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Previous Programs

2020 Consciousness in the Physical World
Awardees

2019 Intelligence in the Physical World
Awardees

2019 Information as Fuel
Awardees

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
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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

Lidia del Rio
ETH Zürich - Institute for Theoretical Physics

Project Title

Conditions for sentience in physical theories

Project Summary

Naturally, we would like physical theories to be consistent with available experimental data. We acquire this data through subjective experiences, while at the same time knowing ourselves to be physical systems, which should also be modelled by the theory. Therefore, a base requirement for a physical theory is that it contain a mapping from subjective to outsider views of experiences. For example, several interpretations of quantum mechanics allow us to model the observer’s memory as a quantum system, which may become entangled with the system measured in a reversible manner, while from the observer’s perspective a collapse has occurred. In thermodynamics, looking explicitly at Maxwell’s demon’s memory (and the need to erase it) allowed us to understand an apparent contradiction of the Second Law. In many proposals for new physical theories, however, the explicit modelling of observers as physical systems is lacking: this is the case of quantum gravity, string theory and other attempts to unify general relativity and quantum mechanics. In this project, we will model agents as physical systems within different theories, from memories to processors, and simulate the processes of performing observations, combining information and making predictions. We can then study the limitations that these theories place on the rationality of such agents.



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