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Current Essay Contest

Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
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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

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February 25, 2018

CATEGORY: Trick or Truth Essay Contest (2015) [back]
TOPIC: Map = Territory by Martin Seltmann [refresh]
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Author Martin Seltsam wrote on Mar. 11, 2015 @ 13:09 GMT
Essay Abstract

Unity of mathematical and physical structures has been particularly impressive within the framework of quantum field theory. The confluence of abstract models in QFT with the natural world suggests a fusion of math and physics where the distinction between map and territory disappears at the deepest level. As a thesis that illuminates the miraculous powers of mathematical physics, the possibility of an actual merger between the description and the described is explored. While map and territory remain separate in many scientific disciplines, this clear distinction will prove untenable in fundamental physics. This central thesis will be laid out in both an entertaining and educating fashion within the setting of a fictitious opera. The stage will serve as a metaphor for the world and the intention is to tell an amusing, but still well-structured and instructive story for a general audience in this non-technical essay.

Author Bio

The author is a graduate student in Mathematics and Physics at the University of Technology in Munich (TUM) with a long-standing interest in the deep connection between the two fields - and a love to travel the world.

Essay removed at author's request.

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Mar. 11, 2015 @ 18:15 GMT
Hi Martin,

I don't intend disturbing your wonderful opera. Let me merely tell you that your merger between the description and the described goes back to ancient time.


Ben Akiba

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Author Martin Seltsam replied on Mar. 11, 2015 @ 19:48 GMT
Dear Eckard,

thanks for attending the opera! Glad you were in the audience and liked the performance. Of course the main thesis is not an entirely new (radical) idea, but I tried to present it in a creative way via an approach that might get a general audience interested and entertained at the same time. Hopefully others will visit the opera and enjoy the presentation as well!

Tickets are still available and everybody is invited :)

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Yuri Danoyan wrote on Mar. 11, 2015 @ 18:31 GMT
Geography = Geology?

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Author Martin Seltsam replied on Mar. 11, 2015 @ 19:56 GMT
"Geography = Earth" would maybe be a better analogy in your picture, as both geography and geology are descriptions/maps and earth the territory under study. I argue that in fundamental physics this distinction might not survive.

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George Gantz wrote on Mar. 12, 2015 @ 14:14 GMT
Martin -

Thank you, a marvelous if somewhat mind-numbing opera! I'd love to get the CD when it comes out...

If the implication is that, fundamentally, math and physics merge, then what do we do with the messy parts of mathematics: Those nasty infinities, for example, or the Godellian gaps?

Regards - George Gantz

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Author Martin Seltsam replied on Mar. 19, 2015 @ 23:26 GMT
Dear George,

due to the length limitations of this essay contest, I chose QFT as the focus of my opera. Of course there is much more to physics and many other areas have to be investigated. Presumably physics will involve all of mathematics - including the work of Goedel, as recent findings already foreshadow:

I wish you great success in the contest!

Best wishes,


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Ed Unverricht wrote on Mar. 12, 2015 @ 21:28 GMT
Dear Martin Seltmann,

Interesting essay and a great read. I especially liked the detail you presented on Dirac's work. I dont know if you have seen it, but there is a great video of Dirac himself here (very poor audio, headphones are required) where he gives a very nice historical summary of his work as well as comments on Pauli, Heisenburg and others.

In my essay here I try to produce particles that match the properties of the S(3), SO(3) groups and match the symmetries SU(2) (electrons) and SU(3) (quarks and hadrons) of the particles of the standard model.

I would especially be interested in your thoughts on my representation of the "Dirac electron".

Regards and best of luck on your essay, you deserve a good rating.

Ed Unverricht

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Ed Unverricht replied on Mar. 12, 2015 @ 21:33 GMT
For some reason the Dirac video link did not post properly. Youtube address to copy and paste:

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Author Martin Seltsam replied on Mar. 19, 2015 @ 23:30 GMT
Dear Ed Unverricht,

thank you very much for your comments and link! I will read your essay this weekend.

Best wishes and good luck,


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Vladimir F. Tamari wrote on Mar. 18, 2015 @ 02:11 GMT
Dear Martin

Thanks to George Gantz who mentioned on my page that our ideas for a unified physics-math at the smallest scale were similar, and that our essays are contiguous on the fqxi page! Having said that my simple reference of how the positron emerged from Dirac's equations should be contrasted with your highly professional treatment, clothed with a dense mathematical fabric that I can...

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Author Martin Seltsam replied on Mar. 19, 2015 @ 23:38 GMT
Dear Vladimir,

I would like to thank you for your kind words. Good to hear that you liked my treatment of orientation entanglement - this topic still always puzzles and fascinates me.

Yes, it is really a funny coincidence that our essays share some ideas and are next to each other in the queue. And now they are even right next to each other in the community ranking, with your essay...

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Joe Fisher wrote on Mar. 23, 2015 @ 15:21 GMT
Dear Mr. Seltmann,

I thought that your essay was exceptionally well written and I wish I could write in my native language as flawlessly as you did. I certainly hope that your essay fares well in the competition.

Warm regards,

Joe Fisher

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Author Martin Seltsam replied on Mar. 29, 2015 @ 21:59 GMT
Dear Mr. Fisher,

thank you so much for your kind words. I am not a native speaker of English, but I tried my best to tell an entertaining and informative story at the same time. The essay had quite a good rating in the beginning, but was later seriously downvoted by a few "1 point" ratings. It took quite some time and serious effort to write the opera, but it seems that the attention to detail and good writing style is not necessarily valued. As there is now feedback given after the low extremely ratings, I have no way to know what could be improved.

Best wishes and good luck to you!


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Author Martin Seltsam replied on Mar. 29, 2015 @ 22:01 GMT
now := no

low extremely ratings := extremely low ratings

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Vladimir Rogozhin wrote on Apr. 7, 2015 @ 18:39 GMT
Dear Martin,

Very interesting and important essay metaphor "Map = Territory" and in-depth analysis of the fundamental connection of Mathematics and Physics. Very good figurative metaphors, the method of presentation, deep figurative representation of problems in physics and your ideas. I fully agree with the conclusion: "To really bridge the gap between math and physics, one has to build on...

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Joe Fisher wrote on Apr. 9, 2015 @ 15:55 GMT
Dear Martin,

I think Newton was wrong about abstract gravity; Einstein was wrong about abstract space/time, and Hawking was wrong about the explosive capability of NOTHING.

All I ask is that you give my essay WHY THE REAL UNIVERSE IS NOT MATHEMATICAL a fair reading and that you allow me to answer any objections you may leave in my comment box about it.

Joe Fisher

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Sylvain Poirier wrote on Apr. 15, 2015 @ 20:28 GMT
Dear Martin,

I found your essay to be one of the best, so I gave it a high rate, and I added it to the list of best essays in my general review of this contest. I even had an hesitation, whether to include it in my top list.

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James Lee Hoover wrote on Apr. 18, 2015 @ 23:59 GMT

"A model can only represent certain limited aspects of the described physical system, so one must not equate the mathematical theories (map) to the real world (territory)"

A simplified picture is a good description of modeling weather, considering failures to accurately predict due to many variables not modeled and modeling only parts of weather patterns, used to dispute Wigner's unreasonable effectiveness of math but misses the point of incomplete inputs.

Your opera is quite clever and reminds me of supernova sonification:
o-two-supernova-songs, though its speaks of perceptions representing the classical world.

You cover this relationship with your zooming in and out -- that's clever.

A very good way of representing and of simplifying an esoteric topic.

My essay looks at studies and results in quantum biology, DNA mapping, and BB simulation to prove math's efficacy:

I would like your view of it.



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Jim Bollinger wrote on Apr. 20, 2015 @ 11:57 GMT
Excellent paper. Good work!

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Armin Nikkhah Shirazi wrote on Apr. 23, 2015 @ 02:01 GMT
Dear Martin,

You have written an outstanding essay to buttress the proposition contained in its title. Combining a very creative presentation format with a careful and thorough reference to all the factors relevant to your argument, you have essentially exploited every way to make your case as convincing as it can be.

Now, I happen to draw from all the considerations that you mention not your conclusion but the one that we have not yet truly "understood" QFT (in Feynman's sense) and that once we "understand" it, it will be obvious that there is a distinction between the map and the territory, but this takes nothing away from the fact that you have made as strong a case as one could make for your viewpoint.

Best wishes,


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