Third FQXi essay content: Is Reality Digital or Analog?

The Foundational Questions Institute has announced the launch of its latest essay contest with the topic “Is Reality Digital or Analog?” This was the most popular choice in a poll held earlier this year and it is a title sure to attract many authors and some very diverse theories about nature.

This year the contest is sponsored by The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation with Scientific American as a media partner and the winners to be announced at the World Science Festival in New York. This will mean extra publicity for the contest and winners.

As previously, the institute welcomes entrants from anyone. Earlier contests have had a refreshing mix of authors ranging from people with very little scientific background to well known physicists.  This year there is extra encouragement for independent researchers to enter because the judges may award up to two prizes to the top essays from “non-professional and/or non-academic” entrants.

11 Responses to Third FQXi essay content: Is Reality Digital or Analog?

  1. Kea says:

    No, I think it is a complete waste of time entering. They will continue to award their friends.

  2. I am afraid that Kea is right.

  3. Philip Gibbs says:

    I’ve been disappointed too and am suspicious of biased judging when we are not told which institutes the judges come form, but the organisers seem to want it to be fair so there is hope that a good entry can overcome any bias.

    I think it depends on your objectives and reasons for entering the contest. If you have a theory that not many people follow, you can use the contest to try to reach a wider audiance, but don’t be too optimisitic of winning a prize. Alternatively you can write about the topic in a way that more people will agree with or find interesting and aim to get a prize.

    Either way it is important to make an effort to write well with a good mixture of pedagogical prose and technical details. Many of the essays in past contests have been hard to read and look like they were put together very quickly.

    Some people also try to include every idea they have and complain that the size limit is not big enough. If you want to grab votes you need some tough editing. Make a few points well rather than lots of points badly. I probably fell into that trap last time and will try to do it better this time round.

  4. Yuri Danoyan says:

    It seems to me that a more accurate title of the contest would be
    “Is Reality discrete or continuous?” It is more scientific language need here than technical.

  5. Janne says:

    Digital is analog.

    Where’s my prize?

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      So submit that as an essay. Last year they accepted one that was not much longer 🙂 However, to win the prize you would probably need to add something to justify the claim.

      • Janne says:

        Yes I suppose so. Well, I probably wouldn’t enter the contest. The essay question doesn’t seem to make much sense, you could just as well ask if reality is an apple or an orange.

        Anyway, in current technology, every digital system is constrained by the limits of the analog circuitry. That was what I was referring to.

  6. Yuri Danoyan says:


    Where’s my prize?

  7. Well, I like the question. A lot of buzz was made time ago about the “digital word”, partly because of Wolfram’s CA propaganda, partly because of deformed relativity and similar ideas, and the buzz even drove to the creation of a newsgroup, sci.physics.discrete. It was horrible, for some weeks nobody remembered that the quantum is not x nor p, but xp.

  8. Yuri Danoyan says:

    My question to Dr. Weinberg
    Friday, August 01, 2008 1:21 PM

    Dear Dr Weinberg

    If space is discrete and time is continuous,4-dimensional space-time
    lost its sense ?


  9. Yuri Danoyan says:

    I remembered a quote:
    “The bridging of the chasm between the domains of the discrete and the continuous,or between arithmetic and geometry, is one of the most important – may, the most important – problem of the foundations of mathematics….Of course, the character of reasoning has changed, but,as always, the difficulties are due to the chasm between the discrete and the continuous – that permanent stumbling block which also plays an extremly important role in mathematics, philosophy,and even physics.” (P.Fraenkel, Yehoshua Bar-Hillel, Foundations of Set Theory, North-Holland, 1958) last edition,p.211
    Not so long ago I asked the famous mathematician Yuri Manin
    “This quote is relevant today?”
    This is his response:

    “Briefly, I think that:

    1) Foundations of math. have nothing to do with this “chasm”

    2) On the one hand, it is being bridged permanently
    in all good math works.

    3) On the other hand, it can never be deleted completely,
    partly because it is one of the most important
    sources of creative tension.”

    Yu. Manin.

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