Apr 05, 2015 | By

FQXi 2015 Essay Contest Update

The rating process for the 2015 FQXi Essay Contest: Trick or Truth? – on the puzzling relationship between math and physics – is well underway. Over 200 essays were submitted this year, and the quality has vastly improved over last year. As a result the community rating process (the essayists evaluating each other) is highly competitive. My essay “The Hole at the Center of Creation” is currently rated in the top quartile, and the posted comments have been very favorable, but it is facing headwinds as I discuss below.

After having at least scanned all of the essays, my informal assessment is that more than half, including all the highly rated ones, reflect a strongly “physicalist” perspective. They grapple with specific issues in mathematics and physics, many at a quite deeply technical level, while avoiding or even disavowing concepts that fall into what they categorize as “metaphysics” or “mysticism.” However, many discuss, and are committed to, the “many worlds” or similar hypotheses that intend to resolve the measurement paradox in quantum physics by postulating that anything that could happen at the quantum level, does happen — in an alternate universe. One extension of many worlds that is getting a lot of attention extends the realm of existence to include the range of all possible mathematical configurations — any math that can be imagined is displayed in a world somewhere. Arguably, these hypotheses are all metaphysical – but they are a-theistic and, therefore, comfortable to this audience. The corresponding dichotomy between randomness and purpose runs through the contest as a whole – those eschewing God also reject purposeful fine-tuning or selection and seek explanations that preserve the perfect neutrality of a random world that only follows mathematical laws and not intentional ones.

In this context, “The Hole at the Center of Creation” is an uncomfortable and perhaps unwelcome reminder of the emptiness of existence without intention and purpose. It’s call for a mythology that encompasses the physicality of the world, the abstraction of mathematics and the teleological basis of creation and life is quite unique. While many essays touch on the same technical issues of mathematical and quantum paradox, they do not reach the same conclusions.

The community rating procedure closes on April 22, and the final selection of essays ends on June 6. Public ratings are also welcomed at any time – and could have a result on the final outcome.

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