Sunday, October 11, 2009

FQXi essay contest statistics and quotes

I took profit of last week and weekend to acquaint myself with the other essays handling the question "What's ultimately possible in physics". I read a dozen of them extensively as well as all abstracts and began to organize my evaluations. I voted for two of them but will leave a definite rate for the others after having checked consistency with respect to a broader set of essays. The fact that strikes me, is how low community voters (mainly authors) score each other. The scale runs from 1 to 10, but presently the highest rating is 4.4. That's detrimental for a healthy rating system because we loose in gradation subtleties.

As for the statistics: 114 essays were submitted by 1 woman and 113 man. There is much to do in order to establish gender parity in physics! From the information I gathered, the great majority have US citizenship (43 authors), Germany (10) and India (9) are also strongly represented, as well as Canada (5), Romania (5), Italy (5) and the Netherlands (5, including mine). Russia and UK have each 4 submissions. The rest comes from Australia (2), New Zealand (2), Spain (2), Croatia (2), Slovenia (2), Austria (1), Belgium (1), Brasil (1), Chili (1), Greece (1), Iraq (1), Korea (1), Moldova (1), Mexico (1), South Africa (1), Sweden (1), Serbia (1) and 2 which I couldn't deduce from the information they gave. These numbers should be taken with a grain of salt because I assumed US citizenship for US residents if not mentioned otherwise. There are no submissions from my country of residence. What am I doing here in Paris if there is nobody to discuss foundational questions with ;-) !

Some authors gave me agreement for quoting them, so here are some interesting quotes:

From “Ultimately anything is possible” by Hrvoje Nikolic, the shortest essay (if you have little time, read it).
“we can never be sure that the laws of physics we know are the final ones, so we always must admit that anything is ultimately possible”.

From “Mechanics of a Self-Creating Universe” by Anton W. M. Biermans, a “cursory overview of the first insights to come out of an investigation into the question whether a universe can create itself out of nothing”.
“If an electron cannot express its charge if there is no other charge in the universe, then it couldn't be charged itself.”

From “ant among giants. . .a fable” by Richard P. Dolan, an enjoyable and entertaining essay, with the message that physicists should listen to people outside of their tribe.
“The ant found its chilly reception perfectly proper and understandable, but always experienced a feeling of frustration when some giant publicly expressed ignorance on a question to which the ant thought it had the answer.”
“the physicists were ensnared in a dense thicket of mathematics, desperately trying to get out by going deeper into the thicket. Only the string theorists thought they had hacked their way out of the thicket, but what they found was a vast landscape of universes that had no predictive power and couldn’t be tested—the end of science.”

From “Ignoramus et Ignorabimus” by Alfred Tang, making the point that physics and theology could benefit one from the other.
“Very often scientific discoveries are made when physics interacts with other disciplines (such as biology). In cross-discipline research, physicists are forced to think outside of the box.”
“precision is only possible if and only if we know exactly what we want to say in closed form. As we approach the limit of physics, we often do not even know what to think. Therefore the exactness of the mathematical language may easily lead to highly specialized rabbit trails down into theoretical blind alleys. When we do not know what we are talking about, it is helpful to take a step back to look at the forest instead of the leaves by thinking in more general terms with common language to develop the proper attitudes. Loquaciousness is perhaps the proper technique for developing attitudes. Proper attitudes constrain the theory space so that theoreticians do not waste time populating the theoretical landscape as in the case of superstring theory.”

From “To be or not to be strictly deterministic?” by Stefan Weckbach, stating that physical laws and consciousness belong to different realms.
“truths can evolve out of beliefs”
“there is no direct path from our abstract knowledge to ultimate reality”

From “On the Impossibility of Time Travel” by JCN Smith, demonstrating that a particular time is defined by the configuration of the universe.
“the changes we observe (as well as those we donʼt observe) are the flow of time. If the configuration of the universe did not change, there would be no flow of time.”

From “Quantum mechanics from a stochastic least action principle” by Joakim Munkhammar, giving a unified vision of classical and quantum least action principle.
“the ultimate possibilities in physics could more clearly be visualized with a better foundation for quantum mechanics.”

From “At the Frontier of Knowledge” by Sabine Hossenfelder, giving good reasons to say that it is impossible to say what's ultimately possible.
“Physicists have a love-hate relationship with no-go theorems”
“Despite long efforts, no progress has been made. This situation is one that seems to bother physicists today more than ever due to the lack of breakthroughs in fundamental physics that has lasted several decades now. This is even more frustrating since meanwhile the world around us seems to change in a faster pace every day.”
“proofs are only about the mathematical properties of certain objects in their assumptions. A physical theory that describes the real world necessarily also needs a connection between these mathematical objects and the corresponding objects of the real world.”
“What we can thus state with certainty at any time is merely “To our best current knowledge...””


  1. Arjen,

    What a fascinating blog. I find quantum physics both mind-boggling and awe inspiring. You're in my RSS reader.


  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Dear Dale,

    I removed your post, because I thought it didn't relate to the aim of this blog: "bringing physics in general and quantum physics in particular nearer to everyday life." You mention a great number of exotic concepts "Workon", "Thermon", "Electromagneton", "Magnemedon", "relative quantum topological data points" which need to be introduced precisely before mentioning in a comment about what's ultimately possible in physics.


  4. I love your incisive direct honesty Arjen, really refreshing. I agree with your comments about poor marks, it's part of the attitude I criticise in my own essay (probably partly why I have even poorer marks). You'll be pleased to know I rated yours high (about 7 I believe). The pilot wave concept fits works perfectly with the unconserved, more locally propagated 'particles' of my Discrete Field Model (DFM).
    I hope you can read and rate my own essay 'Perfect Symmetry', although the real substance is in the links.
    I could do with a 'proper' quantum physicist to help & collaborate on aspects of DFM if you're interested.
    Peter Jackson

  5. Hello Peter,

    Thanks for your comment and vote. I already had your essay printed out. I'll read it and leave a comment on your essay page.


  6. Arjen
    I may be a technophobe as I can't find a hook to attach anything to. I'll paste an extract you will be interested in from my latest revision to the published article, from which the paper on the Astronomical anomolies resolved by DFM is derived, but this bit is on 'photoelectrons.' As I know you like quotes I've also included a recent revision including some on the concept;

    "The discrete field concept had always been inescapable, the problem was with the background frame. Minkowski had said at Cologne in 1909; "from here on, we would no longer have space in the world, but endlessly many spaces". Einstein recognised the concept himself, writing in 1952 (translated 1954); "space appears as an unbounded medium or container in which material objects swim around. But it must now be remembered that there is an infinite number of spaces, which are in motion with respect to each other. The concept of space as something existing objectively and independent of things belongs to pre-scientific thought, but not so the idea of the existence of an infinite number of spaces in motion relatively to each other. This latter idea is indeed logically unavoidable, but is far from having played a considerable rôle even in scientific thought." The quantum phase shift mechanism now allows this.

    We know light can be manipulated by particles in Plasmonics.[53] Phase Modulation of EM waves is also very familiar to us from FM radio and single oscillators acting as frequency synthesisers working on the 'gearbox' principle of angular velocity[54]. As oscillation frequency of free action particles propagated with motion increases with velocity matching their increase in numbers, they are natural candidates for the corresponding symmetrical frequency changes needed to effect the Doppler shifts we observe. Indeed it could be said that, in quantum terms, they are the only candidates available."
    How familiar are you with FM, and what happens around protons at CERN? If interested mail me on

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