The following research topics, on which active research exists today, constitute a core of open fundamental problems on which the Foundation invests. This core is indicative, not exclusive, in consideration of the fact that the growth of scientific thought determines an evolution of the questions themselves, even before the answers.
- The nature of time
What fundamental time structure must elementary physical theory have, in light of what we have learned about the nature of time from general relativity and quantum mechanics? Is measurable time infinitely divisible, or is there a limit to the divisibility of time, a discrete time on the Planck scale? Can we understand the physical origin of the difference between past and future? Is the low past entropy sufficient to account for the existence of traces of the past and the feeling of openness of the future? What is the exact relationship between the time of our experience, its flow, and the different notions of time in elementary physics? What aspects of time in our experience depend on fundamental physics, on the fact that we interact only with macroscopic variables, on the structure of our brain.
- The nature of space
Physical space is conceptualized in contemporary physics as a component of a continuous space-time described in terms of Riemannian (pseudo-) curved geometries. This description does not take into account the quantum properties of the gravitational field. Is it possible to have quantum superimpositions of geometries? Is it possible to reveal the consequences? What can be the general structure of a physical theory where space and time can be in quantum superposition? What are local observables in such a theory? What is locality, what is causality at this level of description of reality?
- The nature of the observers
Contemporary science has an operational basis: it assumes the existence of an observer who observes reality and collects empirical data, which are then organized by science. Does this notion of observer survive, if the observer is also a physical system and all physical systems are quantum? Can an observer be in quantum superposition, and what does this mean for the notion of objectivity? Quantum mechanics pushes towards an understanding of the world in terms of a network of internal perspectives, rather than the possibility of a description of the world from the outside? Does this fact tell us something useful with respect to the question of the existence of a subjective point of view in the consciousness of animals?
- Extreme phenomena of the universe
The current conceptual structure of physics and the notions of Space, Time, Causality, Objectivity, Location are sufficient to allow us to better understand extreme phenomena in the universe, such as the early universe, the center of black holes or the end of their evaporation, where gravitational quantum phenomena cannot be overlooked? Can we hope for astronomical observations that will give us clues to this?
- Complexity and emergency
Most of the natural phenomena we interact with, including all chemical, biological, psychological and social phenomena, are better understood in terms of high-level notions, typical of the specific disciplines that study them, rather than in terms of elementary physics, even if all phenomena are also physical phenomena. How is the relationship between the different levels of description articulated? How exactly do chemical, biological, psychological or social notions emerge? In particular, science itself is a social phenomenon: can we close the circle to have an understanding of Nature compatible with the existence of a natural system – ourselves – capable of producing such a description?
These are examples of fundamental problems on which the Foundation intends to invest, in the belief that this investigation is essential for deepening our knowledge of the world.
The questions raised concern not only Physics, but also the relationship between Physics and other disciplines, including the Philosophy of Science. The Foundation also supports and encourages fundamental interdisciplinary research that opens bridges between these disciplines.