Simon Saunders part of research team awarded $3 million grant

Professor Simon Saunders, Tutor in Philosophy at Merton and Professor of the Philosophy of Physics at the University of Oxford, is part of an interdisciplinary team of scientists and philosophers that has been awarded a $3 million grant to support a project on time and quantum biology called Life on the Edge.

The team, headed by the University of Surrey's Professor Jim Al-Khalili and Dr Andrea Rocco, also includes Dr Karim Thébault (University of Bristol), Eddy Keming Chen (University of California, San Diego), Professor Paul Davies (Arizona State University), Clarice Aiello (University of California, Los Angeles), and Oxford University's Professor Vlatko Vedral and Chiara Marletto (who gave the 32nd Ockham Lecture in 2020).

The Life on the Edge project

"will investigate the complex inter-relationship between the nature of time and the distinct ways in which the passage of time and quantum physics manifest in inanimate objects compared to living organisms. Expanding the theoretical and philosophical frameworks used to understand the ‘arrow of time’ and reversibility, the project will encompass three theoretical investigations, an experimental approach using live cells, and a philosophical exploration of the deeper meanings of time.

The emerging field of quantum biology seeks to understand whether quantum mechanics plays a role in biological processes. There is growing evidence from recent research that phenomena such as photosynthesis, respiration, bird navigation—and even the way we think—are all influenced by quantum mechanics.

In Life on the Edge, we are exploring a key question in quantum biology. While time as we experience it only flows forwards, at the scale of quantum physics, time is reversible—with processes making just as much sense when viewed forward or backwards through time. However we also know that many complex processes are irreversible. How these irreversible processes emerge from smaller reversible building blocks is not fully understood, but may have implications for our understanding of life itself."

The $3 million grant has been awarded by the John Templeton Foundation, a US-based philanthropic organisation founded by the eponymous investor, banker, fund manager, and philanthropist to support progress in religious and spiritual knowledge, especially at the intersection of religion and science.