Quantum ontology and the arrow of time

Running across all of our research, this theme focuses on the arrow of time in quantum mechanics and aims to find a coherent answer to the question: what, in quantum mechanical terms, is life?

Research aims

In this research theme we will take a philosophical view of the projects we are undertaking across ‘Life on the Edge’, examining what ‘irreversibility’ means in terms of quantum mechanical models of proteins and enzymes and what, if anything, is special about these regimes of scale, complexity and energy. Another question is whether, and to what extent, it fits within the general characterisation of living systems.

The aim of this theme is to encourage cross-fertilisation between fields, helping to build an interdisciplinary perspective of quantum biology. The ideas will be discussed at philosophical debates and workshops, and disseminated through a series of papers.


  • Chen, E., From time asymmetry to quantum entanglement: The Humean unification, (2020)
  • Chen, E., Quantum Mechanics in a Time-Asymmetric Universe: On the Nature of the Initial Quantum State, Brit. J. Phil. Sci. (2018)
  • S Gryb, S. and Thébault, K., Superpositions of the cosmological constant allow for singularity resolution and unitary evolution in quantum cosmology, Phys. Lett. B 784, 324-329 (2018)
  • Gryb, S. and Thébault, K., Time Remains. Brit. J. Phil. Sci., 67, 663-705 (2016)
  • Dawid, R., Thébault, K.P., Many worlds: decoherent or incoherent? Synthese 192, 1559–1580 (2015).

Meet the team


Jim Al-Khalili profile image

Professor Jim Al-Khalili

University of Surrey

Paul Davies

Professor Paul Davies

Arizona State University

Eddy Keming Chen

Eddy Keming Chen

University of California, San Diego

Karim Thebault

Dr Karim P.Y. Thébault

University of Bristol

Justin Read profile image

Professor Justin Read

University of Surrey