Large Grants
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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

Matthew Pusey
Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

Lluis Masanes
University College London

Joel J. Wallman
University of Waterloo

Project Title

Observers in Foil Theories

Project Summary

Foil theories, sometimes called "mathematically rigorous science fiction", describe ways the world could have been were it not quantum mechanical. Our understanding of quantum theory has been deepened by contrasting it with these alternatives. We propose to use these theories as a tool to better understand important questions on the definition and role of observers in quantum theory, and to encourage others who work on foil theories to investigate these issues as well. In particular, we will investigate which foil theories allow for the existence of observers. This requirement may come close to singling out quantum theory from amongst the foil theories. We will also be able to investigate which interpretations of quantum theory would equally well interpret the foil theories, and which interpretations are truly quantum. We will also investigate some specific foil theories that, surprisingly, have many quantum-like features whilst being underpinned by a simple classical theory. We will gain a deeper understanding of how this can happen by working out the right definition of an observer in these theories and seeing how such observers learn about their environment. This will provide a "case study" for the correct definition of observers in other situations.

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