Skip to main content

Eddy Keming Chen to investigate the arrow of time in ambitious, three-year interdisciplinary research project

Eddy Kemming ChenEddy Keming Chen, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy, has long been puzzled about some of the very basic questions of physics, mathematics and the natural sciences. How can we understand the quantum realm? What are mathematical numbers, really? What is space and time?

“I realized that I could actually pursue these questions in philosophy classrooms,” he said. “I love philosophy both for its breath and its depth: I can think about any domain of human knowledge and I don’t have to shy away from the foundational questions.”

Chen is expanding his expertise by participating in one of the most ambitious, multi-institution research projects focused on metaphysics, biology and philosophy. “Life on the Edge: Quantum thermodynamics, quantum biology and the arrow of time” is a three-year research project funded by a philanthropic grant from the John Templeton Foundation and housed at the University of Surrey.

The scope of the project is truly interdisciplinary. There are five research themes, each supported by three to eight experts from across the globe. Chen, whose research is at the intersection philosophy, physics and mathematics, will help provide the philosophical implications of the entire project, focusing on the nature of being: quantum ontology and the arrow of time.

The arrow of time is, in essence, the one-way direction that gives us the impression of time passing, marked by different moments in time. Physical decay is a key component to the arrow of time, for example ice melting or cream dissolving in hot coffee. Chen’s work will apply this understanding of quantum physics to build an interdisciplinary perspective of a relatively new field: quantum biology.

“Biological systems, like human beings or birds or any kind of living organism, have a way of displaying arrows of time as well,” Chen said, including cell decay, diseases and even wrinkles on our faces. All are “symptoms” of the biological arrows of time.

“Those wrinkles in the biological, molecular structure — the deep down cellular structure — are a kind of symptom for the passage of time,” he said, “and we don't know much about biological arrows of time.”

Research is already underway, and outcomes include a series of papers and book chapters synthesizing new conceptual and theoretical understanding of the arrow of time. Conferences and workshops in the United Kingdom, San Diego and Los Angeles are also planned, and there is a significant objective to reach a wide, public audience to inspire the next generation of researchers.

But what does research of this scope actually look like for Chen, beyond reading, talking to biologists and writing?

“The idea is to think about connections among topics,” Chen said. “Philosophers ask ‘why’ questions and then how to satisfy these questions. What is the puzzle about the arrow of time? What is a good explanation of the puzzle, or a good explanation in general? And then do these answers hold up to scrutiny?

“I’m curious, and I’m interested in learning more from my collaborators on the grant.”

Learn more about The Quantum Arrow of Time research program, and Chen’s own work.

David Danks

David Danks appointed to national AI Advisory Committee

Department of Philosophy and Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute professor David Danks has been invited to serve as a member of the National AI Advisory Committee as an inaugural appointee, for a three-year term.

Read More

In the News

This Week @ UC San Diego: Changing the World Through Philanthropy: UC San Diego Raises $3.05 Billion as Campaign for UC San Diego Concludes
In this feature, there were special mention of alumna Sally T. WongAvery ‘75 (Philosophy) $10 million support of East Asian scholarship and collections. “We are so incredibly proud of how UC San Diego alumni have come together over the past decade to support their alma mater as a collective group,” said Kimberley Phillips Boehm ’82, UC San Diego Alumni president from 2020-2022.

Explore Magazine: How an alumna’s passion for UC San Diego, books and Chinese culture led to the renaming of the Biomedical Library
Alongside her closest friends, family and acquaintances, Sally T. WongAvery ‘75 (Philosophy) was recognized by the university and community leaders for her support of the UC San Diego Library.

Institute for Practical Ethics: Practical Ethics Quarterly, Spring 2022
The latest issue includes research by Reuven Brandt (Philosophy), the institute’s five-year report, Ethics Bowl team results, and David Danks’ (Philosophy) appointment to the national AI Advisory Committee, plus updates on Ph.D. fellow Alec Calac and the Kyoto Symposium discussion led by John H. Evans, Institute for Practical Ethics co-director.

Freethink: Self-driving cars could transform the world in unexpected ways
“A major factor in people’s housing decisions is length of time (not distance) of their work commute,” said David Danks (Philosophy).

Government Technology: Who Serves on the New National AI Advisory Committee?
David Danks (Philosophy) is an inaugural member of the National Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee.

Institute for Practical Ethics: Institute for Practical Ethics, 2017-2022
“We believe we are making genuine progress toward developing socially responsible science, now and in the years to come,” write Institute for Practical Ethics co-directors Craig Callender (Philosophy) and John H. Evans in this five-year report.

Arts and Humanities News: UC San Diego Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl team reaches national quarter final, placing 7th overall
“I am so very grateful to this incredible team. They manifested the virtues of open-mindedness, generosity, respect and consummate poise, all in the service of the truth. I have learned so much from all of them,” said Samuel Rickless (Philosophy), coach of the UC San Diego team with Philosophy Ph.D. students Aaron Chipp-Miller, Karina Ortiz Villa and Sam Ridge.

QualityDigest: U.S. Department of Commerce Appoints 27 Members to National AI Advisory Committee
Appointments are the first for recently established committee to advise the President. David Danks (Philosophy) is appointed to the new committee.

La Jolla Light: Photo gallery: UCSD Biomedical Library renamed for philanthropic book lover Sally WongAvery
UC San Diego gave Class of 1975 alumna and Foundation trustee Sally T. WongAvery ‘75 (Philosophy) a special birthday present April 23.

The Institute of Art and Ideas News: The quantum wave function isn’t real
Some go as far as to argue that the entire universe is a quantum wave function, but this interpretation runs into a number of problems — including a clash with Einstein’s theory of relativity, writes Karl Popper prize-winner Eddy Keming Chen (Philosophy).

UC San Diego News: UC San Diego’s Danks Appointed to National AI Advisory Committee
Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute and Dept. of Philosophy professor David Danks (Philosophy, Institute for Practical Ethics) has been invited to serve as a member of the NAIAC as an inaugural appointee. “AI is transforming modern society, and we need to ensure that AI works for the benefit of all, not only the few. The NAIAC provides an opportunity to help guide the ways that AI is impacting our lives,” said Danks ‘01, a Ph.D. alumni of the department.

Association for Practical and Professional Ethics: 26th annual APPE International Ethics Bowl
Congratulations to the UC San Diego Ethics Bowl team on their quarterfinal finish in this year’s national competition, held Feb. 26-27. Listed coaches include Philosophy faculty member Samuel Rickless and graduate students Karina Ortiz Villa, Aaron Chipp-Miller and Sam Ridge. Team members include Sarah Kang, Alexandra Michael, Rishabh Raj, Maximilian Zekowski and Eva Zhuang.

Toronto Star: An unlikely Christopher Hitchens revival forces a question: Whatever happened to the contrarian Left? (opinion)
“Christopher Hitchens is back in the spotlight. Is his brand of contrarian progressivism a welcome alternative to a Twitter-fixated, deplatforming Left?,” Andy Lamey (Philosophy) addresses in this piece.

Author Meets Physics: Eddy Keming Chen on Time’s Arrow in Quantum Mechanics (video)
In this fourth episode of the series, Eddy Keming Chen (Philosophy) talks with Dave Baker about his work.

The Renegade Rip: Manuel Vargas and his journey after BC
Following up the fourth Jess Nieto conference event, UC San Diego faculty member Manuel Vargas (Philosophy) spoke at the second session conference on March 29.

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science: The BJPS Popper Prize 2021
The winner of the BJPS Popper Prize for 2021 is Eddy Keming Chen (Philosophy) for his research “Quantum Mechanics in a Time-Asymmetric Universe: On the Nature of the Initial Quantum State.” Related: BJPS Short Read, Daily Nous

Oxford University Press: The Oxford Handbook of Moral Psychology
Publishing May 14 and edited by Manuel Vargas (Philosophy) and John Doris, the book contains 50 original essays written by leading figures in both philosophy and psychology including: “The Nature and Significance of Blame” by David Brink (Philosophy) and Dana Kay Nelkin (Philosophy), “Situationism, Moral Improvement, and Moral Responsibility” by Maria Waggoner, John Doris and Manuel Vargas (Philosophy), and “Love and the Anatomy of Needing Another” by Monique Wonderly (Philosophy).

Barcelona Science Plan: Hypatia European Science Prize
Nancy Cartwright (Philosophy) has been selected as winner of the third Hypatia Prize for her outstanding contributions to philosophical research. This edition rewards the trajectory and impact of the research carried out in the field of humanities and social sciences.

Toronto Star: Good art, terrible people: Is it immoral to enjoy the work of immoral artists?
Do you boycott the work of artists such as Bill Cosby, Woody Allen and Louis C.K. whose personal lives you find repugnant, or does their work stand alone? The answer, writes Andy Lamey (Philosophy), is complicated.

Bioethics: “The ethical gene”
In this paper, Reuven Brandt (Philosophy, Institute for Practical Ethics) argues that current law and policy governing germline genetic modification are overly broad and in fact prohibit medical interventions normally considered unobjectionable.

The Library: UC San Diego Library Gifted $10 Million from Foundation Trustee and Alumna Sally T. WongAvery
University of California San Diego alumna and UC San Diego Foundation trustee Sally T. WongAvery ‘75 (Philosophy) is donating $10 million through the Avery-Tsui Foundation to support East Asian collections, research and scholarly activities at the UC San Diego Library. The gift, which establishes the Sally T. WongAvery Fund for East Asian Collections and the Natasha Wong Endowment for East Asian Collections, will ensure that East Asian scholarship and collections are a key part of the UC San Diego Library in perpetuity.

American Philosophical Society: Patrick Suppes Prize
Congratulations to Craig Callender (Philosophy, Institute for Practical Ethics) for the Philosophy of Science award in recognition of his book “What Makes Time Special?”

Oxford University Press: The Oxford Handbook of Berkeley
Edited by Samuel Rickless (Philosophy), the newly published Oxford Handbook includes new essays, places Berkeley’s philosophy in historical context and provides a comprehensive account of Berkeley’s philosophy.

USA Today: Lunar New Year 2022: What does the holiday and the Year of the Tiger represent?
“The tiger is commonly associated with something like bravery, courage and strength,” said Eddy Keming Chen (Philosophy, Chinese Studies Program). He said Lunar New Year was a time for families to gather, celebrating with grand feasts. Related: Xinhua

Triton magazine: Secrets of the Craft
As student interest climbed for arts and crafts on campus, a variety of classes in the former Craft Center were offered, from neon sign making to home brewing with future master brewer Yuseff Cherney ‘92 (Philosophy).

Courier Journal: ‘What day is it?’: Experts explain why time has been at ‘standstill’ since 2020
Imagine that each tick of the clock is an event that happens in your week, Craig Callender (Philosophy) said. If not much is happening, it’s easy to believe that time is passing very slowly. During the first year of the pandemic, many people said every day felt the same. Callender referred to this as a “Blursday” phenomenon, meaning it was difficult to distinguish the beginning, middle and end of a week when everything felt the same.

Triton magazine: A legendary reporter looks back
The San Diego roots of investigative journalist Lowell Bergman, a graduate doctoral fellow studying under Professor Herbert Marcuse (Philosophy).



Updated May 2022