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Current Essay Contest


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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
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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
read/discusswinners

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
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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
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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?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams
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The Nature of Time
August - December 2008
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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

Steven Andresen: on 2/22/18 at 6:31am UTC, wrote Dear Michelle If you are looking for another essay to read and rate in the...

Armin Nikkhah Shirazi: on 2/19/18 at 16:02pm UTC, wrote Dear Michelle, I enjoyed the approach in your paper in the spirit of...

Eckard Blumschein: on 2/18/18 at 14:56pm UTC, wrote Dear Michelle, Why didn't you defend your essay? Are you ill? I am...

Domenico Oricchio: on 2/16/18 at 14:25pm UTC, wrote A good essay. I don’t understand a part of your definition of...

Satyavarapu Gupta: on 2/14/18 at 1:49am UTC, wrote Dear Michelle Xu Very nicely you said about Complexity......" the amount...

Mozibur Ullah: on 2/7/18 at 12:10pm UTC, wrote Dear Michelle A delightfully interesting and informative essay and written...

Steven Andresen: on 2/6/18 at 5:22am UTC, wrote Dear Michelle Xu Just letting you know that I am making a start on reading...

Lee Bloomquist: on 2/6/18 at 3:22am UTC, wrote Michelle, self = (self) -> Helen Keller before learnings the word...


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FQXi FORUM
May 28, 2020

CATEGORY: FQXi Essay Contest - Spring, 2017 [back]
TOPIC: Fundamentality—Or Rather, What It Isn't by Michelle Xu [refresh]
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Author Michelle Xu wrote on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 19:00 GMT
Essay Abstract

Complexity is, in a general sense, the amount of information it takes to describe something "interesting" about a system. I posit that the definition of fundamentality is equivalent to a lack of complexity. We begin our discussion with a broad question—what is "fundamental?"—and apply philosophical tools, like the linguistic principle of charity, until we whittle our inquiry down to something manageable. From then on, we meander through a series of possible solutions and rebuttals, briefly peering at applicability and elegance, until we are naturally motivated to hit upon complexity as our viable candidate. We discuss both the technical attempts at quantifying complexity and the adjustments we need to make for our case. Ultimately, we see that fundamentality is simply our attempt to understand the world's patterns, and that task is much more easily accomplished with a lack of complexity.

Author Bio

Michelle Xu is an undergraduate studying physics and mathematics at MIT. She enjoys discussing philosophy and procrastinating her psets, both of which are habits that led to the creation of this essay.

Download Essay PDF File

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Joe Fisher wrote on Feb. 3, 2018 @ 15:40 GMT
Dear Michelle Xu,

FQXi.org is clearly seeking to confirm whether Nature is fundamental.

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 must consist 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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post approved


Flavio Del Santo wrote on Feb. 3, 2018 @ 21:20 GMT
Dear Michelle,

thank you for this interesting and well written essay.

I liked very much your way towards frustration that, following the hint provided in call of the FQXi contest, leads us to get rid of naive reductionism of conventional arguments (like beauty or simplicity). You would find many similarities in my essay, and I hope you will have the opportunity to read it, such that we can discuss our common points.

Overall, a nice essay, and congratulation for beingat such an early stage of your career. I surely rate the essay high.

All good wishes,

Flavio

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Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich wrote on Feb. 4, 2018 @ 10:07 GMT
Dear Michelle Xu, You have made a deep analysis of the fundamental nature of everything, including physical theories. Here are quotes from your essay, which I wrote out as criteria of fundamentality. “Economy—satisfaction in producing an abundance of effects from very limited means”

“We posit that fundamentality is equivalent to minimized complexity; that is, the

opposite of fundamentality is complexity.”

“We are trying to find the

theory of the universe a whole that has the least complexity, and thus the most fundamentality.

It’s just a minimization problem.”

These criteria are met by New Cartesian physics, which is based on the identity space and matter of Descartes' and which wants to be the theory of everything. According to Descartes, space is matter, and matter is space that moves. Thus, space is the foundation for constructing fundamental theories.

Look at my essay, FQXi Fundamental in New Cartesian Physics by Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich Where I showed how radically the physics can change if it follows this principle. Evaluate and leave your comment there. Then I'll give you a rating as the bearer of Descartes' idea. Do not allow New Cartesian Physics go away into nothingness.

Sincerely, Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich.

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post approved


James N Rose wrote on Feb. 5, 2018 @ 04:53 GMT
Ms Xu,

Very much enjoyed your writing style, clarity and flow or discussions. In that light, I'd like to address specific ideas you wrote about.

First, I would say that Duhem's hypothesis muddies the waters and is built on inconsistent criteria .. moving us no closer to shared consensus understandings, but away from that goal.

Your next approach .. presuming 'comparative...

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Francesco D'Isa wrote on Feb. 5, 2018 @ 10:11 GMT
Dear Michelle,

thank you for sharing your essay, it's very interesting and well written; I really appreciated it.

You state that "what is fundamental corresponds to what is globally minimized for complexity" and it's for sure a good solution. But this is a fundamentality intrinsically relative to our purposes, and it could change depending on the observer, as I try to state in my own essay.

All the best and good luck with your essay!

Francesco D'Isa

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Juan Ramón González Álvarez wrote on Feb. 5, 2018 @ 19:36 GMT
"For example, once the classical mechanics model of what happens in a gas in a box is determined, all the aspects of the statistical mechanical model are determined as well". This is not true at all. Statistical mechanics is based in postulates which are not derived from classical mechanics. Precisely the main problem with non-equilibrium statistical mechanics (NESM) is that the postulates of the...

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Lee Bloomquist wrote on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 03:22 GMT
Michelle, self = (self) -> Helen Keller before learnings the word w-a-t-e-r --> self (thinking, self) -> abstract models of Helen before and after learning the meaning of "w-a-t-e-r" --> maximum simplicity produces the maximum complexity (thought)

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Steven Andresen wrote on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 05:22 GMT
Dear Michelle Xu

Just letting you know that I am making a start on reading of your essay, and hope that you might also take a glance over mine please? I look forward to the sharing of thoughtful opinion. Congratulations on your essay rating as it stands, and best of luck for the contest conclusion.

My essay is titled

“Darwinian Universal Fundamental Origin”. It stands as a novel test for whether a natural organisational principle can serve a rationale, for emergence of complex systems of physics and cosmology. I will be interested to have my effort judged on both the basis of prospect and of novelty.

Thank you & kind regards

Steven Andresen

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post approved


Mozibur Rahman Ullah wrote on Feb. 7, 2018 @ 12:10 GMT
Dear Michelle

A delightfully interesting and informative essay and written with verve and style. Thank you for sharing.

Best Wishes

Mozibur Ullah

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Feb. 14, 2018 @ 01:49 GMT
Dear Michelle Xu

Very nicely you said about Complexity......" the amount of information it takes to describe something "interesting" about a system. I posit that the definition of fundamentality is equivalent to a lack of complexity....... We discuss both the technical attempts at quantifying complexity and the adjustments we need to make for our case. Ultimately, we see that...

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Domenico Oricchio wrote on Feb. 16, 2018 @ 14:25 GMT
A good essay.

I don’t understand a part of your definition of fundamental: each theory that describes the reality is fundamental; it seem an objective quality of each theory that is true. Is it true?

Another question, an Artificial Intelligence that understand the cure for the cancer of sicks, that provides them with medical care, have the databases and the knowledge, a black box that contain the fundamental medical treatment, without visible fundamental theory have the fundamental property of knowledge, prediction and inner representation that we don’t know: is it fundamental for medicine?

It seems that, for some models, the knowledge, along many calculations (in thousands of mathematical steps) condenses into some fundamental units that contain those calculations (for example Fermat’s last theorem, or Einstein field equation); some regularity and symmetries of the calculations are expresses in these fundamental units, and this units are compact way of representing all those calculations (the Standard Model is not simple, or elegant, but contains all the human knowledge on the particles and fields).

Regards

Domenico

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Feb. 18, 2018 @ 14:56 GMT
Dear Michelle,

Why didn't you defend your essay? Are you ill?

I am defending my finding which was called by my boss "too fundamental" because he felt it a too large decrease in complexity. Can you help please?

Eckard Blumschein

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Armin Nikkhah Shirazi wrote on Feb. 19, 2018 @ 16:02 GMT
Dear Michelle,

I enjoyed the approach in your paper in the spirit of Sherlock Holmes (Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth) and the lighthearted, fun tone of your essay.

A few specific comments:

1. It is perceptive of you to recognize that widespread applicability by itself cannot be the same as fundamentality.

2. The main argument of your paper is very similar to that given in the essay by Terry Bollinger, who identifies fundamentality with Kolmogorov Simplicity.

3. I think the worry about theories becoming incomparable can be addressed with sufficient abstraction.

All the best,

Armin

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Steven Andresen wrote on Feb. 22, 2018 @ 06:31 GMT
Dear Michelle

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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