C105 | 29401 | Amit Hagar

This course explores one of the most fundamental questions in the foundations of modern physics, namely, can quantum theory, our best theory for the constitution of matter, be considered a complete description of Nature. We shall approach this question by focusing on (1) the compatibility of quantum theory with the modern view of spacetime, and on (2) its universality. Both aspects will be addressed from four different perspectives: the formalist, the rationalist, the empiricist and the instrumentalist. After equipping ourselves with sufficient tools that will enable us to formalize questions (1) and (2) more precisely, we shall consider different metaphysical perspectives about the world and compare the major lessons of quantum theory with their tenets. We will then inquire about the actual testability of the different possible answers to the aforementioned questions, and gain understanding of the demarcation between science and pseudo-science, and of the scope of science and its limits. Finally, we will adopt a pragmatic perspective. Instead of asking whether quantum theory is complete, we will ask ourselves what is the world like if the theory were true. We will find that in such a world where quantum theory is complete there are physical restrictions on information transfer, but also certain enhancements that might allow more efficient computations and solutions to problems that are traditionally regarded as intractable. This last module will also serve as a basic introduction to the fascinating new science of quantum information. No background in math or physics is required here; you will be surprised how much grip you can have on these questions with so little mathematical formalism. Along the course you will be required to write short assignments (1-2 pages long), answer 3 short quizzes, present a final group project in class, and take a final multiple choice exam.