The big questions:
fundamental problems in physics

Seven Pines Symposium XX

May 11-15, 2016
The Outing Lodge at Pine Point, Stillwater, Minnesota

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Presented talks are now online.

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This meeting celebrates the 20th anniversary of the 7 Pines meetings - the decision was made to have a meeting on the "Big Questions" in physics. The intention here is to look at questions which are somehow at the most fundamental level, and upon which the future of much of physics turns.

Some of these questions lie at the frontiers of gravity, cosmology, and quantum field theory - we chose three such questions for consideration, viz., the nature of the origin of the universe (and whether the question is even meaningful); the problems that occur when one tries to combine quantum field theory and General Relativity into a theory of quantum gravity, and the way that time might emerge in such a theory, and what one means by time and the passage of time. The material ranged all the way from the observational results on the early universe and the theoretical framework surrounding it, to much more philosophical analyses of, eg., the arrow of time.

Another set of questions concerns the behavior of complex systems in Nature. On the one hand, one can ask whether the appearance and apparent evolution of complex structures in the universe is inevitable (questions about life as we know it and its appearance are a subset of this larger question); and one can also ask whether computers as we currently understand them can be conscious or self-aware - a central question in discussions of artificial intelligence.

All of this was set in context by historical talks discussing how our ideas about what is fundamental have changed - with discussions of what the big questions were in previous centuries. Note that we certainly did not cover ALL of the big questions - thus, eg., foundational questions about quantum mechanics were not covered (but have been in a number of other recent meetings).