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

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

http://fqxi.org/community/essay
 

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  • #2
marcus
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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==
 
  • #3
marcus
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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.
 
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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.
 
  • #5
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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:
 
  • #6
marcus
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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:
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.
 
  • #7
MTd2
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I agree with Marcus. I serisously think you should really submit that. "Ultimetely Possible" is not even a scientific question. Shame on FQXi.
 
  • #8
Fra
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Ultimately, anything is possible.
So the string theorists are right :eek: (it's just a matter of parameterisation)

/Fredrik
 
  • #9
marcus
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I agree with Marcus. I seriously think you should really submit that. "Ultimately Possible" is not even a scientific question. Shame on FQXi.
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.
 
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  • #10
Fra
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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.
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
 
  • #11
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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.
 
  • #12
Fra
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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.
LOL, I thought you were joking about that :biggrin: If you get a response it will be interesting.

/Fredrik
 
  • #13
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LOL, I thought you were joking about that :biggrin: If you get a response it will be interesting.
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.
 
  • #14
Demystifier
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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.
 
  • #15


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.
 
  • #16
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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.
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?
 
  • #17
atyy
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but a natural continuation of my essay about "block time" on the last contest.
Is "block time" consistent with the idea of an "ultimately"?
 
  • #18
Fra
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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
 
  • #19
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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?
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.
 
  • #20
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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
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.
 
  • #21
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Is "block time" consistent with the idea of an "ultimately"?
Why do you think that it might not be?
 
  • #22


I've had hard time over the years with accepting the idea of "block" time. I've been attracted to the view that each new moment is a creative advance of the universe. The block view seems to leave us with everything already there and so nothing new truely emerges. Of course, this is just an aesthetic view of the universe, and if the best theory of time is one of block time, then I suppose I can find some good reasons to appreciate that too.
 
  • #23
apeiron
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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.

:
If you were being serious, you might start with the thought that ultimately everything is possible. But not everything can then be. Like a Feynman sum over histories, many of the possible alternatives will cancel out (due to symmetries) leaving only that which is non self-cancelling.

It is like averaging over infinity.

There are some useful bits of furniture for such an argument. Ontic vagueness. Piercean semiotics (which Smolin has cited). Nozick's Invariances would be a respected work from modern metaphysics.

And of course this is the subtext of what people (like Baez) are thinking about gauge symmetries. Give infinite dimensionality a good shake, and SU2 and SU3 is the kind of crud that falls out the bottom, everything else being self-cancelling.

So start with the premise everything is possible, then find the maths that describes how that symmetry must break as most of the degrees of freedom are cancelled away, alternative histories dissipated, to leave just something lesser actually existing.
 
  • #24
Fra
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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.

I agree there. But in addition to that I think the other very important point, is the relation between a possibility and actions. This in effect relates states and change as in a probable state implies a probable change.

Often in physics that starting point is a state space, defined mathematically, without beeing attached to a context. On top of that one later defines kinematics and dynamics by adding a hamiltonian.

I suggest that these things are not independent. Analysis of states, contains an uncertainty, and this implies and expectation of dynamics, and thus also my actions.

There is almost such a correspondence in classical stat mech, where the default expceted change is always to increase entropy simply because it's "the most probable change" given no other information.

But if you try to think along those lines again, but with the addition that we remove realism, and each observer has their own information only, on which it acts. Then weird interactions will take place, that was not possible in classical statistics. For example, I am convinced that quantum interacting will emerge. So quantum mechanics could simply follow from a proper analysis. But not only the QM state space, but more importantly should it follow an emergent effective hamiltoninan, probably in the form of a new reconstruction of the feynmann path integrals. The path intergrals "complexity" is constrained by the observers information capacity, and thus no infinities can appear. The "laws of dynamics" should then simply be a form of emergent expectation.

This symmetry is totally lost in the ordinary formulation where you postulate certain state spaces and degrees of freeom and then a hamiltonian. I'm personally sick of that old logic. I think we need a new logic in that respeect.

Like apeiron noted about smoling inspired by peircean logic, in his evolving law, this is a step in such a better direction. Although I'm convinced that Smolings black hole focues CNS can be generalised. I'd like to replace the "black hole" with a general observer. A black hole is a special case, then consider smolins logic applie to an arbitrary observer.

/Fredrik
 
  • #25
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Isolated physical processes are abstract simplifications. All processes in nature act concurrently at various levels and are never exactly isolated.

What is possible in such kind of universe is the set of all allowed concurrent processes: those which share common resources ("intermediate fields"). These resources are weakly to tightly shared (i.e., the large redundancy/symmetry allowed would be reduced from the "strength" of the concurrent coupling -- I believe a gauge interpretation has room to be developed here). The acting on shared resources by concurrent processes in turn leads to what we call "causality relations" and "time flow".

All that is physically possible in such a universe depends on the overall concurrency constraint that avoids deadlocks - hence, allowing for dynamical evolution and creative new instances (my view is orthogonal to the block universe; it's Bergsonian). Quantum processes would be recasted as such an encompassing concurrent substrate: entangled states would be viewed as tighly shared concurrent processes, for instance. On what we regard as "larger and larger scales" (notice that spatial or temporal scales are not understood as we regard them in a such concurrent world!), the same constraint under weakly shared resources would lead to inertial effects. It's a unified view.

That is my ontic position, it's philosophical, metaphysical, speculative, not physical. I'm not sure whether it could be developed into a physical model/theory with testable predictions.

I will stay away from that new FQXi contest. It's too much speculative, perhaps more than the previous edition, which already was quite a bit. Still, they appear to be interestested in physics essays (more than philosophical ones). I think that the only possible outcome is therefore a science-fiction essay. I could write one, but I would find myself with a quite disturbing feeling.

Edit: Notice that postultating a concurrent coupling strength is also an attempt to recast the problem of the transition from the quantum to the classical world.
 
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