© 2018

Wandering Towards a Goal

How Can Mindless Mathematical Laws Give Rise to Aims and Intention?

  • Anthony Aguirre
  • Brendan Foster
  • Zeeya Merali


  • Published in cooperation with the renowned physics "think-tank" Foundational Questions Institute, FQXi

  • Specially reworked versions of the prize-winning essays from among more than 150 submissions

  • Contributors include top scientists, philosophers and thought leaders


Part of the The Frontiers Collection book series (FRONTCOLL)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-viii
  2. Anthony Aguirre, Brendan Foster, Zeeya Merali
    Pages 1-4
  3. Sara I. Walker
    Pages 77-87
  4. Sophia Magnúsdóttir
    Pages 89-99
  5. Ian T. Durham
    Pages 133-144
  6. Noson S. Yanofsky
    Pages 145-154
  7. Alan M. Kadin
    Pages 171-186
  8. Tommaso Bolognesi
    Pages 187-201
  9. Cristinel Stoica
    Pages 203-225
  10. George F. R. Ellis, Jonathan Kopel
    Pages 227-243
  11. Back Matter
    Pages 245-254

About this book


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 winning essays, by 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.) put in an appearance in the other award winning contributions.

These seventeen imaginative, 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.


award-winning essays FQXi essays goal-oriented behaviour causality vs teleology emergence of meaning objective definition of intelligence emergence of purpose embedded observers artificial organisms Foundational Questions Institute meaning and goals intentionality

Editors and affiliations

  • Anthony Aguirre
    • 1
  • Brendan Foster
    • 2
  • Zeeya Merali
    • 3
  1. 1.Physics DepartmentUC Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA
  2. 2.Foundational Questions InstituteDecaturUSA
  3. 3.Foundational Questions InstituteDecaturUSA

Bibliographic information