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Previous Programs

2020 Consciousness in the Physical World

2019 Intelligence in the Physical World

2019 Information as Fuel

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

Christopher Fuchs
University of Massachusetts, Boston

Christopher Timpson
University of Oxford


Joseph Melia, University of Oxford; John B. DeBrota, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Project Title

Does Participatory Realism Make Sense? The Role of Observership in Quantum Theory

Project Summary

Since the advent of quantum information theory, there has been a small but growing resurgence of an idea as old as quantum mechanics itself. It is that observership is not something to be derived from the theory, but the very thing the theory is about in the first place. Far from advocating instrumentalism, however, many of the interpretive efforts in this direction intend to use quantum theory as an object lesson on how our (contingent, empirical) reality must be wired so that the centrality of observership is simply a consequence of this. That is, these quantum interpretations are forms of realism in their own way, but they have something about their metaphysics that is quite foreign to the usual concerns of the philosophy of science. The common denominator is that they strive for a worldview in which it is impossible to give a third-person description of the whole show, and as a consequence all eschew a “block universe” vision of reality. We propose to methodically dissect, classify, and correlate the further distinguishing features of these interpretations with the aim of making a conclusive statement on whether such a top-down “participatory realism” really makes sense.

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