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Zenith Grant Awardee

Gerardo Adesso

The University of Nottingham


Tommaso Tufarelli, The University of Nottingham; Marco Piani, University of Strathclyde

Project Title

Sentient observers in the quantum regime and the emergence of an objective reality

Project Summary

When watching an event, different people may see and feel differently, yet they agree about several aspects of their experience. To what extent, and how, is objective information about the physical world established? Questions about objectivity of reality and meaning of consciousness have troubled every civilization in history. How can we be sure what we observe is real rather than a subjective suggestion? What does it even mean to observe something? We humans pride ourselves in possessing the highest level of consciousness and self-awareness, but how can we measure consciousness, so to meaningfully compare it between different species and even inanimate systems (e.g. Apple\'s Siri or IBM\'s Watson)? Here we attack these elusive questions mathematically, modelling sentient observers as complex aggregates whose parts interact according to the rules of quantum mechanics. We then explore to what extent the emergence of an objective reality, together with conscious beings that appreciate it, coexists and is compatible with the most exotic effects associated with quantum physics (such as entanglement). We finally aim to explain how and at which scale our everyday world where macroscopic objects appear to be ‚\"here or there\", arises from the quantum mechanical world of superpositions between \"here and there\".

Technical Abstract

Words like \"consciousness\" and \"objectivity\" are widely used in everyday language. While we have an intuitive understanding of these terms, their rigorous definition is one of the biggest intellectual challenges in modern science, including physics. In particular, despite quantum mechanics being our most accurate physical theory to date, it lacks a solid view of the mere act of observing a physical system. In this project, we will assess the emergence of objectivity and aim to provide a characterization of consciousness within the standard framework of quantum mechanics, adopting the language of quantum information theory. The project builds upon our recent results about quantification of coherence, non-classical correlations, entanglement monogamy, uncertainty relations, and emergence of classicality in Quantum Darwinism. This proposal is unconventional, as it borrows methods from quantum information processing and other applied areas, to address deeply foundational questions on the \"Physics of the Observer\", such as: Can we define objectivity? Is there a fundamental speed limit for the onset of objectivity? What does it mean to observe a physical phenomenon? What makes an observer sentient? Does consciousness originate in quantum physics? Novel angles of these questions will be explored, and proof-of-principle models suitable for experimental test will be developed.

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