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Dr Simon Friederich is awarded a Vidi grant of €800,000

01 July 2022
Dr Simon Friederich
Dr Simon Friederich

The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has awarded a Vidi grant of €800,000 to Associate Professor Simon Friederich, scholar in the department of Humanities at University College Groningen.

With this grant, Friederich will develop his own innovative five-year research plan and will establish his own research group in the foundations of quantum physics.

Saving reality with exotic causality

Quantum theory is enormously successful as the framework of modern physics. But from a philosophical point of view its success is baffling. Textbook quantum theory applies to physical objects inasmuch as they are “measured.” However, “measurement” is not a fundamental physical notion but an everyday one. It is unclear how quantum theory relates to reality independently of our measurements.

Albert Einstein already was deeply dissatisfied with quantum theory. His vision for the future was that quantum theory would once be understood rather conservatively, as a probabilistic theory about a single objective reality, similar to the more traditional framework “classical statistical mechanics.”

The proposed research by Friederich sets out to realize Einstein’s vision using the methods of philosophical analysis, not physics. Friederich: "in a recent proof-of-concept paper (Friederich 2021), I introduce and motivate an interpretation closer to Einstein’s vision than any other extant interpretation". The first key objective of the proposed research is to flesh out and consolidate that interpretation.

Powerful mathematical results suggest that any interpretation of quantum theory in terms of a single reality must have features that Einstein could not have anticipated. Notably, it will likely entail that there is exotic causality of some type. This could be unmediated instantaneous action-at-a-distance in space or time, or even retrocausality: causal influences towards the past. The second key objective of the proposed research is to determine which, if any, type of exotic causality an interpretation that fulfils Einstein’s hope should embrace.

The success of this project would fundamentally alter our panorama of options as to what reality might be like in view of the empirical success of quantum mechanics. It would make that success unmysterious while having revisionary metaphysical and epistemological ramifications and affect what we regard as the causal structure of the world and the epistemic status of agents in it.

Research plan

Friederich is planning to use the grant to hire two PhD students. One of them will further develop a framework in quantum foundations in the so-called phase space: in other words, the imaginary space where position and velocity are treated on a par.

The second doctoral student will explore whether backwards-in-time causality or some other exotic type of causality should be invoked to make sense of quantum theory.

Dr Simon Friederich will also use the additional funds to lead the research group.

Do you want to know more about quantum physics?

Watch then the video below.

Vidi

The NWO Talent Programme offers personal grants to talented, creative researchers. This enables them to conduct the research of their choice. The Talent Scheme has three funding instruments (Veni, Vidi, Vici) tailored to various phases in researchers' scientific careers. Vidi grants are intended for experienced researchers who have been conducting successful research for some years after gaining a PhD and have demonstrated the ability to independently generate and effect innovative ideas.

Last modified:01 July 2022 2.47 p.m.
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