Institute for Foundational Studies
Hermann Minkowski

Hermann Minkowski
1864 - 1909




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Hermann Minkowski

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The main goals of the Minkowski Institute are:

1. Research

1.1. For several decades there has been no breakthrough in fundamental physics as revolutionary as the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics despite the unprecedented advancements in applied physics and technology. The fact that the efforts of so many brilliant physicists to make a major discovery have not been successful seems to indicate that those efforts might not have been in the right direction. Indeed, an increasing number of physicists have started to worry about whether we have deviated from the way research was done in the beginning of the twentieth century when the two major revolutions in physics occurred. To address these worries and to help change the present situation in fundamental physics the major raison d'être of the Institute for Foundational Studies "Hermann Minkowski" is to employ a research strategy (outlined in 2.1), which identifies, synthesizes and develops the successful methods behind the greatest discoveries in physics. In this sense the Minkowski Institute is without a counterpart in the world.

The use of such an advanced research strategy, which stimulates creativity and induces insights, will allow the Minkowski Institute to establish itself as an international institution that will lead the research on the most outstanding and urgent open questions in science (initially in physics). Achieving this goal will demonstrate that an innovative, creative, and productive research strategy is by far more important for making discoveries in science than investing huge funds; our ambition is to do this within five years (after the official opening of the Institute).

1.2. A major feature of the Minkowski Institute that makes it distinct from the existing research institutes is the way research will be conducted. The selected members of the Institute will have complete freedom to demonstrate their creativity but as part of a team working on a specific open question. They will not be able to work on projects of their own choice, unless their choice coincides with one of the projects of the Institute or is accepted and adopted as another project of the Institute.

1.3. To unite the efforts of the most active researchers and to foster emerging novel ideas, the Minkowski Institute will be regularly organizing workshops on foundational issues in science where open questions will be rigorously discussed with the explicit aim of identifying the most probable paths towards their resolutions. The Institute will be also organizing annual winter schools on the foundations of science, which will train graduate students and postdoctoral researchers on how to do productive research on the front edge of science.

1.4. The Minkowski Institute will start hosting the increasingly successful biennial International Conferences on the Nature and Ontology of Spacetime. The first three in 2004, 2006, and 2008 were held at Concordia University. In 2004 representatives of 16 countries submitted abstracts to the conference; in 2006 - 19 countries, and in 2008 - 33 countries. All grant applications for the first three conferences were successful and received (i) the maximal amounts from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2004 - 10,000$, which was the maximum at that time, 2006 - 20,000$, and 2008 - 20,000$), (ii) 2,000$ from the Ministère du Développement économique et régional et de la Recherche in 2004, (iii) ~10,000$ for the three conferences from Université de Montréal, McGill University, and Concordia University, and (iv) a private donation of $25,000.
Update: This has already been done - the biennial spacetime conferences resumed in May 2016: International Conferences on the Nature and Ontology of Spacetime. In addition to that, in 2017 the Minkowski Institute initiated a new biennial series of meetings - Hermann Minkowski Meetings on the Foundations of Spacetime Physics - to mark the 110th anniversary of Minkowski's two groundbreaking lectures given in 1907, which presented the novel ideas and the mathematical formalism of the four-dimensional physics of spacetime (summarized in Minkowski's famous lecture Space and Time a year later).

2. Professional science education

2.1. The Minkowski Institute will strive to become a world centre for training present and future researchers on how to extract important (but usually hidden) information from the existing theoretical and experimental evidence and how to make scientific discoveries. By taking the lead in this crucial area the Minkowski Institute will be in a position to educate the first generation of innovative and productive researchers specifically trained to be among those who will make the most important scientific discoveries in the 21st century.

For over fifteen years a research strategy has been developed which incorporates and expands the essence of the successful analyses, methods, and techniques employed by great scientists such as Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Henri Poincaré, Albert Einstein, Hermann Minkowski, Louis de Broglie, Paul Dirac and the other founders of quantum mechanics. The main components of this research strategy[1] form a one-semester course "Exploring the internal logic of fundamental ideas: shorter paths to scientific discoveries", a concise version of which will be offered to new members of the Minkowski Institute. Strong emphasis will be placed on two groups of case studies:
  • Identifying delayed discoveries in physics by demonstrating that they either could have been realistically made earlier or are logically contained in fundamental ideas well known before the actual discoveries.
  • Outlining possible resolutions of present open questions on the basis of extracted hidden information from the fundamental ideas, involved in the open questions, which is obtained by exploring the internal logic[2] of those ideas.

2.2. The course "Exploring the internal logic of fundamental ideas: shorter paths to scientific discoveries" will be offered to working researchers, postdocs, and graduate students. A condensed version of the course material - one or two seminars - will be offered to companies and corporations.

2.3. The Minkowski Institute will work closely with the physics, mathematics and philosophy departments of the other Montreal universities and can supervise PhD and MSc students.

2.4. The Minkowski Institute will offer graduate courses on open questions in science, which are not given by the other universities in Montreal.

2.5. Graduate and undergraduate courses on the foundations of relativity and quantum physics and on the physical and philosophical foundations of spacetime and quantum mechanics will be also offered by the Institute.

2.6. The Minkowski Institute will organize regular open houses particularly designed to demonstrate to college and high school students how fascinating and important science is, and to encourage them to pursue studies and careers in the 21st century science.

3. Science education for the general public

3.1. All spacetime conferences end with public lectures presented at a non-expert level suitable for the general public.

3.2. In the interest of raising public awareness on the implications of important scientific discoveries in various fields, the Minkowski Institute will start hosting the Montreal Inter-University Seminar on the History and Philosophy of Science, which has been held at Concordia University since January 2002. Organized monthly (or biweekly, if the demand is high) the seminar will present scientific advancements at a non-technical language and will discuss topics at the intersection of science and philosophy.

3.3. The Minkowski institute will develop a website - online encyclopedia of science - which will present the most important concepts and discoveries in science to the general public in an accessible language. Any new scientific advancement will be reported on this website.

  1. An idea of how such a strategy can identify and examine rigorously even (at first sight) heretical research directions is given in the paper Can Gravity be Quantized? which is published as Appendix C in V. Petkov, Inertia and Gravitation: From Aristotle's Natural Motion to Geodesic Worldlines in Curved Spacetime (Minkowski Institute Press, Montreal 2012). Go back.
  2. Exploring the internal logic of an idea can be briefly described as deducing all logical consequences of an idea and examining their implications through thought and real experiments. Probably the thinkers of the Eleatic school of thought (Xenophanes, Melissus, Parmenides and Zeno) were the first who started systematically to develop and employ this method. Galileo beautifully demonstrated the power of exploring the internal logic of the idea of motion by discussing thought experiments (involving everyday situations) which helped him to arrive at two fundamental results - (i) the notion of inertial motion (that bodies moving with constant velocity do not need a mover as Aristotle believed), and (ii) Galileo's principle of relativity (motion with constant velocity cannot be detected by mechanical experiments). Two other scientists who successfully employed the method of exploring the internal logic of ideas are Einstein (whose analyses of thought experiments led him to his special and general relativity) and Minkowski (whose exploration of the internal logic of the mathematical formalism of classical mechanics, particularly of the fact that "The equations of Newtonian mechanics show a twofold invariance" helped him see the profound essence of Einstein's special relativity - that it is a theory of an absolute four-dimensional world with time as the fourth dimension). Go back.