Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Oxford Questions paper

Delighted to hear from Andrew Briggs that he, Jeremy Butterfield and Anton Zeilinger finally did write up the Oxford Questions on the foundations of quantum physics and that it was published in Proc Roy Soc A, based on the conference in honour of John Polkinghorne's 80th birthday which I attended in 2010 and blogged at the time

The questions have hardly changed since our small group (Briggs, Butterfield, Beale and Hyung Choi from the Templeton Foundation) wrote them up and I originally posted them - the wording of the 3rd set of questions is tightened up but the substance remains unchanged. I suggested in Sept 2010 that they should be published in a scientific paper - it's an interesting commentary on the speed of publication that it's taken almost 3 years but of course the hard work is in bringing the questions into contact with the latest research which is a moving target.

They conclude with these wise words:

To complete this ‘snapshot’ of the present state of physics, we would like to endorse an analogy of Rovelli's. He suggests that our present situation is like that of the mechanical philosophers, such as Galileo and Kepler of the early seventeenth century. Just as they struggled with the clues given by Copernicus and Brahe, en route to the synthesis given by Newton, so also we are ‘halfway through the woods’. Of course, we should be wary of too grossly simplifying and periodizing the scientific revolution, and a fortiori of facile analogies between different historical situations. Nevertheless, it is striking what a ‘mixed bag’ the doctrines of figures such as Galileo and Kepler turn out to have been, from the perspective of the later synthesis. For all their genius, they appear to us (endowed with the anachronistic benefits of hindsight) to have been ‘transitional figures’. One cannot help speculating that to some future reader of twentieth century physics, enlightened by some future synthesis of general relativity and quantum theory, the efforts of the last few decades in quantum gravity will seem strange: worthy and sensible from the authors' perspective (one hopes), but a hodge-podge of insight and error from the reader's! 

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