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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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How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
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Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
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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
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It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
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Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
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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?
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Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams
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The Nature of Time
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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

Steven Andresen: on 2/22/18 at 6:53am UTC, wrote Dear Rob If you are looking for another essay to read and rate in the...

Juan Ramón González Álvarez: on 2/21/18 at 0:39am UTC, wrote I don't agree with Feynman on that the atomic hypothesis that "all things...

Satyavarapu Gupta: on 2/13/18 at 19:36pm UTC, wrote Respected Prof Rob Phillips Wonderful words ... "This explanatory reach...

Peter Jackson: on 2/13/18 at 12:59pm UTC, wrote I forgot... In a past paper I proposed a new; "Law of the Reducing...

Peter Jackson: on 2/13/18 at 10:44am UTC, wrote Professor Phillips, Terrific essay and music to my ears. Thank you, partly...

Luca Valeri: on 2/12/18 at 22:15pm UTC, wrote Hi Rob, Your wrote a very nice essay uncovering the magic and beauty that...

Don Limuti: on 2/10/18 at 23:33pm UTC, wrote Rob, This essay is ... well... magnificent. I wish I had you as a...

Enrico Prati: on 2/3/18 at 0:23am UTC, wrote Dear Phillips, I've read you paper and I'd like to put to your attention...


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FQXi FORUM
August 25, 2019

CATEGORY: FQXi Essay Contest - Spring, 2017 [back]
TOPIC: Superpowers Beyond the Reach of Kryptonite by Rob Phillips [refresh]
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Author Rob Phillips wrote on Feb. 1, 2018 @ 21:28 GMT
Essay Abstract

One of the signature achievements of centuries of effort in the natural sciences and mathematics is the establishment of ``fundamentals'' that have served as the foundation for all science thereafter. In this essay, I will argue for a semantics of ``what is fundamental'' defined not on the basis of a reductionist search for explanations based upon microscopic constituents, but rather on those deeply satisfying insights that are known for their broad explanatory reach. This explanatory reach can be thought of as an intellectual superpower because possessing it allows us by pure thought alone not only to explain things that are already known, but to predict things that are not yet known. Unfortunately, fundamentals have a darker side as well. The addition of the three simple letters ``-ism'' takes the notion of fundamental and turns it into one of the worst of human traits, namely, the insistence that there is only one divinely-inspired truth. As an antidote to such fundamentalism, I close by reflecting on one of the most fundamental lessons of science: the requirement for the kind of simultaneous openness and skepticism that makes science work.

Author Bio

Rob Phillips is the Fred and Nancy Morris Professor of Biophysics and Biology at the California Institute of Technology. Phillips received his PhD in condensed matter physics at Washington University in 1989. Prior to working in science, he spent seven years of travel, self-study and work as an electrician. Work in his group centers on physical biology of the cell, the use of physical models to explore biological phenomena and the construction of experiments designed to test them. Phillips has advocated for biological numeracy in his books "Physical Biology of the Cell" and "Cell Biology by the Numbers".

Download Essay PDF File

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Member Tejinder Pal Singh wrote on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 08:06 GMT
Dear Professor Phillips,

I very much enjoyed reading your essay - it is highly readable, and has a nice and pleasant feel to it. I like your idea of fundamentals being all around us, if only we are ready to notice them.

I do hope your essay will do very well in this contest.

Tejinder

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Stefan Weckbach wrote on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 08:23 GMT
Hi! I merely have skimmed your essay and your abstract, but i like your essay title very much. It comes so funny and i missed the red 'S' on yellow ground in your presentation. I surely will read what you wrote more carefully later.

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Enrico Prati wrote on Feb. 3, 2018 @ 00:23 GMT
Dear Phillips,

I've read you paper and I'd like to put to your attention this paper related to the Standard Model you mentioned in the Essay, by A. Connes:

Chamseddine, A. H. and Connes, A. (2010). Noncommutative geometry as a framework for unication of all fundamental interactions including gravity. Part I. Fortschritte der Physik, 58(6), 553-600.

About your Essay, I agree that semantics is relevant but perhaps we should say more in general that the whole description of physics is a matter of language and how physical quantities are related to it by mathematical formalism.

My best regards

E.

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Don Limuti wrote on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 23:33 GMT
Rob,

This essay is ... well... magnificent. I wish I had you as a professor when I was beginning my studies.

I liked:

1. All the scientific examples of what is fundamental. A history of the best that mankind produces.

2. A look at the dark side of fundamental---fundamentalism. A history of the worst that mankind produces.

In my opion this is the best essay in the contest.

Thanks,

Don Limuti

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Luca Valeri wrote on Feb. 12, 2018 @ 22:15 GMT
Hi Rob,

Your wrote a very nice essay uncovering the magic and beauty that underlie different fundamental laws, theorems or arguments. I am fascinated from the beauty of symmetry arguments and I wished that physical laws could be derived from symmetry arguments alone. (I am a bit disappointed, that this has not been done yet, since I belief, that symmetries are conditions that must hold in order to make specific concepts observable or definable).

In my essay I used symmetry constrains to discuss, what properties are observable under these symmetries. And a bit more.

Best regards,

Luca

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Peter Jackson wrote on Feb. 13, 2018 @ 10:44 GMT
Professor Phillips,

Terrific essay and music to my ears. Thank you, partly for so well expressing my own findings and analyses (as prev finalist essays) but also for greatly rationalising & extending them. A beautiful job worth top marks. To many highlights to cover include;

"the requirement for the kind of simultaneous openness and skepticism that makes science work."

.. "..(the bell curve) is perhaps the most celebrated probabilistic example of a kind of fundamental inevitability."

... "One of the central missions of science is the deliberate search for these kinds of inevitable truths, many of which provide the fundamental framework serving as a trellis for different disciplines in science."

... "Fundamentalism pretends at a perfect and complete knowledge, but instead of the perfection of the David, reveals an intellectual deformity."


I'm also a geometer and logician and most important I hope you may advise. This year I extend Maxwell and (last years) Pythogorus via Cosine momenta, then, repeated, to Bayesian, distributions - leading logically to an apparent classical solution to QM's predictions. It need falsifying but most physicists run a mile at the very concept!

A few things also emerging are an optics solution to Stellar Aberration, Kinetic Reverse Refraction, physical near/far field 'transition zones', and the failure of Snell's law beyond them, all seeming to rationalise SR! (last years offered related insights to your own main area).

This years focusses on the QM ontology (see also Declan Traills matching computer code and plot, & Gordon Watsons agreement). I hope you'll read and discuss.

In the meantime thank you for yours, and best of luck in the contest.

Peter

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Peter Jackson replied on Feb. 13, 2018 @ 12:59 GMT
I forgot... In a past paper I proposed a new;

"Law of the Reducing Middle"

which does exactly what you say, but goes further by using a Bayesian curve to replace the 'fundamental?' propositional logic; Law of the Excluded Middle' which I identify is what leads ALL logical systems ultimately to paradox!

i.e. in another essay; (I lost it before commenting) something like 'If you deny being stoned as the opposite case to NOT being stoned we'll stone you until you agree'. Is nonsense as it ignores the infinite cases of being stoned with 'n' small or large stones between zero and death! Some 'classes' can be 'binary' but they need defining. Nature changes binary codes in fibre optic cables to sine curves so regular stations need to be installed to 'square up the shoulders!'

That's all implicit in classic QM. But I'm (intentionally) no mathematician and nothing's taken seriously without maths!

Very best

Peter

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Feb. 13, 2018 @ 19:36 GMT
Respected Prof Rob Phillips

Wonderful words ... "This explanatory reach can be thought of as an intellectual superpower because possessing it allows us by pure thought alone not only to explain things that are already known, but to predict things that are not yet known. Unfortunately, fundamentals have a darker side as well. The addition of the three simple letters ``-ism'' takes the notion...

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Juan Ramón González Álvarez wrote on Feb. 21, 2018 @ 00:39 GMT
I don't agree with Feynman on that the atomic hypothesis that "all things are made of atoms" would be the better sentence to resume all of scientific knowledge. One can explain a lot of stuff without even mentioning the term atom.

However I would differentiate between conciseness and fundamental. Non-atomic theory can explain a lot of stuff, but it will be build over several parameters and...

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attachments: symplectics16final.pdf

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Steven Andresen wrote on Feb. 22, 2018 @ 06:53 GMT
Dear Rob

If you are looking for another essay to read and rate in the final days of the contest, will you consider mine please? I read all essays from those who comment on my page, and if I cant rate an essay highly, then I don’t rate them at all. Infact I haven’t issued a rating lower that ten. So you have nothing to lose by having me read your essay, and everything to...

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