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Previous Programs

2020 Consciousness in the Physical World

2019 Intelligence in the Physical World

2019 Information as Fuel

2018 Agency in the Physical World
Awardees; RFP download

2016 Physics of the Observer
Awardees; RFP download

2015 The Physics of What Happens
Awardees; RFP download

2013 Physics of Information
Awardees; RFP download

2010 The Nature of Time
Awardees; RFP download

2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
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2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

Stefano Pironio
Universite Libre de Bruxelles

Jonathan Barrett
Royal Holloway, University of London


Lluis Masanes, ICFO; Robert Spekkens, Perimiter Institute for Theoretical Physics

Project Title

Time and the Structure of Quantum Theory

Project Summary

It is common to be in a state of bewilderment after reading a popular account of quantum theory. After all, physicists and philosophers are still trying to make sense out of the numerous puzzles and paradoxes of the theory, such as Schrodinger's cat, the impossibility of determining unambiguously the polarization state of a photon by measuring it, or the mysterious faster-than-light connection between distant particles. It is rarely stressed, though, that these weird quantum effects are deeply connected to issues about the nature of time. If Schrodinger's cat must end up alive or dead, it is hard to maintain a time-reversible picture of quantum evolution. A measurement apparatus able to determine the polarization state of an arbitrary photon would contradict the second law of thermodynamics. The spooky action-at-a-distance between quantum particles can be accounted for if the future can influence the past. What does quantum theory tell us about time? Can facts about time help us interpret the mathematical formalism of quantum theory or understand why Nature chose this theory? We will address these questions in the context of a very new area of research, wherein probabilistic models more general than quantum theory are developed and explored.

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