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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
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

Sean Tull
Topos Institute

Quanlong Wang
University of Oxford and Topos Institute

Johannes Kleiner
Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

Bob Coecke
University of Oxford



Project Title

Categorical Theories of Consciousness: Bridging Neuroscience and Fundamental Physics

Project Summary

The relation between consciousness – ‘what it is like to experience something’ – and the physical world is one of the greatest foundational problems in science. In the recent decades, researchers have begun to tackle this age-old question, and a number of major scientific theories of consciousness have been proposed. However, each of these theories is presented using very different mathematics and on the face of it they address different aspects of consciousness, making them difficult to compare and test. In this project, we aim to unify the major existing theories of consciousness using category theory, a highly powerful and general mathematical language for describing interacting processes. Our team comprises world experts in applications of category theory, which today is used in biology, physics, computer science and beyond. This work will greatly clarify each of these theories and their relation with fundamental physics such as quantum mechanics. Already we have successfully reformulated one of the leading theories of consciousness, Integrated Information Theory, and this work formed the cover story of a recent edition of New Scientist. More broadly, our project aims to foster an international community of mathematical consciousness scientists, having previously organized numerous workshops and even a major conference in Oxford devoted to this exciting new field.



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