman: on 7/2/13 at 20:03pm UTC, wrote Dear Stuart, I agree that it is valid to consider arguments based on...

Stuart Heinrich: on 7/2/13 at 18:50pm UTC, wrote Manuel, Thank you for reading my essay, but I am afraid you must have...


Stefan Weckbach: "Hi Lorraine, in the case of the crashing twin-towers, the term “top-down..." in The Present State of...

Stefan Weckbach: "Hi Steve, take also care Steve, and may the force of the three spheres be..." in The Present State of...

Jim Snowdon: "Since evolving on our rapidly rotating planet, we have used it`s rotational..." in The Quantum Clock-Maker...

Steve Dufourny: "a general universal clock of evolution irreversible correlated for me with..." in The Quantum Clock-Maker...

Georgina Woodward: "If considering existence rather than appearances, the time dimension..." in Anatomy of spacetime and...

Georgina Woodward: "That is about the 'anatomy"" of spacetime." in Anatomy of spacetime and...

Georgina Woodward: "Thank you. Good luck." in The Nature of Time

Lorraine Ford: "Rob, As you have not replied, I take it that you now concede that the..." in 16th Marcel Grossmann...

click titles to read articles

The Quantum Clock-Maker Investigating COVID-19, Causality, and the Trouble with AI
Sally Shrapnel, a quantum physicist and medical practitioner, on her experiments into cause-and-effect that could help us understand time’s arrow—and build better healthcare algorithms.

Connect the Quantum Dots for a New Kind of Fuel
'Artificial atoms' allow physicists to manipulate individual electrons—and could help to reduce energy wastage in electronic devices.

Can Choices Curve Spacetime?
Two teams are developing ways to detect quantum-gravitational effects in the lab.

The Quantum Engine That Simultaneously Heats and Cools
Tiny device could help boost quantum electronics.

The Quantum Refrigerator
A tiny cooling device could help rewrite the thermodynamic rule book for quantum machines.

September 17, 2021

CATEGORY: It From Bit or Bit From It? Essay Contest (2013) [back]
TOPIC: Physical Relativism as an Interpretation of Existence by Stuart Heinrich [refresh]
Bookmark and Share
Login or create account to post reply or comment.

Author Stuart Heinrich wrote on Jun. 30, 2013 @ 14:34 GMT
Essay Abstract

Despite the success of modern physics in formulating mathematical theories that can predict the outcome of quantum-scale experiments, the physical interpretations of these theories remain controversial. In this manuscript, we propose a new interpretation of existence that we call physical relativism. Under physical relativism, the difference between mathematical existence and physical existence is clarified, and Wheeler's `it from bit' viewpoint can be objectively evaluated. In addition, physical relativism provides a simple answer to the question of why the universe exists at all, and permits us to derive the maximally biophilic principle, a generalization of the anthropic principle that ascribes high prior likelihood to the observation of a universe with simple physical laws supporting the overall concepts of time, space and the emergent evolution of life.

Author Bio

Stuart Heinrich received his Ph.D. from North Carolina State University in computer vision. He is interested in studying questions of existence, cosmology, evolution and consciousness through computer simulation.

Download Essay PDF File

Bookmark and Share

Michel Planat wrote on Jul. 1, 2013 @ 13:01 GMT
Dear Stuart,

I think that you have groundbreaking views on the 'it from bit"' problem. This is very interesting to introduce the concept of self-awareness as you do in comparison to Tegmark's approach, that is insufficient (in you view and mine as well). As I am very much interested in the miraculous efficiency of mathematics for mimicking physical problems, I have to learn from your essay and the related references.

Best wishes,


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Author Stuart Heinrich replied on Jul. 2, 2013 @ 03:11 GMT
Dear Michel,

Thank you for reading my contribution. I am pleased that you found my perspectives interesting and potentially groundbreaking. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask for clarification.



Bookmark and Share

Roger Granet wrote on Jul. 2, 2013 @ 03:17 GMT

Good essay. I have much sympathy for what you say. Two comments are:

1. If I understand what you're saying about "the distinction between a real universe and an abstract mathematically defined universe is merely a point of perspective", I totally agree and have been arguing something similar for a long time. In my thinking, I don't distinguish between...

view entire post

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Author Stuart Heinrich replied on Jul. 2, 2013 @ 03:55 GMT

Thank you for your comments and positive assessment. After reading the article on your homepage I would say that I have come to conclude your argument is basically correct, although I find your use of the word "idea" a bit misleading...because an idea is typically used to refer to descriptions that exist in the mind of an observer, whereas you use this to describe things without the presence of an observer. In my article I use the concept of formal axiomatic systems to describe things without observers. Of course, one might argue that my word choice is not much better, because a formal system typically requires a person to formalize it. I think ultimately that our language simply does not contain words sufficient to accurately describe this concept of physical relativism.

On the second point: I think you are actually making the same point that I argued in my paper. Your conclusion,

"But, because there is "something" now, this must mean that "something" and "nothing" are one and the same thing."

is confusing because we define the words something and nothing to be mutually exclusive in English. Nonetheless it seems we are both trying to argue the same point...the facts are:

1) we observe "something" thus we must come up with a way to explain it

2) if something is objectively true it must be provable

3) the only objective starting point is nothingness

2) we cannot derive "something" from "nothing".

4) Therefore, we cannot say that we objectively exist...we must conclude that that "something" we observe is "objectively nothingness".

...which implies that the "something" we observe exists not in an objective sense but rather in a relative sense (relative to some axioms). You see, we are making the same argument, the only difference is that I am using the words "relative" and "objective" to prevent confusion.

Again, thanks for your feedback



Bookmark and Share

Roger Granet replied on Jul. 2, 2013 @ 05:56 GMT

Great minds think alike! :-)

I agree that language and peoples' preconceptions of what words mean is a a real roadblock to getting people to understand what we're talking about. I use quotes a lot to try and indicate that that word may have a different meaning than what is traditional.

What I've come to is that it's a losing task to try and get people beyond the language blocks in order to see the value in our arguments. Instead, in my own thinking, I'm trying to use these ideas to try and build a model of the universe and eventually make testable predictions (some initial ideas are at my FQXi essay and at my website if you're interested). The only way we'll ever be able to get somewhere with our arguments is by coming up with hard evidence. I've found that to be true at work, too. Needless to say, I've got a ways to go before I can make any of those testable predictions :-) But, it gives me a hobby to work on at night and keeps me off the streets!

Anyways, thanks for the reply, and good luck!


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Author Stuart Heinrich replied on Jul. 2, 2013 @ 06:23 GMT
When there exist two theories that both describe the observed data equally well, and yet these theories are not identical in all their predictions, a situation that complies with one theory but not the other leads to an experiment that can be performed that would reject one theory and leave the other standing.

If any consistent formal system is equally valid, then this interpretation cannot be used to invalidate any potential theories of physics that cannot by themselves be shown to be inconsistent. Therefore I do not think that it is possible to ever have a specific experiment to test this out.

However, as I argue in my paper, any theory of physics that adheres to the idea that there is a single axiomatic system describing reality is subject to contradiction and hence must be false...thus, I would argue that the simple observation of reality itself __IS__ the experiment which validates what I call physical relativism and rejects the other theories about existence.

My effort has been to formalize the logic of the argument showing that any other theory is inconsistent. Although I think that the natural language version is sound, it would be easier for formalists to accept if it were somehow translated and written into a mathematical language...for example, in the same form that Godel's incompleteness theories were translated. This is what I inspire to show.

Bookmark and Share

Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Jul. 2, 2013 @ 12:46 GMT
Dear Stuart,

Thank you for presenting a nice essay which provoke thinking.

See for example, on your words "formal axiomatic systems to describe things without observers" is different from "descriptions or things without the presence of an observer" and observer is not required to know what is happening.

I say I observe the universe thro my senses, and on my death the universe...

view entire post

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Manuel S Morales wrote on Jul. 2, 2013 @ 16:57 GMT

I found your statement, "Physical existence may be taken as the subset of reality that defines structures in space-time." to be relative to the findings of a 12 year experiment I have recently concluded.

Please review my essay to confirm if my findings confirm your framework of 'Physical relativism'. I believe my findings may have provided the experimental validation of your premise, see:

Best wishes,


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate
Author Stuart Heinrich replied on Jul. 2, 2013 @ 18:50 GMT

Thank you for reading my essay, but I am afraid you must have misunderstood that statement. According to physical relativism, that axioms/rules of the formal system that defines an observer are perceived as reality by that observer. However, without knowing more about the constraints necessary to derive self-awareness, we must accept the possibility that self-awareness can be derived in an axiomatic system that does not also define the familiar notion of space-time; for example, a reality might contain more than 1 time dimension, or no time dimension at all, or perhaps no spatial dimensions, as long as complexity is still representable. Therefore, the purpose of this statement was to clarify that we should not equate "reality" with the "physical world" when talking about the realities of other potential self-aware observers in different realities, which may not have a concept of space-time.

As explained in the conclusion, physical relativism is NOT a theory of physics, it does not make ANY testable predictions, and it would be fundamentally impossible to derive any experiment that validates the proposed interpretation of physical relativism, because physical relativism is compatible with any logically consistent theory of physics. Rather, physical relativism is to be believed because it is required for logical consistency in describing the situation of a self-aware observer regardless of the laws of physics.

I will read your paper though when I get a chance.



Bookmark and Share

Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Jul. 2, 2013 @ 20:03 GMT
Dear Stuart,

I agree that it is valid to consider arguments based on consistency alone, although it is an open question how much relevance this has for physical reality. I do believe that self consistency is the prime determinant of reality. For arguments based on consistency that lead to the conclusion that reality is based on "one substance", I recommend Marcel LaBel's 2009 FQXi essay.

You state that "the fact that our self-aware thoughts are capable of controlling our physical bodies is proof that our thoughts are an inextricable part of the physics that define our universe."

You explore the implications of a universe represented by a formal system. I explore such a universe represented by the simplest formal system, one that satisfies the conditions stated in the above paragraphs.

Self-awareness is the key to both of our essays. I invite you to read my essay and welcome your comments. We both are interested in evolution and consciousness.

Thanks again for a very stimulating essay.

Edwin Eugene Klingman

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Hoang cao Hai wrote on Jul. 3, 2013 @ 02:49 GMT
Dear Stuart

It seems that you are a follower of relativity - while the truth may be sure must is the absolute ?

To change the atmosphere "abstract" of the competition and to demonstrate for the real preeminent possibility of the Absolute theory as well as to clarify the issues I mentioned in the essay and to avoid duplicate questions after receiving the opinion of you , I will add a...

view entire post

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Joe Fisher wrote on Jul. 3, 2013 @ 16:33 GMT
Dr. Heinrich,

I found your essay to be exceptionally well organized and meticulously argued.

As a wrinkled up old realist, may I add a comment? As I have pointed out in my essay BITTERS, one real unique Universe is eternally occurring, once.

Unfortunately, not one philosopher or scientist has the foggiest notion of what the words “unique” and “once” actually mean. For instance, you mentioned Brian Greene’s remark, “If logic alone somehow required the universe to exist and be governed by a unique set of laws with unique ingredients, then perhaps we’d have a convincing story.” Real unique cannot be abstractly logical. Real unique can exist, once. Real unique is not abstractly governable. Real unique is not abstractly lawful.

There is nothing more convincing than the fact that each snowflake is unique as is each strand of DNA and each fingerprint. The real Universe cannot consist of unique and common matter. Everything in the real Universe is unique, once.

Let us Wheeler your comparative universes.

Is the universe real? Yes.

Is the abstract universe real? No.

There is a unique distinction between abstract perception and pragmatic occurring.

Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

James Lee Hoover wrote on Jul. 3, 2013 @ 19:03 GMT

If given the time and the wits to evaluate over 120 more entries, I have a month to try. My seemingly whimsical title, “It’s good to be the king,” is serious about our subject.


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Antony Ryan wrote on Jul. 21, 2013 @ 17:38 GMT
Dear Stuart,

I like what you say about abstract Universe, reality and mathematics. Also your approach of Physical Relativity is extremely fundamental - which is exactly what this essay needs, yet many shy away from! You haven't so great work!

I've worked on a theory that partly unifies the four forces of nature and resolves the three paradoxes of cosmogony, so again something you have looked at well. Top marks from me - you deserve good ratings!

Please take a look at my essay if you get chance.

Best wishes,


Bookmark and Share
report post as inappropriate

Login or create account to post reply or comment.

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.