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FQXi BLOGS
November 20, 2019

CATEGORY: Blog [back]
TOPIC: Universe of Possibilities: What is (Im)possible? [refresh]
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FQXi Administrator Zeeya Merali wrote on Mar. 7, 2009 @ 05:21 GMT
Building the Impossible Triangle by Brian McKay, Perth, Australia


Following a heavy discussion about ways to improve the funding of foundational research, participants at the FQXi March meeting turned their attention to a somewhat “lighter” question: Just what is “impossible” according to physics?

Max Tegmark and Anthony Aguirre invited participants to suggest ideas that lie on the possible/impossible boundary, and then let the group fight over whether they could ever be realised.

For now, I will just list the ideas and let you decide :

1) Theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek picked up on an idea he had mentioned earlier in the day and said that it will one day be possible to engineer a mind. (Robert Kuhn, an investment banker with a doctorate in brain science, pointed out that there is a distinction between an artificial intelligence that can give the outward appearance of having a human-like mind, for instance by displaying the traits we associate with emotion, and one that actually internally experiences such feelings.)

2) Melanie Swan, a science and technology futurist (and blogger) placed superluminal travel on the impossible pile--alongside which many participants added backward time travel.

3) Swan also wondered if we may ever be able to manipulate and harness all the fundamental forces as easily as we do the electromagnetic force.

4) Quantum physicist Wojciech Zurek thinks that it will be impossible to falsify quantum mechanics.

5) FQXi director Max Tegmark threw in one of the most controversial statements by saying that he thinks that it will be impossible to detect the graviton. At first his statement was met with confusion until he clarified that this isn’t because he doesn’t believe one exists, but because of the limits of technology.

6) Tessera Technologies chairman Bruce McWilliams wondered whether it will ever be possible to come up with a theory that can predict everything on the basis of just one parameter (for example, the mass of the electron).

7) Robert Kuhn stated that it would be impossible for anything in the universe to understand the totality of the universe.

Feel free to add any (im)possible things that you think they missed off the list. I will come back later and let you know the outcome of those discussions…

How to Build the Impossible Triangle (www.sciam.com *)


* See more "impossible" 3-D structures at this gallery on Scientific American's website.

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