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The Complexity Conundrum
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Sounding the Drums to Listen for Gravity’s Effect on Quantum Phenomena
A bench-top experiment could test the notion that gravity breaks delicate quantum superpositions.

Watching the Observers
Accounting for quantum fuzziness could help us measure space and time—and the cosmos—more accurately.

January 22, 2018

CATEGORY: Blog [back]
TOPIC: What Is “Fundamental”? – FQXi’s New Essay Contest [refresh]
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FQXi Administrator Brendan Foster wrote on Oct. 28, 2017 @ 13:45 GMT
We at the Foundational Questions Institute have often been asked what exactly “foundational” means, and what relation it holds to “fundamental” as a term describing some branches of physics. Today we’re happy to turn the tables.

It is time for the next FQXi essay contest, and so we ask, What Is “Fundamental”?

We have many different ways to talk about the things in the physical universe. Some of those ways we think of as more fundamental, and some as “emergent” or “effective”. But what does it mean to be more or less “fundamental”? Are fundamental things smaller, simpler, more elegant, more economical? Are less-fundamental things always made from more-fundamental? How do less-fundamental descriptions relate to more-fundamental ones?

We invite interesting and compelling explorations, from detailed worked examples through thoughtful rumination, of the different levels at which nature can be described, and the relations between them.

This year’s contest is part of our program Agency in the Physical World, operated with and sponsored by The Fetzer Franklin Fund. Help also comes from co-sponsors The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation.

We are open for entries from now until January 22, 2018. See our contest pages for the usual rules and timeline. Please share this info with all of your fellow thinkers and writers. Good luck!

this post has been edited by the forum administrator

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Joe Fisher wrote on Oct. 29, 2017 @ 15:16 GMT
Dear Dr. Foster,

Please change the scoring of the essays from each voter being allowed to rate an essay from 1 to 10 points, and allow each voter to only be able to award 1 point.

Joe Fisher, ORCID ID 0000-0003-3988-8687. Unaffiliated

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austin fearnley replied on Nov. 18, 2017 @ 17:12 GMT
You could investigate using the Rasch Model to grade the entries.

There are versions of Rasch analysis which cope with missing data (when judges do not rate every essay). My favourite analysis is free online at

DOS BIGSTEPS Rasch Manual:, page 26, Example 13. (Freeware).

I have used this analysis in a vixra paper at The paper is investigating the Rasch analysis wrt just one validity issue in reporting results and takes for granted that the Rasch scale is a good physical ratio scale. So my paper is not really relevant to promoting its use here, but it does illustrate its usage. The advantage of a Rasch scale is that severe and lenient raters do not affect the results of 'high quality entries'/ 'low quality entries' much. You could even produce a table of rater scores in order of leniency/severity [where the quality of essays rated does not interfere much with the rater leniency/severity scale].

With a 10 point scale, a rater has most weight for discrimination over the whole competition by using 50% ratings of '1' and 50% ratings of '10'.

Rating one entry at '10' and all others at '1' will probably reduce overall weight for that rater but will concentrate all the discrimination weight on the score of just that one entry.

As well as tabulating the severity and leniency of judges, the analysis can reveal inconsistent judges which are say putting entries in the opposite rank order to the overall order of all judges. What you do, if anything, with ratings for very atypical judges is another matter.

The disadvantage of the Rasch scale is a lack of transparency for anyone not familiar with the analysis.

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Bashir Yusuf wrote on Oct. 29, 2017 @ 20:00 GMT
Dear Brendan.

This is a quick response of the essay announcement.

I hope that this question can lead good understanding of nature's most important Fundamental issue.

Only questionings without open and awakened mind can't we succeed it.

I have some difficult to understand, the relations of FQXI's Foundational questions and Fundamental of the nature, but I am sure that...

view entire post

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Jim George Snowdon wrote on Oct. 29, 2017 @ 20:06 GMT
The Earth`s rotational motion is the fundamental physical mechanism responsible for maintaining our confusion about the nature of time.

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Sanmay Ganguly wrote on Oct. 30, 2017 @ 18:42 GMT
While describing a physical world, the minimal set of dynamic degrees of freedom required to describe the complete evolution of a system can be termed as fundamental. The list of fundamental quantities changes if we probe a system with different energy scales.

For example, while building a house one can consider each piece of brick (~ 1kg mass ) to be fundamental. While studying the boiling of a glass of water we can safely consider water molecules (~ 10e-23 grams) to be fundamental. On the other hand for studying atomic spectroscopy electron, protons are considered as fundamental objects (electron weighs 10e-31 kg) and lastly when we smash proton beams at Large Hadron Collider at ultra high energy scales, what really fundamental are the tiny objects called quarks & gluons (gluons are massless). Hence what is fundamental depends on which system we are referring to.

Now when we talk about "fundamental questions" etc. we mean a single understanding which will refer to maximal queries.

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Pentcho Valev wrote on Oct. 31, 2017 @ 14:54 GMT
A reasonable topic again, after five lost years (the last reasonable topic was in 2012: "Questioning the Foundations: Which of our basic physical assumptions are wrong?"). I will definitely take part in the contest.

Pentcho Valev

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sherman loran jenkins wrote on Oct. 31, 2017 @ 23:12 GMT
Fundamental is both small and large. The “smallest” bits from which all else is composed. And the structure of those bits which fill the Universe. Nothing we know could exist without the one characteristic of the bits and the Universal restraint that gives space the structure we know. Both the most elemental and the pressure of the total Universe are fundamental to the reality we know.

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Kjetil Hustveit wrote on Nov. 1, 2017 @ 09:49 GMT


1. serving as, or being an essential part of, a foundation or basis; basic; underlying:

fundamental principles; the fundamental structure.

2.of, relating to, or affecting the foundation or basis:

a fundamental revision.

3. being an original or primary source:

a fundamental idea.

4. Music. (of a chord) having its root as its lowest note.


5. a basic principle, rule, law, or the like, that serves as the groundwork of a system; essential part:

to master the fundamentals of a trade.

6. Also called fundamental note, fundamental tone. Music.

the root of a chord.

the generator of a series of harmonics.

7.Physics. the component of lowest frequency in a composite wave.

I already love this contest!

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Arshi Khan wrote on Nov. 1, 2017 @ 12:28 GMT
Is the space itself fundamental to build up other fundamentals!Or is it the bonds that matter forges, at basic levels. Beyond the four fundamental forces, it would be a dull place if we only had electrons in the universe. For that matter if everything was taken out of the universe, what would remain?Will there be a single equation which would give rise to every other equation!I doubt, but i cannot say either ways!A lovely topic to ponder and discuss.Best of luck to everyone....

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sherman loran jenkins replied on Nov. 1, 2017 @ 18:47 GMT
Dull? Not at all. I believe there is only charge and the pressure that restrains and gives structure to space. And that time, matter and all we know derives from this relationship.

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thuy lien replied on Nov. 11, 2017 @ 07:26 GMT
The article you shared here is great. This is really interesting information for me. Thank you for sharing!

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Amrit Srecko Sorli wrote on Nov. 16, 2017 @ 16:53 GMT

see my book

Physics of TRUTH

attachments: Physics_of_TRUTH_-_Book_2.pdf

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BASILEIOS GRISPOS wrote on Nov. 23, 2017 @ 14:06 GMT
What a nice topic this is. I am expecting to read some nice essays from all over the world.I will submit also my own ideas about this subject, if I have enough time to finish it.

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Gary D. Simpson wrote on Nov. 27, 2017 @ 00:35 GMT
Sure is taking a long time to post the first batch of essays.

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Gary D. Simpson wrote on Dec. 2, 2017 @ 17:11 GMT
Still waiting .....

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Philip Gibbs replied on Dec. 2, 2017 @ 21:25 GMT
They have to have enough essays to get the first batch out. It took a little longer than this last time so don't worry. I have submitted mine and am looking forward to getting started on the discussions.

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Gary D. Simpson replied on Dec. 2, 2017 @ 21:51 GMT
Dr. Gibbs,

I'm glad to know that you will participate and that you have already submitted an essay. My essay will also be in the first batch of ten. Just the same, it has been five weeks or so since the contest was announced.

Best Regards,

Gary Simpson

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Lawrence B. Crowell replied on Dec. 2, 2017 @ 23:10 GMT
I have one in the works. It is based on something I started three years ago. When Maryam Mirzakhani won the Fields Medal in 2014 I read a couple of her papers. I thought about something I thought was interesting and in 2015 I wrote to somebody about this. Their response was that I had found another way to find the Ryu-Takayangi formula, which was becoming all the rage. It was sort of bitter-sweet in a way. She died this past summer of breast cancer and I was in a lot of ways made terribly angry about that. This was given all the news of the day that looked, and still looks, bleak and then that had to happen. Anyway I worked and developed a related idea, which is what this paper is about. I should have it done in a week or so.

Cheers LC

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Scott S Gordon wrote on Dec. 9, 2017 @ 17:38 GMT
This contest could be the start of a revolution in physics. Imagine getting physics past its current theoretical impasse where an idea comes from a place never expected... and all the thanks going to FQXi and its sponsors, "The Fetzer Franklin Fund and The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation" for asking the question - What is fundamental? to everyone, not just physicists.

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Bubba Gump replied on Dec. 9, 2017 @ 23:32 GMT
I doubt anything anyone has to opine on this topic is going to revolutionize physics in any way. I don't think that's the goal of these contests. I look at these contest as a way for people to offer food for thought.

My guess is that most of the papers will have little to do with the actual question being asked and will be obscure mathematical monologues that have nothing to do with the subjects or fanciful ideas about what the author thinks is fundamental in the universe.

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Victor Usack replied on Dec. 12, 2017 @ 02:34 GMT
Re Scott Gordon. I concur, as do many others, that we are fundamentally missing something. Just finished reading L Smolins The trouble with physics. This amounts to a fishing expedition for a seer to rescue us from institutionalized mindset. Even if one existed, would anyone believe him? Perhaps the distinction between seer and crackpot is strictly a matter of consensus. In my youth I labored under the illusion that mathematical description would provide unassailable proof. How naïve I was and am! On the other hand is the stubborn illusion that we are approaching the conclusion of our investigation of nature: that we fundamentally understand reality. The persistent myth is the triumph of (Galilean) empirical science over the (Aristotelian) power of reason. I for one have no trouble believing fundamental inquiry may lead to “getting physics past its current theoretical impasse”.

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John R. Cox replied on Dec. 12, 2017 @ 14:03 GMT

you are right about it being a fishing expedition. Just keep in mind that free exchange of ideas is a good and wonderful thing, but math is real product.

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Gary D. Simpson wrote on Dec. 14, 2017 @ 17:09 GMT
Still waiting for essays to be posted. There are only 5 weeks or so left for entries with another 4 weeks or so for community voting. I see a great big time crunch about to happen.

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Jeffrey Michael Schmitz replied on Dec. 15, 2017 @ 15:41 GMT
I only rate the essays I have read (and often re-read) and understand. As luck would have it, I often do not read the winning essay until after they have won. In short, I only read a small fraction of the essays with less time this fraction will be smaller. I do read and rate essays from authors that have commented on my work (yes, this means I read Joe Fisher's essays which are like a painting by Jackson Polluck in word form).

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Victor Usack wrote on Dec. 18, 2017 @ 02:04 GMT
Re- Adel Sadeq: With the holidays here and my own essay efforts underway I have little time to digest this work. Assuming the claims are justified, this is a magnificent conceptual scheme. I hope my admiration counts for something, because if there is value in credibility then I’m broke. I consider folks like you saint like. The desire for recognition and compensation aside, we toil away our lives in the unpromising hope of making a contribution to man’s most noble aspiration. What else will we do? Play golf? A few of us have abandoned the uni-truth and recognize the existence of any number of viable conceptual schemes applicable to mathematics. Sadly there is near zero market demand for novel conceptual schemes because everybody already has one, just ask them, and to be fair I should not exclude myself. I will not dismay you with unsolicited advice. The home run hit will provide something to help with tying GR to QM, reconciling QM with our established sense of reason, unification of the four forces with the particle zoo, explain the seemingly arbitrary constants, or the dark matter problem. As for me, I will run in the opposite direction. In my new essay I launch massive assault on the established conceptual scheme and attempt to convince the reader that everything mom taught you is valid in a limited range of application. In particular realism, and our conception of space. I attempt to apply this madness to effect a simpler approach to General Relativity. Heh. Wish me luck.

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adel sadeq replied on Dec. 18, 2017 @ 14:38 GMT

Thank you for the reply. Yes, it does help when somebody says that the idea is interesting, that encourages me , even if little. I have been curious about existence ever since I remember, almost obsessed. In the beginning I was just trying to understand what physicists were saying, it was only much later that I thought there must be a more coherent picture.

I think your path is the one I prefer, because if the idea is not all encompassing(excluding cosmology until later) then it is not interesting because present day physics already has this scattered, complicated and incomplete description, not to mention the no resolution as to why existence.

Best of luck with your essay.

this post has been edited by the author since its original submission

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Victor Usack wrote on Dec. 18, 2017 @ 02:07 GMT
Re: Jeffrey Michael Schmitz That makes no sense. Jackson Polluck could not have been a cyber bully.

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John R. Cox replied on Dec. 18, 2017 @ 14:58 GMT

what troubles me about cyber bullies is that they completely disregard due diligence and are oblivious to the potential threats that can simply piggy back on their infantile demands for attention. Throw in artificial intelligence and various state and non-state actors that target SciTech sites, and it makes one worry that FQXi's time travelling mailbox in a suburb of Atlanta just had a bad hair day. The FQXi administrators are asleep at the switch. jrc

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Dec. 18, 2017 @ 20:56 GMT
Re. what is light?, i will conjecture mass-less because it isn't differentiated from the EM medium as are things that have mass due to resistance of movement through it, but are instead a form of traveling disturbance of the EM medium. Not having to interact with differentiated matter but doing so when the size fits allowing it. The waves are traveling over the sequence of Now's. Traveling at light velocity away from a source of light no new signal will be received to update the old, so the sensory product that may have showed a clock slowing during acceleration slows to the point of no new information. That isn't slowing of 'time itself' as the craft is still traveling through the external reality in order for the experience to happen. Foundational passage of time, changing of the configuration of all existence, is still happening even when experienced time has stopped. As the rate of photon receipt will be dropping with the acceleration I should think it, will become harder to form the product. Perhaps the rate of photon receipt too low for product formation prior to time seeming to have stopped.

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Georgina Woodward replied on Dec. 18, 2017 @ 21:43 GMT
Here necessarily talking about a signal detected by the craft that is interpreted by a human or AI as a time. Human sensory products demonstrate scale relativity, they get smaller the further away from the source material object. At the speed of light the observer, using human vision, will be near instantly too far away to see a clock, that did not also move in the direction of the craft.

this post has been edited by the author since its original submission

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John R. Cox replied on Dec. 18, 2017 @ 22:02 GMT

so the next question is how is it that given the classical spread of a spherical wave where at twice the covered distance the surface of the wave front increases in total area by a factor of 4 (while the volume is a factor 8), that the disturbance still is received by a detector at the same energy level of the emitted photon? How does it go from a spherical wave to a linear projection yet still behave as if it is a transverse wave in the ubiquitous EM medium?

I was surprised to realize when I returned to reading physics about a decade ago, and dusted off my yellowed paperback of Hawking's 'Brief History of Time', that he skated right over it. Like Pete up on the River accelerating on his racing SkiDoo over a hundred yards of open water when he was running over the ice on the snowmobile (sled) trail (it's quicker to get around when rivers freeze and summer ends). It is really like nobody wants to disturb Neils Bohrs sleep, and challenge the instantaneous Quantum Leap.

well... he might have exaggerated a little bit, but when the ice is wet its hard to tell. Just try to keep the throttle creeping up without the treads starting to churn.

this post has been edited by the author since its original submission

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Georgina Woodward replied on Dec. 19, 2017 @ 01:42 GMT
John, If we think about EM radiation spreading out from a source, like a light bulb, it can be thought of as waves spreading out around it. As the distance from the source increases the individual disturbances making up the waves become more thinly spread as the wave front 'surface' is increasing in size. Giving the observed drop in intensity of the visual image generated from the received EM signal. Only a portion of the EM radiation making up the whole spherical wavefront will be received at any location. I doubt that the individual quanta of disturbance identified with a photon (The amount of energy necessary for a single detection by change in an atom) do spread out over space in the same way as the collection of photons making up the light waves. It makes more sense to me that they do not. So there is no diminishing of the intensity of an individual photon (which is already minimal). Individual photon detection is all or nothing unlike the collection of photons making up the emitted light waves, which is divisible, allowing variable intensity with distance.

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Gary D. Simpson wrote on Dec. 22, 2017 @ 00:06 GMT

It looks like the time crunch is here. Zero essays became 13 essays which are now 26 essays. It is going to be difficult too keep up ...

BTW, there should be a link that goes directly to the essays.

Best Regards,

Gary Simpson

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John R. Cox replied on Dec. 22, 2017 @ 00:31 GMT

click Contests on the horizontal bar at top, the on the left of the page brought up in the uppermost section for current contests click the 'read, discuss and rate essays'. jrc

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Gary D. Simpson wrote on Dec. 22, 2017 @ 02:12 GMT

Yes, I can get there but it takes a couple of clicks. Usually there is a direct link on the FQXi main page.

Best Regards,

Gary Simpson

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Gary D. Simpson wrote on Jan. 5, 2018 @ 21:45 GMT

Wow ... It is almost the close of business on Friday afternoon with 2-1/2 weeks left in the contest ... and there are only 23 entries.

Well, unless something changes, I'll be in the finals:-)

Here's hoping for more entries.

Best Regards,

Gary Simpson

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Lawrence B. Crowell replied on Jan. 7, 2018 @ 21:22 GMT
I entered mine two weeks ago. I too am sort of wondering what is up.


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Marcel-Marie LeBel wrote on Jan. 5, 2018 @ 23:07 GMT

It is very quiet indeed! Both FQXI and essay writers are hard to find.

Some New Year`s resolutions?


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Joe Fisher wrote on Jan. 6, 2018 @ 16:05 GMT
Although my essay, REALITY AM NOT ROCKET SCIENCE contained only 17,502 characters when I submitted it on November 29, 2017, because I used exact .25 line spacing, the essay did contain 12 pages of text. When I was informed of this by Project Manager Dr. Brendon Foster, I resubmitted a revised 9 page copy on December 25, 2017. Not only has my 9 page version of REALITY AM NOT ROCKET SCIENCE not been published, I can get no answer from Dr. Brendan Foster, or Managing Director Dr.Kavita Rajanna, or Editing Consultant Dr. Zeeya Merali as to why my essay has not been published.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Joe Fisher wrote on Jan. 7, 2018 @ 15:49 GMT
Here is a bit of the essay, Information is fundamental by Sergio Michelson that was published on line on December 20, 2017 by

“The final layer of reality You'll notice that while we speak of information, particles and avatars, we don't go into much details as to what the “physical structures” may be that support this world-view and this hypothesis. This is because we don't care what the physical structure is, only that it exists. Why?”

I have pointed out in the Abstract of my essay, REALITY AM NOT ROCKET SCIENCE that the real visible surface of the earth existed for over a million years before any English language fluent man, woman, child or parrot ever appeared on that surface. The only physical structure that has ever existed am that only one single unified VISIBLE infinite surface occurring eternally in one single infinite dimension that am always illuminated by mostly finite non-surface light.


Joe Fisher, Realist

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Ajay Pokhrel wrote on Jan. 16, 2018 @ 14:17 GMT
Hello Everyone,

I submitted my essay 4 days ago with around 4000 words and 10 pages, but it is not published yet. Do you know the reasons behind it? If there are any mistakes by me can I resubmit the essay with correction further?

Kind Regards


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a l wrote on Jan. 18, 2018 @ 10:25 GMT
As a service to the Community I note that Joe Fisher has been spamming the Contest section by pasting repeatedly a self advertising text. Also, using the same text as an argument he has been rating entries. I believe that such behavior is unacceptable and violates the rules.

I think the Administrators should prevent further disruption and also that they should erase all traces of his activity in this section

(I have removed a couple of them but there are many more.)

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Giovanni Prisinzano wrote on Jan. 19, 2018 @ 20:27 GMT
Dear Brendan,

The header of the current contest forum shows: “Spring 2017". Cannot you correct?

Kind regards,


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Steven Andresen wrote on Jan. 21, 2018 @ 12:48 GMT
Are there ever extensions granted please? I've put in a good deal of work, but struck down by a tummy bug at the moment. I cant finish my essay in this state


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