Large Grants
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Previous Programs

2018 Agency in the Physical World
2018 Awardees

2016 Physics of the Observer
2016 Awardees

2015 The Physics of What Happens
2015 Awardees

2013 Physics of Information
2013 Awardees

2010 The Nature of Time
2010 Awardees

2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
2008 Awardees

2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
2006 Awardees

Matthew Hoban
Goldsmiths, University of London

Ana Belen Sainz
Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics

Project Title

The Emergence of Agents from Causal Order

Project Summary

In our classical view of the world, stuff exists independently of whether we are there to witness them or not. We also believe there are explanations of things independently of whether we are there to observe them, and these explanations are typically about causes and effects. For example, gravity causes the effect of an apple falling to the ground. But to establish precise cause and effect relations, we often have to intervene upon systems. In the example of the apple, we could introduce another force that cancels out gravity, and look to see if the apple still falls. While cause and effect relations are independent of our activities, establishing them is not. Probing the role of agents (someone making an observation) in causality is then a fundamental part of understanding what it means to be an agent. Luckily there are now excellent tools available for understanding causality, and they come from the study of artificial intelligence; learning causes and their effects is key to developing autonomous intelligence. When we go to the quantum world, agents play an even more crucial role. In this project we will explore how agents and their understanding of causality can emerge from a quantum universe.

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