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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
Awardees; RFP download

2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

Eric Cavalcanti
Griffith University


Howard Wiseman, Griffith University

Project Title

Events, agents and causation in ontological models of quantum theory

Project Summary

50 years ago, John Bell proved a theorem that has shaken the foundations of physics, and still causes widespread puzzlement. Bell’s theorem points to an apparent incompatibility between our two best physical theories. According to Bell, “a real synthesis of quantum and relativity theories requires not just technical developments but radical conceptual renewal”. This project starts from the premise that the incompatibility arises from the different roles that concepts of events, agency and causation play in the two theories. Implicit in Bell’s thought was Reichenbach’s principle of common cause (RPCC), which states that if two events are correlated, then either they are causally connected or share a common cause that explains the correlation. Bell’s theorem shows that this principle must be dropped to maintain relativistic causality. But RPCC is widely applicable; simply rejecting it leaves an explanatory vacuum. Some recent work has attempted to propose principles to substitute RPCC, but at the expense of introducing agent-centric notions such as measurement ``settings’’ or ``outcomes’’. In this project we will ask: are such notions necessary to make sense of causation in a quantum world? And if so, what does that say about the prospect of reconciling quantum theory and relativity?

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