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Meet postdoctoral researcher Joel Klassen, whose fascination with philosophy influences his work in quantum computers.

Who are the people who study and work at TU Delft? We meet them in Humans of TU Delft where they talk about their work or other activities. “I’ve always been interested in science and I’ve also been interested in philosophy. I was raised as a Christian and, in many ways, I struggled in that upbringing because I was always very sceptical.
 was actually very wholeheartedly committed to the idea that there was a god. But I found that the thing that frustrated me in the Christian community was that the use of language was imprecise. People tended to use words without really agreeing on what those words meant, or without having a concrete idea of what it is they were actually trying to say. It was more of a way to communicate a sense of belonging or emotion.

So, I became persistent in trying to understand what it is that we mean when we speak and I became interested in ontology, which is the philosophical study of what the world is. I also became interested in epistemology, which is the study of what we can know. I think in many ways it was my Christian upbringing that pushed me in this direction.

From there I studied those things as best I could, and I became more interested in philosophy. One of the formative books that I read when I was a teenager was called Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter who is a physicist and a cognitive scientist. It is actually difficult to pin down exactly what the book is about, but in many ways, it is about what it means to be a thinking being. I was already interested in physics, and this book introduced me to computers and sort of pushed me in the direction of quantum physics. Even then I was thinking about how information related to physics.

‘What does it mean to be a thinking being?’

The thematic motivation for my research has largely to do with the relationship between what there is and what we can know and how those two things interact with each other. Often times we tend to see the world as first here’s what there is and what there is determines what we can know. The interesting thing about quantum mechanics is that it seems to suggest that it’s also important to understand that in some cases, what we can know informs what there is. The interesting thing for me is I really like being exposed or exposing people to ideas which push us out of our conception of how the world works.”

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