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Previous Programs

2018 Agency in the Physical World
Awardees; RFP download

2016 Physics of the Observer
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2015 The Physics of What Happens
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2013 Physics of Information
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2010 The Nature of Time
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2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
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2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
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William Wootters
Williams College

Project Title

Information and the origin of complex amplitudes

Project Summary

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory, but the way we compute probabilities in quantum mechanics is quite different from what one would expect from, say, rolling dice or tossing coins. We do not count the number of possibilities and ask how many of them lead to a particular result. Instead, we first compute a complex number (involving the square root of negative one) associated with each of the possible outcomes of an experiment, and use this number to find the probability of that outcome. Thus the complex numbers play a central role. It has been recognized since 1936 that the logical structure of quantum mechanics is shared by a certain hypothetical theory in which the complex numbers are replaced by real numbers, but we do not see this real-number theory in nature. The proposed research aims to shed light on nature's choice. Specifically, we note that the theory based on real numbers has an appealing feature: information is conveyed optimally from one measurement to the next. Standard quantum mechanics does not seem to have this feature, but we ask whether, by viewing the question from a different angle, we can see a form of optimal information propagation in standard quantum mechanics.

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