Subject Math & Physical Sciences

Proposal Call to Examine the Physics of the Observer

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Double slit x-ray simulation. Photo credit: Timm Weitkamp
Double slit x-ray simulation. Photo credit: Timm Weitkamp

What does it mean to be an observer? Many problems in physics and cosmology include the involvement of observers, but without defining what an objective observer is and how subjectivity is avoided. The Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi) is awarding a total of $2 million for research projects examining this issue in an ambitious new program,“Physics of the Observer,” supported by the John Templeton Foundation.

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Does Dark Matter Exist?

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Merging Galaxy Cluster Abell 520. Photo credit: NASA.
Merging Galaxy Cluster Abell 520. Photo credit: NASA.

While dark matter is believed to be partly responsible for the formation of galaxies and was suggested to make up more than 84% of the matter in the universe, modern observations infer that dark matter exists but has not yet been directly discovered. An alternative, radical possibility—that dark matter simply is not there—is being tested by Stacy McGaugh, an astronomer at Case Western Research University in Cleveland, whose work is supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

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New Discovery Raises Big Question of Life’s Cosmic Uniqueness

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This artist's conception shows the silhouette of a rocky planet, dubbed HD 219134b, as it passes in front of its star. NASA/JPL-Caltech
This artist's conception shows the silhouette of a rocky planet, dubbed HD 219134b, as it passes in front of its star. NASA/JPL-Caltech

An important new discovery has been announced by a team of astrophysicists based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), through work funded by the John Templeton Foundation’s Alien Earths Initiative. The CfA is a major partner with the Geneva Observatory and the researchers have found the closest known exoplanet to Earth that transits its star. The discovery could lead to new breakthroughs in advancing one of the most profound big questions: does life exist elsewhere in the universe?

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Research Suggests Gravity Destroys Schrödinger’s Cat

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Schrödinger's Cat
Schrödinger's Cat

One of the best known examples of the oddities of quantum physics is the so-called Schrödinger’s Cat. The cat is deemed to be neither dead nor alive, but rather existing in a so-called quantum superposition of both states; that is, the cat is simultaneously dead and alive. Such superpositions do not exist at the macro level of everyday experiences but do exist at the micro level of quantum reality. The puzzle is how the two relate.

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2015 World Science Festival Explores the Big Ideas

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Photo courtesy of the World Science Festival
Photo courtesy of the World Science Festival

This year marks the centenary of Einstein’s discovery of the general theory of relativity, an anniversary that was celebrated at the 2015 World Science Festival. The debates, talks, and presentations that were held in New York City from May 27-May 31, which can now be viewed online, opened with a sound and light spectacular. Professor Brian Greene, who serves as chairman of the festival board, deployed special effects and orchestral music to open up the mysteries of Einstein’s insight to a sold-out audience.

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The Great Math Mystery

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Is mathematics deeply ingrained in the structure of the universe? Or is the case that the universe can be modeled remarkably well by mathematics? Is math a human invention, or is it the language of the universe? The Great Math Mystery, broadcast on April 15 as part of the NOVA series on PBS and supported by the John Templeton Foundation, explored precisely these questions.

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Addressing Evangelical Perceptions of Science

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Neuroscience lecture at the recent Perceptions Project workshop. Photo credit: AAAS/DAVID BULLER
Neuroscience lecture at the recent Perceptions Project workshop. Photo credit: AAAS/DAVID BULLER

The perceptions that religious leaders have of science often determine how they respond to debates about science and religion. If science is presumed to be a threat to belief, defensive stances may be adopted; if the topic is felt to speak of the wonder of nature, it is likely to be approached with a more open spirit.

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The Science of Thinking Differently

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Jonathan Haidt. Photo courtesy of TED
Jonathan Haidt. Photo courtesy of TED

How to think differently was a theme that linked two recent episodes of On Being, the American Public Media radio show hosted by Krista Tippett. Both episodes, funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation, explored the idea that psychology is showing that changing our perception of ourselves and others can be achieved by recognizing how our views are intimately connected to our attitudes.

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2014 World Science Festival Explores the Big Questions

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"Alien Life: Will We Know It When We See It?," part of the Big Ideas Series. Photo credit: Greg Kessler/World Science Festival

Science and technology progress at a thrilling pace, and often in novel directions. How can the average citizen keep up with developments, not only out of interest, but also out of the need to be informed when advances pose difficult ethical questions? One answer is the World Science Festival, an annual event providing lively and informed discussions of the Big Questions.

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