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Previous Programs

2020 Consciousness in the Physical World

2019 Intelligence in the Physical World

2019 Information as Fuel

2018 Agency in the Physical World
Awardees; RFP download

2016 Physics of the Observer
Awardees; RFP download

2015 The Physics of What Happens
Awardees; RFP download

2013 Physics of Information
Awardees; RFP download

2010 The Nature of Time
Awardees; RFP download

2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

Dr. Brian Greene
Columbia University


David Albert, Columbia University
Maulik Parikh, Columbia University

Project Title

Arrows of Time in the Quantum Universe

Project Summary

Time seems to have a direction. There is perhaps no other aspect of our everyday experience that is more manifest. When we break a glass, the shards never fly back to recreate the original. Burning wood leaves behind ash, but the ash never "unburns" itself to make wood. Living creatures live first and then die, never the other way around. These processes, and most others we observe, do not happen in reverse.

Through the successes of the last century, we now know that material things - including breaking glasses, burning wood, even living people - are described at the most fundamental level by the standard model of particle physics. But at the heart of this success lies a deep mystery. The underlying laws we have discovered are in fact time-reversible: they do not distinguish the future from the past. The question we aim to answer is this: how does the obvious irreversibility of time arise from physical laws that are blatantly reversible? We will look for answers to this question - the problem of the "arrow of time" - in quantum mechanics, in Einstein's theory of gravity, in exotic high-energy physics, and in the very birth of our universe.

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