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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

photo courtesy of Closer to Truth

Wojciech Zurek
Theiss Research

Project Title

Events, Irreversibility, and the Objective Past of a Quantum Universe

Project Summary

We perceive sequences of events arranged into histories. In a classical world that evolved according to Newton’s dynamics history was a sequence of causally connected events: What happened next was completely determined by what happened before, and, ultimately, by the initial condition. In quantum physics this deterministic progression is no longer the only possibility. Often (as in quantum measurements, or in the famous Schroedinger cat gedankenexperiment) history can split into a superposition of several possibilities (corresponding, e.g., to the measurement outcomes or to the fate of the cat). I will study how such superpositions of possibilities turn into hard facts, so that, in the end, we can expect there is a single objective past of the quantum Universe we inhabit. The main ingredient I shall rely on is the idea that a history is not an abstract entity, but, rather, our reconstruction for what has happened that is based on evidence, on the records of events (that can be arranged into a causally connected sequence, a history). When these records are inscribed, in many copies, into the environment that is also responsible for decoherence, the history becomes indelible. Such histories comprise objective past of our Universe.

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