Large Grants
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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

John Barrow
University of Cambridge


Marianne Freiberger, University of Cambridge; Rachel Thomas, University of Cambridge

Project Title

Do Observers Matter? Exploring the physics of the observer

Project Summary

The classical view of physics is that observers have no impact on what they observe. Like birdwatchers in a perfect hide, they can stand back and watch events unfold, gathering unbiased information about how the world works. Careful and neutral observation has always been, and remains, a crucial component of science. Modern physics, however, tells a different story. Yet few people are aware of the many different, and often subtle, ways in which the observer enters the scientific picture. This lack of awareness of the important role observers play in physics denies many the knowledge and understanding necessary to judge the quality of scientific research they might read or hear about. Equally importantly, they miss out on the pleasure of seriously exploring concepts that appear to belong to science fiction, such as Boltzmann brains, alien observers, or the science of invisibility. Through accessible, engaging articles, interviews, podcasts, videos, and e-books, this substantial project will enable a diverse public audience, including high-school students and educators, to gain a better understanding of frontier research funded by FQXi.

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