How can a universe that is ruled by natural laws give rise to aims and intentions? Whether or not a human observer exists, the natural laws would continue to operate as they are indefinitely. The key difference between physics and biology is function or purpose. There is, in the standard scientific interpretation, no purpose in the existence of the Moon or an electron or in a collision of two gas particles.
This collection of prize-winning essays addresses the controversial question of how meaning and goals can emerge in a physical world governed by mathematical laws. What are the prerequisites for a system to have goals? What makes a physical process into a signal? Does eliminating the homunculus solve the problem?
The three first-prize winners, Larissa Albantakis, Carlo Rovelli and Jochen Szangolies tackle exactly these challenges, while many other aspects (agency, the role of the observer, causality versus teleology, ghosts in the machine etc.) feature in the other award winning contributions. All contributions are accessible to non-specialists. These seventeen stimulating and often entertaining essays are enhanced versions of the prize-winning entries to the FQXi essay competition in 2017.
The Foundational Questions Institute, FQXi, catalyzes, supports, and disseminates research on questions at the foundations of physics and cosmology, particularly new frontiers and innovative ideas integral to a deep understanding of reality, but unlikely to be supported by conventional funding sources.