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Previous Contests

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

read/discusswinners

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
read/discusswinners

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

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American
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What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams
read/discusswinners

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008
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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

Karl Coryat: on 2/26/18 at 6:33am UTC, wrote Thank you Tom! I greatly appreciate it! Karl

Thomas Ray: on 2/25/18 at 18:12pm UTC, wrote Karl, What a delightfully entertaining and technically accurate essay! ...

Karl Coryat: on 2/24/18 at 19:59pm UTC, wrote Hi Terry, Thanks for the extensive and thought-provoking comment! I didn't...

Terry Bollinger: on 2/23/18 at 23:13pm UTC, wrote Dear Karl, I am so glad I managed to get to your essay! It is...

Karl Coryat: on 2/15/18 at 3:43am UTC, wrote Flavio, Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely right about...

Karl Coryat: on 2/15/18 at 3:35am UTC, wrote Wow, thank you Giovanni!!

Flavio Del Santo: on 2/14/18 at 0:27am UTC, wrote Dear Mr. Coryat, thanks for sharing such an enjoyable essay. It is well...

Giovanni Prisinzano: on 2/6/18 at 16:13pm UTC, wrote Dear Karl, I really liked your essay. It is intriguing, ingenious, well...


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FQXi FORUM
October 17, 2019

CATEGORY: FQXi Essay Contest - Spring, 2017 [back]
TOPIC: The Four Pillars of Fundamentality by Karl Coryat [refresh]
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Author Karl H Coryat wrote on Dec. 21, 2017 @ 21:02 GMT
Essay Abstract

A four-point heuristic is presented for evaluating the fundamentality of any physical theory. A theory considered "fundamental" has four features: It is general, parsimonious, relational, and mechanism-suggestive. These qualities are examined in the context of general relativity, Darwinian evolution, and their historical antecedents, as well as a hypothetical case in which inhabitants of a 1+1-dimensional world seek a theory of an observed phenomenon and an explanation for the value of a mysterious constant of nature. This analysis reveals the role that fundamentality plays in the progression of science, suggesting pathways toward a fundamental theoretic structure that describes the mechanisms of the world.

Author Bio

I once had the honor of (momentarily) earning $3,600 on the game show "Jeopardy" for knowing the unit of time defined by 9,192,631,770 radiation cycles of the cesium-133 atom. My mechanical device the "spacetime stretcher," which won a prize in FQXi’s 2014 video contest, is now used to teach general relativity basics at U.C. Santa Cruz. My 2012 prize-winning essay “Toward an Informational Mechanics” became a philosophy-of-science book, "The Simplest-Case Scenario." I studied biology at U.C. Berkeley.

Download Essay PDF File

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Scott S Gordon wrote on Dec. 22, 2017 @ 00:56 GMT
Hi Karl,

It is no wonder that you have won other contests. Your style of writing is easy to read and the points you make are very clear. You have delineated in a very concise manner of what you expect to see in a theory of everything based on "What is Fundamental?"

It is also obvious to me that you are not a physicist and that your formal training was in another discipline. The only thing missing from your essay is...

The actual Theory of Everything! LOL!

I'm fairly certain you would recognize it if you saw it! Don't laugh - I know it is not going to be easy for physicists themselves to get past their own work or their preconceived notions of their current understanding of physics. Afterall - it is not easy to expand the mind when venturing out of Oscillatorland.

So like other comments I made on other essays that lead to this point... From which group or Who will the genius arise from to get us out of oscillatorland?

Great essay!

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Author Karl H Coryat replied on Dec. 22, 2017 @ 03:19 GMT
Thanks Scott -- Like most people here, I do have my pet hypothesis of everything, but I got it off my chest in my first couple of contests. Nowadays I try to make my essays more generally applicable, ideas that can be applied to other people's hypotheses. I will check out your essay! Thanks again for the comment and for reading mine.

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Gary D. Simpson wrote on Dec. 22, 2017 @ 04:25 GMT
Karl,

Clever ... very clever. And highly entertaining.

Your Four Pillars give a good way of comparing ideas. However, you did not posit an idea.

Still a good read.

Best Regards,

Gary Simpson

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Author Karl H Coryat replied on Dec. 22, 2017 @ 18:55 GMT
Hi Gary - I'm sure if the topic were "what is your fundamental theory of the universe?" or even "what are the fundamental constituents of the universe" I would have written a different essay. This time out, rather than advance my own original research (been there, done that), I chose to take a close look at what fundamentality means in the context of physical theories. Thanks for the compliments! -KC

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sridattadev kancharla wrote on Dec. 22, 2017 @ 14:17 GMT
Dear Karl,

I request you to use your tools and see if my proposal of Consciousness (Geometry Of Dimensions) GOD qualifies as fundamental aspect of reality.

Consciousness is general as it is universal, if we were to encounter ET consciousness is the first recognizable aspect.

Consciousness is parsimonious as it preserves itself using minimum resources

Consciousness is relative as it establishes relations with all beings conscious

Consciousness is the true source of quantum mechanics

Love,

Sridattadev.

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Jack Hamilton James wrote on Dec. 29, 2017 @ 06:46 GMT
Dear Karl,

What a great essay. It reminded me (mostly in the title but also partly in its intent) of this work, you may find interesting.

[https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-fou
r-category-ontology-9780199229819?cc=au&lang=en&]E.J Lowe - Four-Category Ontology

Best,

Jack H James

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Author Karl H Coryat replied on Dec. 29, 2017 @ 22:48 GMT
Thanks so much, Jack! That looks like an interesting book. I'll have to check the libraries.

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Alan M. Kadin wrote on Dec. 31, 2017 @ 19:42 GMT
Dear Karl,

Interesting and entertaining essay. I am particularly interested in your definition of time and space in 1D Oscillator World. You identify a universe of oscillating point particles, with a characteristic frequency and amplitude defining time and space.

In my essay, “Fundamental Waves and the Reunification of Physics”, intended to describe the real 3D world, there are no point particles, but only fundamental quantum waves. Time and space are defined by the quantum frequency and Compton wavelength of the electron. If these fundamental units are modified by gravitational time dilation and length contraction, the rest of GR falls out naturally, without the need to invoke an abstract 4D spacetime. This approach also seems to be general, parsimonious, relational, and mechanism-suggestive. But it appears quite different from GR – most fundamental constants (c, m, e, and G) become variable. The only remaining universal constant is Planck’s constant, which defines the scale of spin.

I would add a 5th principal of fundamentality: direct experimental verification of the fundamental properties. In my essay, I suggest experiments to test quantum superposition, entanglement, and uncertainty, which are viewed as fundamental in the orthodox theory.

Best Wishes,

Alan Kadin

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Karl Coryat replied on Dec. 31, 2017 @ 23:03 GMT
Hi Alan --

Thanks for altering me to your well-written essay, and for carefully considering mine. One clarification: in my "Oscillatorworld," it's the inhabitants who define their *units* of length and duration by the point–object's oscillations. I do not intend to mean that time and space are objectively defined by these oscillations (the story is agnostic on the provenance of time and space).

With regard to my proposed four pillars, you've done an excellent job in the generality and parsimony departments. I like the idea of there being only one or two true constants. I'm not sure I see the relational aspect of your picture, though. What is the relational nature of the electron's rotating vector field, or the value of h-bar/2? They seem rather absolute to me. However, I have yet to see any picture of the world that is relational all the way to the top (or bottom)...and of course that pillar could be wrong.

I'm not sure I like your 5th pillar of fundamentality. A Newtonian could argue that the fundamental attraction between masses is trivially demonstrated by experiment, no? (In fairness, I realize that my pillars are also subject to abuse.)

Congratulations on your win last year and best of luck again this time.

KC

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Stefan Weckbach wrote on Jan. 1, 2018 @ 07:52 GMT
Karl, i like your analogy with oscillatorland. You give a good description of what is meant by the term ‘fundamental’ in the context of physical theories: it ‘simply’ means ‘mechanism’, although this ‘simplicity’ has strong restrictions on how to identify some mechanisms. They must be general, parsimonious and relational. I would agree with all of them. As to the question why...

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Author Karl H Coryat replied on Jan. 1, 2018 @ 21:43 GMT
Reply below (oops)

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Author Karl H Coryat wrote on Jan. 1, 2018 @ 21:40 GMT
Hi Stefan, Thank you for your very thoughtful comments. They are highly appreciated.

I don't think a mechanism requires time — clumsily, I buried my definition of mechanism on page 6: "A mechanism can be considered a set of causal interactions and/or static relations, from which emerge an observable phenomenon or group of phenomena." Under that definition, I'd say logic is a mechanism. We certainly have theories of logic, which describe the static relations between propositions and truths. And, I suspect that this mechanism is what you describe as an "eternal core existence," considering that it seemingly must operate in all possible worlds in which there is internal consistency (it is general). As expressed with Boolean algebra, it is certainly also relational and parsimonious. Of course, we don't know how to get from logic to time, but we seem to be getting closer.

Good luck in this contest — I look forward to reading your essay, and thanks again.

Karl

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Stefan Weckbach replied on Jan. 2, 2018 @ 06:07 GMT
Hi Karl, thanks for your comment. I was overlooking your definition, having been fixed on the ‘air conditioner’ and on causal relations only. You put it very well, getting from logic to time is not easy, hopefully we can make this step without invoking to many assumptions.

Thanks again that you took the time to dive into my concern. I wish you also good look!

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Paul N Butler wrote on Jan. 5, 2018 @ 01:37 GMT
Dear Karl,

I read your paper and I agree with the importance of the four pillars of fundamentality that you cover in it. I would only disagree to one degree or another with the examples that you include for each of the pillars.

I agree that as much as possible a fundamental theory should be general and include an overall explanation of the structure of all things that agrees as much...

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Jan. 5, 2018 @ 06:38 GMT
Hi Karl, I like your essay very much. The quirky introduction showing different viewpoints and how they affect representation of what is happening was an intriguing way into the topic of how to compare theories on the basis of fundamentality. Returning to it at the end and analyzing their representations with the pillars of fundamentality was nice too. It showed them applied rather than just theoretical advice. I think the four pillars you have identified is well though out and useful tool. I like that each is considered in turn breaking the essay up into easily readable chunks, Well done, Kind regards Georgina

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Author Karl H Coryat replied on Jan. 9, 2018 @ 20:07 GMT
Hi Georgina, Thank you for the compliment! I really enjoyed this time trying to come up with a "theory of theories," rather than advance my own specific ideas. I wanted to write something that people could apply to their own theories, rather than merely compare a new theory to their own. As always, I look forward to your entry. If I didn't say anything before, congratulations on your 2014 win — much deserved! And best of luck this time. -Karl

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Paul N Butler wrote on Jan. 9, 2018 @ 15:44 GMT
My comment on Karl H Coryat’s paper’s page on Jan. 5, 2018

Dear Karl,

I read your paper and I agree with the importance of the four pillars of fundamentality that you cover in it. I would only disagree to one degree or another with the examples that you include for each of the pillars.

I agree that as much as possible a fundamental theory should be general and include an...

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Paul N Butler replied on Jan. 9, 2018 @ 16:00 GMT
I am not sure how, but My name and a date got inserted between the second and third paragraphs. It was not in the original document, so it had to be inserted during or after transmission to FQXI.

Paul

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Paul N Butler replied on Jan. 9, 2018 @ 16:14 GMT
Dear Karl,

Sorry I had meant to post the above comment on my paper's page, so I would have a handy copy of my comments on my page, but I got it on yours by mistake.

Sincerely,

Paul

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Joe Fisher wrote on Jan. 14, 2018 @ 22:10 GMT
Dear Dr. Karl Coryat ,

You wrote: “What does fundamental mean? Is it possible to assess the fundamentality of competing theories? Can such an analysis steer us toward a fundamental theory of the world?”

My research has concluded that Nature must have devised the only permanent structure of the Universe obtainable for the real Universe existed for millions of years before man and his finite complex informational systems ever appeared on earth. The real physical Universe consists only of one single unified VISIBLE infinite surface occurring eternally in one single infinite dimension that am always illuminated mostly by finite non-surface light.

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

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Donald G Palmer wrote on Jan. 15, 2018 @ 18:05 GMT
A very engaging essay, Karl - thank you

I have liked Edwin Abbot's story since early in my life and always go back to it.

There is a particular issue with the story, when taken as a physical analogy, however.

The assumption (which you also make in your story) is that the beings in Flatland or Oscillatorland actually live in a 2- or 1- dimensional world (respectively). A...

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Author Karl H Coryat replied on Jan. 15, 2018 @ 23:44 GMT
Hi Don, thank you for the comment and for reading my essay. You make some excellent points. I didn't intend to imply that GR is the final answer on anything. It may very well be, as you suggested, that spacetime curvature in fact is not an extant mechanism in the world, just as (we now assume) Newtonian gravitational force is not an extant mechanism in the world. However, if spacetime curvature is a real mechanism, then the theory describing it is (probably) a fundamental description of what causes the apparent curvature of geodesics near masses or energies. Of course we'd then need to study the mechanism responsible for this curvature, and so on. KC

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Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Jan. 17, 2018 @ 05:12 GMT
Dear Karl Coryat,

You do an excellent job justifying your four pillars. You seem to view general relativity as geometry. Do you believe that mass is geometry as well? If I were to contrast GR with another gravitational theory it would be post-Newtonian based or gravito-magnetic fields and gravitational disturbances traveling at the speed of light, as recently shown by the colliding neutron stars, rather than Newton's action-at-a-distance. However the nine page limit bears down hard on us all and your contrast gets your point across nicely.

As energy-density in Cartesian coordinates corresponds to curvature in GR, do you believe that curvature and density could be inversely related. Once we can map a linear coordinate system over a constant density field, might we distort this geometry to map the non-homogeneous density? What physical difference is implied by the different mappings?

You mentioned twice above that rather than pushing your own ideas, this time "I wanted to write something that people could apply to their own theories...". This time I've done the same thing. Rather than push forward with my own theory, I've backed up to look at one of our "fundamental" theories.

I found your 1 + 1 Oscillatorland example interesting, as my essay focuses on oscillators as clocks, but clocks subject to local conditions. This contrasts with space-time symmetry while retaining relativistic particle physics intact. I would be very interested in your response to this approach.

My best regards,

Edwin Eugene Klingman

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Author Karl H Coryat replied on Jan. 29, 2018 @ 20:09 GMT
Hi Edwin, it's good to see you doing well in this year's contest. Thank you for the comment. Mass as geometry...interesting concept. I've often questioned the often-assumed causality of mass on spacetime, wondering instead if spacetime curvature "causes" mass, or there really is no causation involved. I'm behind in my reading but I look forward to reading your essay, and best of luck! KC

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Jan. 22, 2018 @ 17:35 GMT
Dear Karl Coryat,

The Four Pillars of Fundamentality as suggested by you “ general, parsimonious, relational, and mechanism-suggestive.” Are exactly correct my dear Karl Coryat…..

…..….. I request you to explore your nice method to Dynamic Universe Model also…. I highly appreciate your essay and hope for reciprocity.

I request you please spend some of the valuable...

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Joe Fisher wrote on Jan. 28, 2018 @ 16:44 GMT
Dear Fellow Essayists

This will be my final plea for fair treatment.,

Reliable evidence exists that proves that the surface of the earth was formed millions of years before man and his utterly complex finite informational systems ever appeared on that surface. It logically follows that Nature must have permanently devised the only single physical construct of earth allowable.

All objects, be they solid, liquid, or vaporous have always had a visible surface. This is because the real Universe consists only of one single unified VISIBLE infinite surface occurring eternally in one single infinite dimension that am always illuminated mostly by finite non-surface light.

Only the truth can set you free.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Author Karl H Coryat replied on Jan. 28, 2018 @ 18:30 GMT
Reliable evidence exists that proves that the surface of the earth was formed millions of years before man and his utterly complex finite informational systems ever appeared on that surface. It logically follows that Nature must have permanently devised the only single physical construct of earth allowable.

That doesn't logically follow, Joe. Perhaps your ideas would be better understood if you didn't make such bare assertions about logic and what seems obvious to you, and instead helped people see the flow of your ideas. That said, I'm glad that this year you're putting forward more humble comments. They will help you moving forward. Cheers, KC

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Gene H Barbee wrote on Jan. 29, 2018 @ 03:13 GMT
Karl,

Your essay is excellent. It sets criteria for what is fundamental and examines them in detail. The criteria “general, stingy, relational and mechanism-suggestive” appear to sort observations into fundamental and not. I have no argument with it and since that was the essay contest subject please take what I say next as an aside.

Erwin was also a hero in my view. Please...

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Author Karl H Coryat replied on Jan. 29, 2018 @ 20:04 GMT
Hello Gene -- I want to thank you for your compliment, but I must admit I could not do your question justice by attempting to answer it. Best of luck in the contest! KC

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Gene H Barbee replied on Feb. 3, 2018 @ 21:47 GMT
Ok, I understand. Just in case others see my post I will post a corrected equation for P.



Correction: There are 4 E’s, and P=1=psi*psi*psi*psi=exp(13.43)*exp(12.43)*exp(-15.43)*exp(-1
0.43)=1.

E1=2.02e-5*exp(13.43)=13.797, E2=2.02e-5*exp(12.43)=5.076,

E3=2.02*exp(15.43)=101.95, E4=2.02e-5*exp(10.43)=0.69 (all in MEV)

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Giovanni Prisinzano wrote on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 16:13 GMT
Dear Karl,

I really liked your essay. It is intriguing, ingenious, well written. I especially appreciated the invention of Oscillatorland with its Linestein and Rowdinger, a combination of imagination and rigor. Congratulations for the beautiful work,

Giovanni

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Author Karl H Coryat replied on Feb. 15, 2018 @ 03:35 GMT
Wow, thank you Giovanni!!

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Flavio Del Santo wrote on Feb. 14, 2018 @ 00:27 GMT
Dear Mr. Coryat,

thanks for sharing such an enjoyable essay. It is well written and contrarily to some of your commentators, it actualy hits the nail on the head.

I feel that your four points are reasonable, although they remain on the theoretical, or better, conventional level. Expecially, parsimony can be dengerous to be necessarily enforced.

Anyway, I liked your essay, I feel it gives a genuine contribution to the contest. I am rating it high.

My approach is very different from yours, yet I hope you will find the time to look though my essay as well.

Best wishes,

Flavio

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Author Karl H Coryat replied on Feb. 15, 2018 @ 03:43 GMT
Flavio, Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely right about parsimony not being enforcable. There needs to be a rigorous theory of parsimony! Something to think about.

I will look at your essay very soon and look forward to it! Thanks again.

Karl

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Terry Bollinger wrote on Feb. 23, 2018 @ 23:13 GMT
Dear Karl,

I am so glad I managed to get to your essay! It is simultaneously deeply insightful and a genuine hoot to read!

I’m still scratching my head a bit on how exactly Oscillatorland relates to your four pillars, but reading about Linestein and company gave me good vibes. And it reminded me that any space with less than three dimensions creates a number of interesting...

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Author Karl H Coryat replied on Feb. 24, 2018 @ 19:59 GMT
Hi Terry, Thanks for the extensive and thought-provoking comment! I didn't tip my hand about what I think might be the ultimate general, parsimonious, relational, and mechanism-suggestive theory of the world (Instead, I wrote & self-published a book about it). But, I think the world is ultimately informational. I believe Wheeler was right with "it from bit," but we just haven't figured out how to apply that to the world, certainly not on a practical level.

I'm glad that you like the direction of this essay. My hope was to challenge people to scrutinize their own theories with these pillars, and if their top-level picture of the universe is truly relational, then I think they might have something. Wheeler said "no laws," and I think that basically means no absolutes. I have various visualizations: a bucket of water that started out with the surface flat but now has perturbations, or a network of friends who owe each other money, having started out financially neutral. If we could imagine the universe as that bucket of water without the water, or the financial network without the friends, we'd get close to something like how the universe operates, in a completely relational manner.

Thanks again for the comment, and best of luck in this contest!

Karl

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Thomas Howard Ray wrote on Feb. 25, 2018 @ 18:12 GMT
Karl,

What a delightfully entertaining and technically accurate essay! You get right to the heart of Linestein, er, Einstein's quest for simplicity all the way down.

I am in sync with your reducing least action to 1 dimension on a manifold. Suppose that mechanism is a simple harmonic oscillation -- I think it can be observable as a soliton wave.

Well earned highest score.

Best,

Tom 3124

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Author Karl H Coryat replied on Feb. 26, 2018 @ 06:33 GMT
Thank you Tom! I greatly appreciate it!

Karl

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