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So what about the FQXi time essay contest? It's February already.

  1. Feb 15, 2009 #1


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    Summer 2008 FQXi started an essay contest, about the nature of time.
    They say they will announce the winners (first prize, second prize, etc...) in February 2008.
    Which is half thru already.

    Here's the essay context FAQ

    Does anybody have a better link to use to check to see how the judging is going and whether they've decided anything?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 16, 2009 #2


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    I suspect that, due to the recession, they don't have money to pay the prizes. :biggrin:
  4. Feb 16, 2009 #3


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    You've got to be kidding, Harvey :biggrin:

    How do you rate the other essays, besides your own? Any favorites?
    Which do you think have a chance of winning?

    For anyone just coming in on this, here's the list, ranked by the number of public votes received:
  5. Feb 17, 2009 #4


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    I think Rovelli has good chances to win. (Which does not mean that his essay is the best for me.)
  6. Feb 19, 2009 #5


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    Do you have some personal favorites (besides your own entry?)

    There are a half-dozen prizes to be awarded. If I remember right there are four that will be awarded based on the decisions of a select panel of judges.

    And then a couple of prizes will be awarded based on the votes of members of the FQXi community.

    Here's the main FQXi page, which has a "breaking news" column:
    If they are going to announce in February, as it says in the FAQ they will, then we should be checking that URL every now and then.
  7. Feb 20, 2009 #6


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    Well, to be honest, I have actually read only few essays, so I cannot be objective. Nevertheless, I can say that this one has intrigued me:
  8. Feb 27, 2009 #7
  9. Mar 5, 2009 #8


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    A news item appeared today at http://fqxi.org/community

    Essay contest announcement is imminent
    Mar 5, 2009
    After a long and interesting process, the jury panel is wrapping up its deliberations -- expect an announcement soon!
  10. Mar 7, 2009 #9
    There's also a comment that appeared just before the one Marcus mentions, at http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/402,

    So they claim they've found a consensus on a mishmash of essays. It will be interesting to see what range of essays that consensus will include.

    Presumably FQXi is engineering a splash for the media, which these two squibs are part of, but there seems to be nothing else by google, except, of course, this thread. Here's a little extra noise.
  11. Mar 7, 2009 #10


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    BTW Peter, weburbia, another long-awaited milestone has actually been reached. Oriti's book of collected expert articles ("Towards a New Understanding of Space, Time, and Matter") is now in stock at Cambridge University Press.

    Amazon still lists it as not yet released. But copies are in stock at CUP and also at a place in Delaware in the USA, delivery time 4 to 5 days.

    Sample chapters, the index and the toc can be read online at this CUP webpage

    The amazon page that still thinks it hasn't been released (but also lets you see the table of contents etc) is here:

    Oriti's book should have come out 2 years ago. the wheels of scholarly deliberation turn slowly. :biggrin:
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2009
  12. Mar 7, 2009 #11
    Great news! :biggrin:
  13. Mar 7, 2009 #12
    BTW, what is "imminent" supposed to mean in the USA??? Imminent for me shouldn't take more than 24 hrs!!:bugeye:
  14. Mar 7, 2009 #13
    Since so many essays claim that time doesn't exist, the jury had decided that not sticking to the deadline would not be a problem for most participants.
  15. Mar 7, 2009 #14


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    If so, then they are right. Indeed it does not exist, it occurs.

    Let's face it, Count, time happens. :wink:
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2009
  16. Mar 8, 2009 #15


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    First Juried Prize:
    Julian Barbour on “The Nature of Time”
    The jury panel admired this essay for its crystal-clear and engaging presentation of a problem in classical dynamics, namely to find a measure for duration or the size of a time interval. The paper argues lucidly, and in a historically well-informed manner, that an appropriate choice for such a measure is not to be found in Newton’s pre-existing absolute notion of time, but rather emerges, in the form of ephemeris time, from the observable motions and the assumption of energy conservation. The paper also suggests how this emergence of duration might be relevant to problems in quantum gravity.
    Second Juried Prizes:
    (1) Claus Kiefer on “Does Time Exist in Quantum Gravity?”
    A fundamental problem in quantum gravity is that the “Wheeler-DeWitt Equation,” probably our most reliable equation of quantum gravity, does not refer to or even suggest anything like time or evolution. In this context time must emerge in the form of relations between a given system and some other system that may be considered a clock. Kiefer beautifully reviews this problem, and argues how, via quantum “decoherence,” time as described by the usual Schroedinger equation in quantum mechanics can emerge from this timeless substratum, via entanglement between physical systems within space, and the spatial metric that controls motion.
    (2) Sean Carroll on “What if Time Really Exists?”
    Drawing on recent developments in string theory, Carroll impressed the panel with an exciting account of how a gravitating spacetime might in fact be just a holographic approximation to a more fundamental non-gravitating theory for which “time really exists.” Contemplating the difficulties raised by strange recurrences in an everlasting universe, he argues for a strong condition on the set of allowed quantum states that would disallow such repetitions. Carroll closes by attempting to reconcile this picture with recent observations that indicate that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, with surprising results.

    First Community Prize: Carlo Rovelli* on "Forget Time"

    Second Community Prizes:

    (1). George F. R. Ellis on "The Flow of Time"*

    (2a). (Tie!): Rodolfo Gambini and Jorge Pullin on "Free will, undecidability, and the problem of time in quantum gravity"*

    (2b) David Hestenes on Electron time, mass and zitter"

    Community Runners-up: Fotini Markopoulou, Cristinel Stoica, David L. Wiltshire

    (*Note: The essays by Ellis and Gambini & Pullin were also selected for a less -- and hence unawarded -- juried prize).

    Third Juried Prizes:

    "What Makes Time Special" by Craig Adam Callender

    "Space does not exist, so time can." by Fotini Markopoulou

    "On the global existence of time" by Ettore Minguzzi

    "Time, TOEs, and UltraStructuralism" by Dean Rickles

    "Many Times" by Steven Weinstein

    Fourth Juried Prizes:

    “Whither Time's Arrow?” by Gavin Crooks

    “The rediscovery of time through its disappearance” by Alexis de Saint-Ours**

    “Time is not the problem” by Olaf Dreyer

    ”Weakening Gravity's Grip on the Arrow of Time” by Maulik Parikh

    “Quantum Measurement as an Arrow of Time” by Curtis Vinson**

    “Condensed matter lessons about the origin of time” by Gil Jannes**

    “The Production of Time” by Adam Daniel Helfer

    ”The Nature of Time: from a Timeless Hamiltonian Framework to Clock Time of Metrology” by Enrico Prati

    ”Is the notion of time really fundamental?” by Florian Girelli, Stefano Liberati and Lorenzo Sindoni

    ** FQXi would like to offer a special commendation to these winning essays written by either students or non-professionals. Nice work!!

    Now for some notes on the judging:

    - First, thank you all for your participation, your interest, and your patience! I hope that it has been interesting.

    - Second, note that due to the difficulty and subtlety of the issues at hand, there were numerous disagreements within the jury regarding nearly all of the essays. The awarding of a prize signifies that the jury agrees that the winner is a relevant and interesting essay: something that is well written, thought provocative, stimulating, fun, etc. It should not be construed to mean that the members of the panel believe that the approach is complete, flawless, unobjectionable etc.!

    - Along somewhat similar lines, I hope that non-winners won't be too despondent. I think that many gems of insight are lurking in a number of non-winning essays, and I hope that the contest and discussion has given some of these gems and their authors exposure that would otherwise not have been possible.

    - The jury will remain anonymous, and we're not going to release any details beyond what's in the above of how the jurying went. I'm sure many are curious on both counts, but equally sure you can see why we would not think either is a good idea.

    - That being said, I can tell you that the jury had a tough time, and put in a lot of work. All of the essays were read and reviewed by at least two panelists (in fact, there were two panels, a screening panel that narrowed it down to 50 essays, and a judging panel that ranked them), and all of the essays that came out on top were read by all of the jurors. There was quite a lot of discussion of some pretty subtle points within a jury of quite divergent views, and not a whole lot of unanimity.

    Finally, stay tuned for the imminent announcement of the NEXT essay contest topic. Thanks for your participation!

    Anthony on behalf of FQXi

  17. Mar 8, 2009 #16


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    My favorites were Barbour, Rovelli, and Ellis. I'm happy that one of them got the first juried prize, one got the first community prize, and the third got the second community prize.

    I'll have to take a look at the Kiefer essay, since the jury had such a high opinion of it.
  18. Mar 9, 2009 #17
    Barbour's essay was a shoo-in to win; apart from the fact he's hugely respected in this particular area, the rest of the entries were disappointing (with the exception of Claus Kiefer's paper).

    I appreciate the broad thrust of what the FXQi is trying to achieve with contests such as this, but several of the papers should really have been sent back to the authors with a "Thanks, but no thanks" note attached.
  19. Mar 14, 2009 #18


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    Anyone who liked Barbour's essay should also read Rovelli's.
    The message is essentially the same: timeless mechanics.
    Rovelli just goes further.
    Barbour stays in a purely classic Newtonian context and shows, in a clear beautifully written and highly accessible way, that a timeless formulation is natural.
    He limits himself to that and says that he hopes this will be suggestive of how a timeless quantum mechanics could be formulated.

    Rovelli essentially writes chapter 2 to Barbour's chapter 1. He reviews the same natural timeless reformulation of 18th century mechanics, and then ups the ante by venturing to sketch out a generalization and a quantum version.

    At the end he hazards a guess as to how a stream of time could emerge as a function of the state of the universe. But this is just the last page or two, on the "thermal time" hypothesis. The bulk of the essay is not about the thermal time hypothesis.

    I think both Rovelli and Barbour were shoo-ins for first prize, and fortunately there were two first prizes! :biggrin:
  20. Mar 14, 2009 #19
    No need to worry, some of us did get that note.
  21. Mar 15, 2009 #20


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    Unpleasant as it is to not have an essay accepted, it still does you credit to have written and submitted one. Congratulations. I think it makes sense for them to set some criteria and then try to filter. Just being accepted as an entrant is a form of publication.

    I think it was a great thing for FQXi to do---really advanced their basic aims and had a positive affect.

    It's important that the two firstprize essays were about time not having a fundamental existence. It's part of the GR revolution that started in 1915.
    Much of the rest of physics has not caught up with that basic insight.

    I wish the Wikipedia articles on hamiltonian and lagrangian mechanics could be rewritten in timeless formalism----without the dummy-variable "t" appearing all over the place.

    Anyway congratulations petm1 for taking part in what I believe was a significant public science event.
  22. Mar 15, 2009 #21
    Marcus, you've said this before, but I guess I don't get it in the empirical QM environment, unless we commit to a specific interpretation of the role of probability that doesn't need there to be many instances of experiments under controlled conditions. It's possible in principle to collect an ensemble of results at many places, but most experimentalists don't construct a million copies of an apparatus to collect an ensemble of a million data points, they use the same experimental apparatus at many different times, with an assumption that the individual data points are statistically independent.

    If I were to agree with you that we will interpret just the mathematics, I could agree with you that diffeomorphism invariance properly leads to many of the troubled discussions of the role of time in the mathematics, but I consider that we also have to give a pragmatic description of how the mathematics models our repeatable experiments (of course no experiment is repeatable, the data points, and the statistics of all finite sets of data points, are all mathematically modeled by classical states and random variables or by quantum mechanical states and measurement operators, and the external environment is always different, just not always in a way that affects the statistics in a way that must be compensated for).

    Quite a number of the other papers discussed (many of them cogently, as I thought) how there can be an experience of time for us, despite our preference for constructing models using a diffeomorphism invariant mathematics. I hope you found some of them interesting, but do you in principle deprecate those attempts to reconcile experience with diffeomorphism invariant mathematical models?

    I've always found Julian Barbour too Platonist for my taste. I like Carlo Rovelli's Philosophical outlook quite a bit more.

    On the issue of whether the Wikipedia entry on the Hamiltonian and Lagrangian approaches might be written in a timeless way, would it also have to be written without reference to phase space, insofar as phase space requires a foliation of space-time? It's not easy, perhaps impossible, to give a mathematically well-defined presentation even for a Lagrangian formalism without introducing a foliation of space-time, so we can discuss the action between two leaves of the foliation instead of between t=plus or minus infinity. I would say that as practical mathematics time is properly part of a description of Hamiltonian and Lagrangian formalisms; only in a perfect application to a mathematical model for the whole Universe (not just out to 10^{100000}meters) that is Platonically perfectly accurate at every scale (not just at 10^{-100000} meters, but at every scale) might we be able to eliminate time. Indeed, for this perfect model, the map would be the territory. We have to be able to describe the appearance of errors in our models, differences between the model and the world that is modeled, over time.

    Blah, blah, blah.
  23. Mar 15, 2009 #22


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    I don't understand your objection, Peter. First to consider the classical case, there is no need to give up the privilege and pleasure of performing many instances of the same classical experiment.

    Have a look both at Rovelli's general formalism and at his model of a simple pendulum.

    As long as the pendulum is treated as an isolated system, the model of it is the same on Wednesday as it was on Tuesday.

    A good explanation of the general formalism starts on page 105 of his book. See particularly page 107.

    Maybe you see some problem that I don't, so I'd like it if you could spell things out explicitly. Maybe take some concrete example.

    Rovelli's model allows clocks, as I expect you realize. It just does not allow a distinguished Clock. It can't be that. I'll re-read your post and try to understand.

    Is the problem with the quantum version of his timeless model?

    The discussion begins on page 177 (section 5.2 "Relativistic QM")

    You might want to go back to some immediately preceding sections
    page 172 section 5.1.3 "Partial observables and probabilities"

    page 169 section 5.1.2 where he sets up quantum versions of the simple pendulum, and the timeless double pendulum. Describes the Hilbert spaces, the Hamiltonian operator, and so forth.

    I'll have a look at your essay on the nature of time and see if there is anything that can help me understand what you think is wrong with the timeless approach to mechanics presented here.
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2009
  24. Mar 15, 2009 #23
    About rewriting wikipedia entries for Lagrangian/Hamiltonian formulations of (classical) physics, I think it would be best to start new wiki articles about the timeless formulation. Make sure everything is well referenced using peer reviewed publications.
  25. Mar 15, 2009 #24
    I have no problem with there not being a distinguished clock in the mathematical models. There is always, however, a question of what is in the model and what is not in the model.

    In the quantum mechanical case the data gathering phase of an experiment is typically modeled as a single time-slice in space-time. I'm thinking here, for example, of Bell's classical model for Gregor Wiehs' experiment that violates Bell inequalities. Bell's model has four random variables associated with two regions in space-time (specifically, the "The theory of local beables" model, which most Physicists take to be definitive for classical field theories), the real experiments have two data-points in each of hundreds of thousands regions in space-time, which we take it we can model as an ensemble, from which we can extract statistics to compare with expected values predicted by the probabilistic model. [A quantum mechanical model could be presented as a Wigner function, from which we extract various probabilistic models as marginals, but we would need to make the same reduction from hundreds of thousands of regions of space-time to two regions of space-time.]

    What is the nature of the move from hundreds of thousands of regions of space-time to two regions of space-time? In classical Physics, a lot of discussion and mathematics has sought to justify this kind of move through the ergodic theorem, but I believe it's ultimately pragmatic. When we have a probabilistic or quantum-mechanical theory, we don't even have the individual events in the mathematics, we don't even have statistics, we only have expected values. Of course there are engineering rules for how we should make the comparison between statistics and expected values, and some people are much better at using those heuristics than others.

    In classical deterministic mechanics, there was always a pretense that we could model the hundreds of thousands of regions of space-time, but a probabilistic model cannot even pretend that we can. [If we introduce a much bigger model of minutes of operation of the whole experimental apparatus during which hundreds of thousands of events take place, we would have to construct an ensemble of hundreds of thousands of those minutes long runs of the experiment to verify it.] This is not the measurement problem of QM, it's also an issue for a classical probabilistic theory. We cannot even have a discussion of something like the ergodic theorem in a probabilistic theory, the nature of probability instead derives quite loosely from "correspondence" with the classical world (parenthetically, I find Landsman's take on Bohr eye-opening: http://www.math.ru.nl/~landsman/EBpubl.pdf" [Broken]).

    Note that I'm not hankering for a return to deterministic physics, I'm just saying that once we move to a probabilistic/quantum-mechanical model as our fundamental theory there is a level of the world that we are admitting we cannot model. If we can't model it, we can't talk about it (if I talk about it, and claim to make sense, I'm claiming that my words constitute a model). This is also, I consider, not precisely the incompleteness argument, again because it also applies to classical probabilistic physics.

    I'm unsurprised you didn't much understand my first complaint, indeed I'm rather surprised you took it seriously. This is longer, so I hope it's better, but I rarely reach the heights of clarity in my writing (sad smiley)? I think worries about timelessness are a result of a relatively Platonic interpretation of the mathematics that we currently use to model nature that ignores the richer pragmatics of empiricism, and by doing so becomes moderately scholastic.
    All the best,
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  26. Mar 16, 2009 #25
    I think there is a need at some point to move from our present "input-process-output" style of thinking in mathematics, which is actually quite a good type of mathematics for the classical world, but limits our representation of the quantum world. I think we should move to a concurrent mathematics-type of reasoning: my point of view is that the quantum world is a fundamentally concurrent world, and determinism can be retrieved from it if we re-think physics in concurrent terms. For the moment, this is just a feeling and I have no worked out proof, nor I believe I will have a satisfying one. But I do believe it is an idea worthy to wonder about.

    Well, my essay raises that exact issue because, from my ideas, time should arise as a unique deadlock avoidance constraint from the quantum substrate. My essay however has been practically ignored in the FQXi contest (as far as I know I did receive at least one restricted vote; I'm happy that someone thought the idea was somehow worthy). I am aware that my essay does not raise any specifics or formal models to express the idea, it is much of a philosophical essay and I just scratch the surface of the idea. I thought, however, that such a style would reasonably match the theme in question, because the nature of time is truthfully a philosophical issue per se -- physics will be always behind it and always be an incomplete or poor description of it (this is also raised in my essay). But now I realise that most people focused in choosing the essays that could better convince the reader on the point of view offered. I do not have the style of convincing anyone of anything, but to simply share some possibilities that I find intriguing and that I know that are not being considered elsewhere, even if they are incipent ones. Now I realise that such an approach has little value.

    I am not saying that the awardees did not deserve their prizes; on the contrary, I congratulate them for their very good work. The point that I raise here is how really far the ideas proposed there are really original or new or intriguing; sincerely, there is evidently very good work in those essays, but I did not see anything really *new*. I have accepted the final result from the FQXi judges and I am not complaining. In fact, it is great to see many people thinking about such a difficult issue. I'm just one more curious person and could be completely wrong. Yet, I must be convinced otherwise. The FQXi is just a prize and you win it or not. I didn't, but I feel really sad when people mention that almost all essays apart from the first winners were disapointing or complete trash. Yes, of course, there were many essays that lacked quality. But I cannot accept that mine was one of those. One may not agree with the ideas there, but I am certain my essay has minimum quality. I accept not to have won a prize, but I do no accept general depreciative remarks from people that have not read my essay.

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