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New FQXi contest: What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?

  1. May 17, 2009 #1

    MTd2

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  3. May 17, 2009 #2

    marcus

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    It says the last day to submit essays is 2 October
    and the last day that folks like us can vote on whatever has been submitted is 6 November.
    They give a lot of hints on what they are looking for. Here is a quote from part of the webpage:

    ==quote==

    Relevant: Essays should be topical and foundational.

    Topical: The theme for this Essay Contest is: "What is Ultimately Possible in Physics?" Essays in this competition will explore the limits of physics and the physics of limits. Appropriate topics are those such as, but not limited to:

    What are the limits of physics' explanatory and predictive power? What does this tell us about the world?

    What technologies are fundamentally forbidden, or may ultimately be allowed, by physics?

    What role do 'impossibility' principles or other limits (e.g., sub-lightspeed signaling, Heisenberg uncertainty, cosmic censorship, the second law of thermodynamics, the holographic principle, computational limits, etc.) play in foundational physics and cosmology?

    (Note: While this topic is broad, successful essays will not use this breadth as an excuse to shoehorn in the author's pet topic, but will rather keep as their central focus the theme of the ultimately possible or fundamentally impossible.)

    Additionally, to be consonant with FQXi's scope and goals, essays should be primarily concerned with physics (mainly quantum physics, high energy 'fundamental' physics, and gravity), cosmology (mainly of the early universe), or closely related fields (such as astrophysics, astrobiology, biophysics, mathematics, complexity and emergence, and philosophy of physics), insofar as they bear directly on questions in physics or cosmology.

    Foundational: This contest is limited to works addressing, in one of its many facets, our understanding of the deep or "ultimate" nature of reality...

    ==endquote==
     
  4. May 17, 2009 #3

    marcus

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    As for my opinion on what is ultimately possible.

    Biology and genetic manipulation is the tech growth area so I don't worry about what technology is possible, physicswise. Physics is about discovering the laws of nature and understanding why they are what they are.

    It will ultimately be possible to understand why there are the Laws in the first place, why this regularity is intrinsic to existence in this region of space.

    It will be possible ultimately to understand what made the Laws be what they are. Why the space geometry is flat with triangles adding up to 180 degrees and why there are three generations. If the Laws evolved then it will be understood how they came about in this region of space.

    It will ultimately be possible to understand the evolution of Mathematics and why it is so surprisingly useful in expressing the Laws. Perhaps the mathematical description evolves by survival of the fittest concepts, by successive testing and improved predictive approximation. And perhaps the Laws themselves have evolved by survival or reproductive mechanism.

    It will ultimately be possible to conjecture how other conscious beings might understand the universe---to reckon whether they will have arrived at concepts similar to ours. This is very iffy.
     
  5. May 19, 2009 #4
    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    I suspect that the choice of title is designed to get media attention and reflects the institutes need for more sources of funding. My advise for anyone who wants to do well is make the essay very journalist friendly. Better still, write about a scenario that could be the basis for a wacky Holywood film.

    Likely topics include warp drives, time machines, anti-gravity, zero point energy, teleportation, anti-matter bombs, multiverse travel, wormholes, grazers and cyborgs. With the right authors these could make interesting essays so I hope the contest attracts some good people. However I would prefer to see some serious work on the possibilities and implications for quantum computing, superconductors, nonotechnology etc. Personally I plan to pass on this one.
     
  6. May 19, 2009 #5

    Demystifier

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    I am tempted to submit the following essay:

    TITLE:
    Ultimately, anything is possible.

    ABSTRACT:
    Ultimately, anything is possible, unless we know the final laws of physics. But we can never be sure that the laws of physics we know are the final ones, so we allways must admit that anything is ultimately possible, even if very unlikely in most cases.

    BULK:
    The idea explained in the abstract is so obvious, that no further elaborations are needed. So let us conclude: Ultimately, anything is possible!



    What do you think about the idea of submitting such an essay? :tongue2:
     
  7. May 19, 2009 #6

    marcus

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    I think it is a good essay. I would like to see it included in the online listing of the essays
    at the FQXi contest website. It would be easier to read, and, at the same time, more instructive than many of the others submitted.
     
  8. May 19, 2009 #7

    MTd2

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    I agree with Marcus. I serisously think you should really submit that. "Ultimetely Possible" is not even a scientific question. Shame on FQXi.
     
  9. May 19, 2009 #8

    Fra

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    So the string theorists are right :eek: (it's just a matter of parameterisation)

    /Fredrik
     
  10. May 19, 2009 #9

    marcus

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    We agree that it would be a good essay to have entered in the contest.
    We do not agree about the contest bringing shame on FQXi. That remains to be seen.

    My attitude is that FQXi has a dual nature, part science and part philosophy of science.
    Maybe "ultimately possible" is not a scientific question, as you say. But I say "so what?" it does not bother me.

    It is a question which can lead people to be aware of philosophy of physics, and philosophy issues which are part of the context of physics. It can be a mind-opening question.

    There will be turkeybrains who do not get the question and think it is a question about Star Trek warp and transporter and antimatter drive cloaking device deflecting the photon torpedos. That is OK, they might even be entertaining. But some will understand that it is not about that. It is a simple-sounding question that leads to considering the foundations. What is physics, what can it do and not do.

    This is a period in history where physics needs philosophical sophistication/depth in order to advance. It cannot advance properly without reconsidering philosophical questions
    (as also Newton Leibniz did, as also Bohr Einstein Heisenberg did, because they were not just dummies who would "shut up and calculate".)

    And so, even if Tegmark might sound like Buck Rogers, he might turn out to have asked a clever opening question. Or, of course, he might not. The contest could lead to nothing but garbage, we cannot say yet.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2009
  11. May 19, 2009 #10

    Fra

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    I agree with Marcus.

    As it seems in reality, as is also confirmed by the history of science, fuzzy questions are often in the air (but some people tend to reject them as stupid or unworthy questions), and trying formulate the questions themselves is part of the quest. What questions that are worth formulating is of course a matter of perspective. This initial discussion about the point of the topic of the contest is (I think) closer to the topic than what first may be apparent.

    These lines stick out to me...

    "limits of physics and the physics of limits"

    "What are the limits of physics' explanatory and predictive power? What does this tell us about the world?"

    "What role do 'impossibility' principles or other limits (e.g., sub-lightspeed signaling, Heisenberg uncertainty, cosmic censorship, the second law of thermodynamics, the holographic principle, computational limits, etc.) play in foundational physics and cosmology?"

    This IMO puts a clear focus on the logic of physics, and perhaps a bit untraditional, the physics of logic.

    I would be interested to see if Smolin bothers making a contribution to this, as I think this questions make clear contact to the idea of evolving law, evolving symmetry and evolving constraints.

    /Fredrik
     
  12. May 20, 2009 #11

    Demystifier

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    I have just submitted the essay above. Thank you for your support. I expect that they will conclude that my essay is not eligible and consequently that they will not post it, but it is worthwile to try.
     
  13. May 20, 2009 #12

    Fra

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    LOL, I thought you were joking about that :biggrin: If you get a response it will be interesting.

    /Fredrik
     
  14. May 20, 2009 #13

    Demystifier

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    I also thought that I was joking about that, but marcus and MTd2 convinced me that I should take it more seriously. :biggrin:
    Anyway, this is what I REALLY think about that, so why not be honest.
     
  15. May 20, 2009 #14

    Demystifier

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    By the way, if they reject my essay above (which they probably will), I think I will write another (more serious) one, something about why it is possible to travel backwards in time but is not possible to change the past. Not very original stuff, but a natural continuation of my essay about "block time" on the last contest.
     
  16. May 21, 2009 #15
    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    Physics will likely declare in the future that physics itself is just not possible. Sorry to disappoint everyone. I know how much you love to manipulate your imaginary universes with your advanced mathematics and injected wackiness. God is laughing at us.
     
  17. May 21, 2009 #16
    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    Why not write about what is ultimately possible in Bohm theory? E.g., would it be possible to give more information about the outcome of experiments than just the wavefunction that ordinary quantum mechanics yields?
     
  18. May 21, 2009 #17

    atyy

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    Is "block time" consistent with the idea of an "ultimately"?
     
  19. May 22, 2009 #18

    Fra

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    What is actually the consequence and utility of saying that something is possible?

    Suppose we ask, is it possible to travel to mars? We might be tempted to say, Yes, it is possible. How does that help? It is possible, so what?

    The question still remains, how. I am still stuck in my armchair with a conclusion that "it is possible to goto mars", but I am not on mars. Without the how, the conclusion seems worthless as a decision helper. Why make a conclusion to which my actions are indifferent?

    Also, one can ask an infinitium of similarly hypotetically "possible" scenarios, until I am totally lost and drowned in a landscape of possibilities.

    It seems to me the more important question is the immediation one of what actions to take, here and now. I need to be able to differentiate between the possibilities, and make a choice on a selection of them where I invest my resources.

    It think the justification of the abstraction we call "possibility" is as a basis for action. And once the action is excecuted, and feedback has arrived, the possibilities change. Therefor, the global type or possibilities such as "is it possible that in 500 years, this and that happens" is not very well defined, it is highly subjective. The local type of possibilities such what is likely to happen in the next second is much more relevant. The justification of speculating about too far events in the event-chain are somehow low.

    All I wanted to suggest here is that I miss a focus, generall in physics, on what a possibility means.

    I think that at least some would agree that effectively, if I conclude that this is "possible" and that is "not possible" that is in effect just a statement of how inclined I am to invest in certain actions. Thus from a very fundamental point, the concept of probability must be justified in a context of actions. I think this insight is largely missing in current physics. Often there is a mathematisation (which is necessary of course) but to the point where the physical meaning and justification of abstractions tend to be lost and forgotten.

    This is what I wish someone will write about in that contest.

    /Fredrik
     
  20. May 22, 2009 #19

    Demystifier

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    Yes, that would be an interesting subject. However, it is not yet completely clear to me what the answer to that question is. The standard wisdom is that it is possible only out of quantum equilibrium, and that, unfortunately, we live in the quantum equilibrium. This is probably correct, but I am not yet completely convinced. I feel that something deep about that we still do not understand.
     
  21. May 22, 2009 #20

    Demystifier

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    Re: New FQXi contest: "What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?"

    I agree. I would put it this way:
    The question: "Is A possible?" is meaningless.
    The correct question is: "Is A possible with respect to information we have, assuming that this information is not false?"
    In other words, only conditional possibility makes sense, very much analogous to conditional probability.
     
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