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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

Susanne Still
University of Hawaii at Manoa

Project Title

Thermodynamics of Agency

Project Summary

How does physical reality reveal itself to the conscious mind? In trying to understand the fundamental nature of reality, it is by no means a given that we can have a fully objective description which is independent of the observer. Furthermore, we realize that observers are agents that change the reality for which they construct descriptions, in the process of learning about it. This brings up deep and controversial questions: Is physical theory making an intrinsically interactive process, a communication between the universe and the creatures that inhabit it? Is consciousness an emergent phenomenon of this process, or rather its original creative cause? To tackle questions such as these, a better understanding of agency in the physical world is required. Agents are embedded in physical reality, and, as such, subject to fundamental physical limits. Therefore, we can ask: Does pushing these limits result in general rules for agent behavior? We will derive rules for information acquisition and behavioral strategies from optimizing bounds on energy efficiency, and then ask how these rules come to bear on theory making. Specifically, do these rules support the reconstruction of quantum theory in an operational approach?

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