Contests Home

Current Essay Contest


Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


Previous Contests

How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American
read/discusswinners

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American
read/discusswinners

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American
read/discusswinners

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American
read/discusswinners

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams
read/discusswinners

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008
read/discusswinners

FQXi ESSAY CONTEST: Contest Guidelines
December 20, 2014

Trick or Truth: the Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics

December 15, 2014 - March 4, 2015 Open for Submissions

Contest Timeline.

This contest is sponsored by Nanotronics Imaging. Additional sponsors include The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and the John Templeton Foundation, along with Media Sponsor, Scientific American.
“Nanotronics"
Gruber Foundation Templeton Scientific American

I. GOALS & INTENT


The goals of the Foundational Questions Institute's Essay Contest (the "Contest") are to:
  • Encourage and support rigorous, innovative, and influential thinking connected with foundational questions;

  • Identify and reward top thinkers in foundational questions; and,

  • Provide an arena for discussion and exchange of ideas regarding foundational questions.

For examples of previous FQXi contests, please see the list to the left.


II. EVALUATION CRITERIA

An expert panel of judges will be instructed (and general readers strongly encouraged) to rate the entries by the degree to which they are relevant and interesting, as more specifically described below, with 1/3 weight given to relevancy and 2/3 weight given to interest.
  • Relevant: The theme for this Essay Contest is: "Trick or Truth: the Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics".

  • In many ways, physics has developed hand-in-hand with mathematics. It seems almost impossible to imagine physics without a mathematical framework; at the same time, questions in physics have inspired so many discoveries in mathematics. But does physics simply wear mathematics like a costume, or is math a fundamental part of physical reality?

    Why does mathematics seem so “unreasonably” effective in fundamental physics, especially compared to math’s impact in other scientific disciplines? Or does it? How deeply does mathematics inform physics, and physics mathematics? What are the tensions between them — the subtleties, ambiguities, hidden assumptions, or even contradictions and paradoxes at the intersection of formal mathematics and the physics of the real world?

    This essay contest will probe the mysterious relationship between physics and mathematics. Examples of foundational questions addressed by on-topic entries might include:
    • Why does mathematics seem so “unreasonably” effective in fundamental physics? (Or does it?)

      • Is there a “pre-established harmony” between them, because the world is fundamentally mathematical?
      • Are we pushed to call certain theories or disciplines more fundamental because they are in some sense more mathematical?
      • Or, are we just lacking the right mathematics to treat other fields with similar power and rigor as physics?
      • What would it mean for something in the physical world to be NOT describable or model-able in terms of mathematics?
      • Why does physical reality obey one particular set of mathematical laws and not others (Or does it?)

    • How deeply does mathematics inform physics? How deeply does physics inform mathematics?

      • How does the structure and availability of existing mathematics shape the formulation of physical theories?
      • Why do we prefer mathematically simple theories to complex ones? What even defines simplicity? And is there an objective measure of complexity?
      • May we be missing interesting physical theories because we are committed to particular mathematical frameworks, or because suitable ones have not yet been developed?
      • To what extent can or should we extrapolate our mathematical equations of physics beyond the domains where we have tested them?
      • How much of mathematics has been constructed as if it had been due to physics motivations?
      • Should frameworks that are internally consistent and display mathematical elegance, but which lie beyond experimental reach, be regarded as physical theories or rather as branches of mathematics or philosophy?
      • Out of the countably infinitely many true statements that could be derived from a given set of sufficiently rich axioms, how have we arrived at what we know as mathematics? How much is evolutionary history? Our mental makeup? Utility? Beauty? Something else?

    • What are the tensions between physics and mathematics?

      • Are there hidden subtleties or overt controversies in how or why mathematics is used in physics (or other sciences)?
      • What is randomness, and what is the nature of probability?
        • What is the fundamental origin of stochasticity, and does that affect how we think of probability? Is it quantumness? Or indexical uncertainty of various types? Or lack of knowledge?
        • Is there true randomness, or is it only apparent? Are there hidden patterns in things that seem random to us now?
      • Do incompleteness theorems such as Goedel's play a role in physical theory? What do they allow, forbid, or elucidate?
      • How should we think of infinity? Is it a useful mathematical concept that does not really apply to physical reality? Or could real physical systems be infinite?
      • Are there mathematical contradictions or paradoxes that tell us something about physical reality?

  • Interesting: An interesting essay is:

    • Original and Creative: Foremost, the intellectual content of the essay must push forward understanding of the topic in a fresh way or with new perspective. While the essay may or may not constitute original research, if the core ideas are largely contained in published works, those works should be the author's. At the same time, the entry should differ substantially from any previously published piece by the author.

    • Technically correct and rigorously argued, to the degree of a published work or grant proposal.

    • Well and clearly written, so that it is comprehensible and enjoyable to read.

    • Accessible to a diverse, well-educated but non-specialist audience, aiming in the range between the level of Scientific American and a review article in Science or Nature.


III. CONTEST RULES & PROCEDURES

Applications will be accepted electronically through the form on FQXi's website, as follows:
  • ENTRY

    • Submission: Essays and accompanying material must be submitted online using the webform between the dates of December 15, 2014 and March 4, 2015 (until 11:59PM Eastern Time). Applicants must provide accurate contact information, an abstract of their essay, a brief biographical statement, and their essay.

      Immediately after an essay application is submitted, the applicant will receive an application confirmation email containing this information at their specified email address. This confirmation DOES NOT mean your essay has been accepted into the Contest.

      All essays will be reviewed for rule compliance (see "Publication" below) and those that are eligible will be posted online within 10 business days. Essays received on the deadline date will be posted in batches for up to 10 business days after the contest ends.

    • Please note: You will be required to register an email address with fqxi.org and set up an account to enter the Contest. This information is available on the application page.

    • Acceptability: In order to be judged, essays must at least satisfy minimal professional standards of acceptability for publication, both qualitative and quantitative.

    • Format & length: Essays must be submitted as PDF documents via the webform.

    • Eligible essays must comply with these guidelines:

      • The body of the essay may not exceed 9 pages or 25,000 characters (not including spaces). To ensure your submission fits the character count, you can use our online character counter.

      • The length of the body of the essay must not exceed 9 pages, including figures and equations, calculated based on a standard 8 ½ x 11 inch single-sided page with 1 inch margins. The following can be appended to these 9 pages: one page of references, and up to two pages of technical endnotes. No essay text (such as textual footnotes), figures, notations, or equations can be included in the reference section. The technical endnotes are meant to provide an opportunity for additional technical detail while retaining a readable, accessible, and self-contained essay body; all essay reviewers, including the Expert Judges, will be encouraged to focus on the body of the essay, and use the endnotes only as a technical supplement to a self-contained work.

      • Color figures as well as hyperlinks within the document are acceptable.

      • Although FQXi will accept essays from anyone anywhere, the essay must be submitted in English.

    • Publication: After submission and review for rule compliance, each essay will be posted (within 10 days) in the FQXi Community Forum, under the category FQXi Essay Contest - "Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics", along with each author name and bio. Thereafter, the author and interested readers (including FQXi Members, other contest entrants, and the general public) are invited to discuss and comment on the essay. (Although commenters will be rating the essays, the goal of the forum is to discuss the essays and the ideas they raise; thus commenters are strongly encouraged to cultivate a supportive atmosphere of scientific conversation rather than a judgmental atmosphere of critical scoring and evaluation.)

    • All comments in the Essay Contest Forum must abide by FQXi’s terms of use and appropriate content rules that can be found here.

  • JUDGING

    • Community evaluation: Every FQXi Member and approved Contest entrant will be provided with a code allowing them to rate essays as a "Community evaluator", on a scale of 1-10 (10 being extremely relevant and interesting).

      A rating code will be provided to each entrant in the confirmation email. If an essay is considered ineligible in the Contest, the rating code will not be active. Community ratings can be submitted until 11:59 PM Eastern Time, April 22, 2015.

      FQXi expects those providing community evaluations to do so based solely on the quality of the essay assessed. Voting collusion or bartering, mass down-voting, and other such forms of 'voter fraud' will not be tolerated, and participants in such will have (all) their votes discarded or in extreme cases their essays disqualified. Entrants should alert FQXi with information if they witness such activities.

    • Finalists: A set of up to 40 finalists (the "Finalists") will be determined once voting closes. A base set of 30 finalists will be selected based on the following procedure:

      • Any entry with an author who is an FQXi Member at the time of submission will automatically become a Finalist ( an “auto-inducted entry”), if and only if the following criteria are met:

        • Their essay is eligible as per the Contest guidelines.

        • The Member author has rated 5 other entries and left a suitable comment or question in the online forum for each of the entries he/she has rated.

        • The total number of auto-inducted entries does not exceed 30.

      • In case Member entries exceed 30, the Member Finalists will consist of the 30 auto-inducted essays with the highest Community ratings that have each received at least ten ratings. Furthermore, if the auto-inducted Member entries exceed 15, FQXi will increase the number of Finalists to ensure that there is a fair representation of the top Community rated entries submitted by people who are not FQXi Members.

      • The remainder of a base set of 30 finalists will consist of the entries with top Community ratings that have each received at least ten ratings, not including any auto-inducted essays.
      • In addition to the base set of 30, the Expert Judges will select up to 10 additional entries, at their discretion, to form the full pool of Finalists.

    • Expert Judges: A panel of the applicants' peers, chosen by FQXi, will be asked to carefully review, deliberate upon, and rate the Finalists, based on the criteria specified under "Evaluation Criteria".

      This expert panel of judges will be confidential; their names will not be released, though they are free to post online comments just as any Community or Public evaluator.

    • Final Ranking: The final ranking that determines the First, Second, and Third prize winners will be determined by the Expert Judges using the Evaluation Criteria.

    • Discretionary Prizes:The Judges will also have the option to award any number of Discretionary Prizes to the Finalists chosen for peer review, up to a total amount of $12,000, chosen at their discretion.

    • Public evaluation: Members of the public will also be allowed to rate essays. Ratings from the public will be accepted until Winners are announced.

      • Public evaluators will have to submit their email address in order to rate essays. As with the Community evaluator, each Public evaluator can enter one score, 1-10, per essay.

      • Prizes will not be awarded directly on the basis of Public ratings, but these ratings may influence either Community evaluations or Expert judging.

    • All decisions of the judges are final and the selection of Winners is at the sole and absolute discretion of FQXi.

  • PRIZES

    • In addition to the cash prizes listed below, all First and Second Prize Winners will receive a nomination for FQXi Membership, if the applicant is not already a Member. (These top Winners will then be vetted through FQXi's new Member nomination process to ensure they meet the basic qualifications for Membership.) Scientific American will also consider adapted material from winning essays for possible publication.

      • First Prize (top ranked essay): US$10,000

      • Second Prize (ranks 2-3): US$5000 each

      • Third Prize (ranks 4-8): US$2000 each

      • Judging Panel Discretionary Prizes (to be awarded to any of the Finalists chosen for peer review at the panel’s discretion; possibilities include, but are by no means limited to: Fourth Prizes, special commendation for non-professional and/or non-academic entrants, most creative presentation, most innovative idea): total of US$12,000


IV. TECHNICALITIES & LEGALITIES

No purchase necessary to enter or win. A purchase does not increase your chance of winning.
  • ELIGIBILITY

    • The Contest is open to everybody except employees and consultants (including Contest judges) of the Sponsors (Nanotronics, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, the Foundational Questions Institute, and Scientific American) and each of their respective parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, advertising and promotion agencies (collectively, the "Contest Entities") and their family/household members (defined as parents, spouse, children, siblings, grandparents).

  • GUIDELINES

    • No person is allowed to submit more than one essay to the Contest, regardless if he or she is entering individually or as part of a collaborative essay. If more than one is uploaded, all except the first will be disqualified. (On the rare occasion when a replacement is requested by FQXi, this will be handled outside of the usual submission system.) Collaborative essays written by more than one person can be submitted. If such an entry is awarded a Prize, it will be split equally among the collaborators.

    • Sponsors reserve the right to cancel or modify this Contest in the event that an insufficient number of entries are received that meet the minimum judging criteria.

    • This Contest shall be construed in accordance with U.S. law. All Federal, state and local laws and regulations apply.

    • Essays complying with the rules and satisfying minimal relevance and quality criteria will be automatically posted on the FQXi Community Forum website together with authors' names; after Prizes are awarded, contest Winners will be highlighted as such. The Sponsors reserve no copyrights to the submitted work; however, by submitting an entry, the applicant hereby grants to the Sponsors a worldwide, royalty free license to so post the essay, as well as use the essay for internal and advertising, marketing and promotional purposes of the Contest, in perpetuity, in any and all media now known or hereafter invented.

    • By submitting an essay, entrant represents and warrants that the essay is entrant's own creation and is 100% original work; is not subject to, and does not infringe upon, the rights of any third parties, including without limitation, copyright, trademark or privacy or publicity rights; and is not defamatory, obscene or otherwise illegal.

    • Entrants not complying with these requirements will be subject to disqualification. All entrants must have a valid email address. In case of dispute as to identity of entrant, entry will be declared made by the authorized account holder of the email address submitted at time of entry. "Authorized Account Holder" is defined as the natural person who is assigned an email address by an Internet access provider, online service provider, or other organization (e.g., business, educational, institution, etc.) responsible for assigning email addresses or the domain associated with the submitted email address. Any other attempted form of entry is prohibited: no automatic, programmed, robotic or similar means of entry are permitted. The Contest Entities are not responsible for technical, hardware, software, telephone or other communications malfunctions, errors or failures of any kind, lost or unavailable network connections, website, Internet, or ISP unavailability, unauthorized human intervention, traffic congestion, incomplete or inaccurate capture of entry information (regardless of cause) or failed, incomplete, garbled, jumbled or delayed computer transmissions which may limit one's ability to enter this Contest, including any injury or damage to participant's or any other person's computer relating to or resulting from participating in this Contest or downloading any materials in this Contest.

    • All Prizes are subject to United States Income Tax. Winners are required to furnish FQXi with appropriate tax forms for reporting the Prize, and applicable taxes may be withheld from the Prize.

    • Void where prohibited by law. FQXi reserves the right to refuse to award any Prize if doing so violates any applicable laws.

    • By submitting an entry in the contest, the author agrees to release, defend and hold harmless the Contest Entities and each of their respective directors, officers, employees, agents, volunteers, the Contest judges, and their affiliates, heirs, successors and assigns from and against, and waive any right to pursue, any and all claims of any nature whatsoever arising out of or in connection with the Contest, the selection of Winners, and the use of the submitted essay, the author's name, and biographical information as authorized under these Contest rules.

    • All decisions of the judges are final and the selection of Winners is at the sole and absolute discretion of FQXi.

  • NOTIFICATION & ACCEPTANCE

    • Potential winners will be notified by e-mail on or about June 6, 2015, and may be required to execute and return an Affidavit of Eligibility/Release/Prize Acceptance Form within fourteen (14) days of attempted notification. Each participant selected as a potential winner must comply with all terms and conditions set forth in these Official Rules, and winning is contingent upon fulfilling all such requirements. If the winner cannot be contacted within seven (7) calendar days of first notification attempt, if prize or prize notification is returned as undeliverable, if winner rejects his/her prize or in the event of noncompliance with these Contest Official Rules, such prize will be forfeited and an alternate winner will be selected from all remaining eligible entries. Upon prize forfeiture, no compensation will be given.

    • The names of Winners will be posted at www.fqxi.org on or about June 6, 2015 and will also be available by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to FQXi Essay Contest Winner's List, PO Box 3655, Decatur, GA 30031 no later than September 15, 2015.

    • GENERAL: Acceptance of a prize constitutes permission by Winner to use of his/her name, photograph and/or likeness for advertising, publicity and promotion purposes without compensation (unless prohibited by law).

  • CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT BY AN ENTRANT TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE ANY WEB SITE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THE PROMOTION MAY BE A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS AND SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, THE CONTEST ENTITIES RESERVE THE RIGHT TO SEEK DAMAGES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW.


V. SPONSORS


VI. MEDIA PARTNER




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