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Answering the unanswerable

Memorial University launches centre focused on emerging research field


By Susan White

Memorial University has launched a centre to bolster a growing field of research that brings together the fundamental and social sciences.

Dr. Emmanuel Haven, a white man in his early 50s, wears glasses, a pink collared shirt and a grey blazer. The background is blurred out and dark.
Dr. Emmanuel Haven says Memorial is among the first “movers” in North America to support this research.
Photo: David Howells

The Centre for Quantum Social and Cognitive Science (CQSCS) is run out of the Faculty of Business Administration by Dr. Emmanuel Haven, professor of finance, and is the Dr. Alex Faseruk Chair in Financial Management.

“Research in using the quantum mechanical formalism to areas outside of quantum physics is growing in very important ways,” said Dr. Haven. “Memorial University, by establishing this centre, is among the first movers in North America to support this research.”

Dealing with uncertainty

Applying concepts from quantum mechanics to fields beyond physics, such as finance, transportation logistics and decision-making, could help researchers in these fields find interesting solutions to what have been, to date, unanswerable questions.

For example, in economics, repeated lab experiments show a persistent paradox in the way human beings make decisions.

“There are a plethora of problems in finance where quantum mechanics can be phenomenally useful.” — Dr. Emmanuel Haven

Although economic theories attempt to predict which decisions humans will make, human nature makes such predictions uncertain.

However, quantum mechanics, which traditionally focuses on subatomic particles, is used to dealing with uncertainty.

Applying quantum probability theory to this human problem can help resolve the paradox by showing researchers how to consider human unpredictability in decision-making processes.

“There are a plethora of problems in finance where quantum mechanics can be phenomenally useful, such as in data retrieval and using quantum algorithms,” said Dr. Haven.

New journal launching

The CQSCS has its roots at the University of Leicester in the U.K., where Dr. Haven co-founded the Institute for Quantum Social and Cognitive Science with Dr. Sandro Sozzo.

Dr. Haven joined Memorial in 2017; Dr. Sozzo is now with the Università degli Studi di Udine in Italy. Dr. Sozzo is co-director of the CQSCS.

Key among the centre’s activities will be the launch of an academic journal, Quantum Economics and Finance, which will be published by the well-known academic publisher, Sage.

“A well-known journal . . . dedicated specifically to the topic of using quantum formalism . . . is an essential step forward.” — Dr. Emmanuel Haven

Submissions are currently under review with the first online publications expected within the next few months.

It will be the first academic journal to disseminate research in this nascent field.

“We’ve been very lucky to recruit excellent editorial board members, who we think will add much to the international reputation of the journal,” said Dr. Haven. “A well-known journal in this area, dedicated specifically to the topic of using quantum formalism outside of physics, is an essential step forward.”

The centre will also host events, source funding and pursue other activities to support research in this field.

Interdisciplinary input

Council members for the centre include academics from across Europe, Asia, the U.K. and the U.S.

Several researchers from Memorial are also involved, including Dr. Andrei Igamberdiev, Department of Biology; Dr. Marco Merkli, Department of Mathematics; and Dr. Kristin Poduska and Dr. Ivan Saika-Voivod, Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography.

“It may not play out the way anyone would predict but it’s important to try new things — risky things — in order to create paradigm shifts.” — Dr. Ivan Saika-Voivod

Dr. Saika-Voivod recalls once watching Mike Lazaridis, co-founder of Research in Motio, speaking about theoretical physics and its importance to innovation.

“His hope was that understanding fundamental physical interactions would help create completely new technologies, much like understanding how electricity transformed our world,” Dr. Saika-Voivod said. “It may not play out the way anyone would predict, but it’s important to try new things — risky things — in order to create paradigm shifts. The CQSCS, from what I understand and have seen, aims to do just that. It’s exciting.”

Housing the centre at Memorial will bolster the university’s research reputation, Dr. Saika-Voivod added, by creating a “virtuous cycle” in which the centre’s activities recruit higher quality graduate students who help increase research productivity, which improves support for local industries, particularly the technology sector.

“It will make Memorial the hub of an emerging field.”

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