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Current Essay Contest

Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

Previous Contests

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.

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


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

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

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

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

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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.

March 19, 2018

CATEGORY: Is Reality Digital or Analog? Essay Contest (2010-2011) [back]
TOPIC: Reality Will Ultimately Be Analog and Digital by Arjen Dijksman [refresh]
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Author Arjen Dijksman wrote on Feb. 15, 2011 @ 16:39 GMT
Essay Abstract

In order to explore analog or digital reality, we first define Reality with a postulate: Reality is that on which everybody can agree. Statements about Reality must potentially be accessible to everyone on earth. In our macroscopic experience, we describe physical reality analogically and digitally. Therefore ultimate Reality will be both analog and digital.

Author Bio

I graduated in 1991 as Applied Physics Engineer at Delft University of Technology (Holland) after research work on radiation defects in tungsten. Until 2009, I worked as IT Project Manager in the Paris area until February 2009. I went back to graduate school, fulfilling a Master of Science program in Optics and Photonics at Institut d'Optique Graduate School, Palaiseau. I am currently PhD student at ESPCI, Paris, France. My research topic is the synthesis and characterization of colloidal quantum dots.

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Phil Warnell wrote on Feb. 19, 2011 @ 11:41 GMT
A very nice essay which I would say has you and Julian Barbour on the same page as to what underlies the nature of reality. The central distinction I find between the two is while Barbour's makes the argument more distinctly in relation to the history of scientific thought; yours has it made more accessible without having to be so familiar. More importantly the point you have made clear, to which Barbour only eludes, is that quantity and quality remain as both required to capture the essence of reality and thus whether it be digital or analogue are contextual distinctions which we choose, rather than evidence to necessitate the exclusion of either.

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Author Arjen Dijksman replied on Feb. 19, 2011 @ 21:47 GMT
I feel honored that my ideas on the nature of reality can be put on the same page as those of Julian Barbour. You've well resumed the point about digital *and* analog. Yes, quantity (discrete) and quality (analog) are both necessary to capture the nature of reality.

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Author Arjen Dijksman wrote on Feb. 19, 2011 @ 22:11 GMT
Some information about this essay:

1. This essay is an outsider's view on the distinction analog/digital nature of reality. No reference to Planck's length, space-time, quantum gravity ... on which I have no expertise.

2. This essay was written on the border of the February 15 deadline. I had thought the subject over before but only started to write on February 13, while on vacation.

3. This essay was written without internet connection, without dictionary, in a remote place in the mountains (I had to upload it with the WiFi connection from a parking lot of a nearby hotel). So there are no references apart from a quotation of an Edge discussion I had noticed before. I used the wrong order "Is Reality Analog or Digital?" instead of "Is Reality Digital or Analog?". I used the wrong etymology for "analog". "Ana" means "against" or "backwards" and not "from", which would rather give "catalog". There are surely more incoherences and I would be pleased to have them notified, so I can correct my future thoughts about it.

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Peter Jackson wrote on Feb. 23, 2011 @ 19:49 GMT
Hi Arjen

Good to see you back, and with a nice essay, particularly in the circumstances!

I agree with the analogy of a blind man with a stick, but also that the blindfold can be removed, once we have the brain power to work out how.

You may like to read Georgina Parry's about reality, and I hope you will also read mine (2020 vision) about removing a blindfold. I'd greatly appreciate a view from the quantum world.

Very best wishes


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Author Arjen Dijksman replied on Mar. 10, 2011 @ 21:01 GMT
Hi Peter,

Just left a comment at your essay forum:-)

Developing the analogy of the blind: a blind man begins to "see" when his brain power can indeed reconstruct information he misses from his eyes. His eyes will never transmit the information, but he develops new senses, new experimental tools in order to transmit the relevant information to his brain and deduce evidence about reality on which everybody can agree.

Best wishes,


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Don Limuti ( wrote on Mar. 1, 2011 @ 00:08 GMT
Hi Arjen,

I was hoping you would be in the contest. I was not disappointed in your essay even though it is at a higher level than quantum dots (your research topic sounds very interesting).

This is a very interesting contest. I hope you have so time to enjoy it.

Don L.

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Author Arjen Dijksman replied on Mar. 10, 2011 @ 21:11 GMT
Hi Don,

Thanks for reading my essay. I'm trying to get a bit more into the context, not much time left and so much essays. My PhD research is indeed interesting. I made a simple video to show how we prepare colloidal quantum dots. Google 'arjen quantum dots' :-)

Best wishes,


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Paul Halpern wrote on Mar. 3, 2011 @ 21:57 GMT
Dear Arjen,

I enjoyed your essay very much, especially your account of the history of the use of digital versus analogue, and your references to quantum theory.

Best wishes,


Paul Halpern

"The Discreet Charm of the Discrete"

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Author Arjen Dijksman replied on Mar. 12, 2011 @ 11:02 GMT
Dear Paul,

Thank you for reading my essay. I also read yours and liked especially the historical part of it.

Best wishes for this contest,


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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Mar. 4, 2011 @ 10:34 GMT
Dear Arjen,

Your definition of reality come close to my understanding, and it is very appealing. Let's check it.

Can we all agree on 1+1=2? Well, we should perhaps restrict to physics.

Is spacetime a reality? I am not the only one who uttered doubts.

Is there anything at all, everybody can agree with?

Or is "everybody can agree" also applicable on any belief in the sense she or he can in principle?



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Author Arjen Dijksman replied on Mar. 12, 2011 @ 17:37 GMT
Dear Eckard,

Just read your essay and left a comment there.

Can we all agree that 1 plus 1 equals 2? If we speak the same language and apply these numbers to real physical objects, yes. Everybody I meet can for example agree that I have two hands, to take an example. I can prove by common sense that my right hand + my left hand make two hands. This seems a trivial example, but it's just to show that we should relate every mathematical equation with physical evidence on which everyone can agree.

To me spacetime as such is not (yet) a reality. Its definition is physically not well established to make everybody agree, so we must work on improving the reality of this concept, by relating it for example to relations between objects and their motion.



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Ayind Mahamba wrote on Mar. 12, 2011 @ 13:46 GMT
Dear Arjen,

I've just read your essay and I see we're sharing this interesting idea of duality of reality...

Also I'm agree with your introduction but less with the rest, as your conclusion...

I really understand your timing and context problems (like you it was dificult to write my essay) but I feel a bit desappointed because of your short essay.

I think it's important to develop (complete) your ideas about the nature of reality, why not in relation with your specific area of research.

I'll appreciate your feedback to my essay (here

Regards, good luck.

Ayind Mahamba.

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Author Arjen Dijksman replied on Mar. 12, 2011 @ 18:18 GMT
Dear Ayind,

Thanks for reading my essay. I just read yours and left a comment on your forum.

You're right it is important to develop my ideas about reality. It is one of my life's goals and my research is related to that by searching and discovering patterns in Nature (physics, geometry, etc...).

Best luck for this contest.


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basudeba wrote on Mar. 20, 2011 @ 06:09 GMT
Sub: Possibility of manipulation in judging criteria – suggestions for improvement.


We had filed a complaint to FQXi and Scienticfic American regarding Possibility of manipulation in judging criteria and giving some suggestions for improvement. Acopy of our letter is enclosed for your kind information.

“We are a non-professional and non-academic entrant to the Essay...

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