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Previous Programs

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
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2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

Gerard James Milburn
The University of Queensland

Project Title

Deriving spacetime as a relational consequence of thermodynamics

Project Summary

The standard view of physics, stretching back to Einstein, is that time is described by a fundamental theory (general relativity), while thermodynamics is a statistical theory which becomes valid in the description of many particles. Most of the basic results of thermodynamics rest on the preexistence of time, yet time itself is under the control of Einstein's equations. This picture has been useful and compelling for a long time, but a set of surprising results from the 1970's, 80's, and 90's seems to be telling a different story. It is known, for example, that Einstein's equations themselves can be derived as thermodynamic relations. The deep meaning of such results remains a mystery to this day. Our approach will be to push the implications of these results as far as possible as we explore the possibility that time itself and space, as well, are emergent thermodynamic quantities, rather than fundamental, irreducible entities. This is a seldom-considered possibility that, if successful, would re-order the relationship between the pillars of modern physics.

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