Do we live in a 2-D hologram? Experiment will test the nature of the universe

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By Science Daily

 

A unique experiment at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory called the Holometer has started collecting data that will answer some mind-bending questions about our universe — including whether we live in a hologram.

Much like characters on a television show would not know that their seemingly 3-D world exists only on a 2-D screen, we could be clueless that our 3-D space is just an illusion. The information about everything in our universe could actually be encoded in tiny packets in two dimensions.

Get close enough to your TV screen and you’ll see pixels, small points of data that make a seamless image if you stand back. Scientists think that the universe’s information may be contained in the same way and that the natural “pixel size” of space is roughly 10 trillion trillion times smaller than an atom, a distance that physicists refer to as the Planck scale.

“We want to find out whether space-time is a quantum system just like matter is,” said Craig Hogan, director of Fermilab’s Center for Particle Astrophysics and the developer of the holographic noise theory. “If we see something, it will completely change ideas about space we’ve used for thousands of years.”

24 COMMENTS

  1. It’s a shame that the actual meaning of physical ideas such as these have to get lost in journalism. I’ll mention two examples of this problem.

    For those who are interested. the holographic principle concerns how a 3D region of space’s properties can be determined by the details at its 2D boundary (because boundary conditions determine the solutions of various differential equations), rather than claiming that the region’s 3-dimensional nature is illusory.

    Another technicality worth mentioning is that the spacetime quantisation under investigation is not really about spacetime pixelation. Claiming that spacetime is made out pixels with a side length of 1 Planck length (or 1 Planck time in the time dimension) doesn’t really make sense because Lorentz contraction and time dilation implies such a claim cannot be true in all reference frames. Unfortunately, a better explanation requires talking about the statistics of quantum theory, with which the typical reader will be unfamiliar.

    A more accurate statement would be that the variance of position is bounded below by the Planck length. This is stronger than the usual uncertainty principle, which places a lower bound on (among other things) the product of this variance with its momentum counterpart. Indeed, we get a condition similar to the uncertainty principle, but between position coordinates only rather than position coordinates and their momentum counterparts.

      • From an uneducated observer,
        Other than Quantum Entanglement, I’ll never believe in anything less than a three dimensional reality. For anything to exist their must be three dimensions, Length, Width & Substance. There are some questions that will always seem redundant to me, this is one of them. For now this type of research seems outside of reality existing only in the realm of ambitious optimism, or, dreams. – Pete.

        • Firstly, once you understand what is mathematically being said about space (or spacetime) when it is described as N-dimensional, you realise there’s no reason N needs to have a specific value. The fact that our ancestors invented names for the dimensions they experienced does not preclude reality being more complicated than they thought. Secondly, what do you mean when you say reality is 3D but for quantum entanglement; what does QE have to do with this?

    • There is another way to look at this.

      If proper science journalism was employed, proper science could be taught.

      What get’s my goat about this kind of story is that an opportunity to help us understand the science is missed.

      The journalist who wrote this piece would, perhaps, say that the base knowledge of the general audience limits their ability to explain this story in a more rigorous way. There is some truth in this, as the quality and extent of science education in almost all countries is low.

      However, such a defense is very wrong. First, it is an appeal to accept poor journalism. Second, it’s a circular argument – the audience is poorly educated therefore they won’t understand, therefore the story must be simple, therefore the audience doesn’t learn, therefore the audience is poorly educated … Third, the audience is made up of voters who have a right to be given a factual account. Fourth, the journalist is asking us to accept that adults should not be educated … and on and on …

      We need to understand that journalism is not a profession: They’re not a group of people who share skills and knowledge and have a rigorous code of ethics, standards and principles. They’re just a bunch of people who write for whoever pays, and the one who pays calls the tune. With a very few exceptions (check out the books of Nick Davies) journalists are in fact the opposite of the above.

      If you want better journalism stop reading trash, and complain to those publications, including Net pages, that you find are not delivering the quality you deserve. This is not a personal remark, it is aimed at all who read this. We are all guilty, at some time or other, of thinking that if we pick up a free newspaper on the train or a magazine in the Dentist’s waiting room it won’t do us (or anyone else) any harm. Wrong!

      Think of it this way; how else could you have spent your time? While that time was passing what subjects could you have been thinking about? This is your attention. My busy work day means, at best, I get to use my attention for about three hours a day on the important things.

      Once your attention is diverted you never get it back. Time is not recyclable, recoverable, or re-usable.

      Change comes from within.

      Peace.

    • I agree absolutely. I hate the sort of “touchy feely” style of science writing in general but this one topic in particular is one that always gets so distorted. I guess headlines like “Do we live in a Hologram? Scientists say yes!” are just too appealing and the comments are usually filled with so many Chopra-style comments “just shows we can never know anything!” “All knowledge is subjective!” etc.

  2. I agree Jos, journalism tends to simplify and distort everything. But, these arcane scientific constructs are almost impossible for the layperson to grasp, most of us can get evolution, the big bang, gravity and space time, but I usually wonder how far I really understand them – not far I think.

    In politics and economics, religion, business – journalistic distortions come from the political bias of the journalists and the agenda of the organisations for which they work. I think that with scientific journalism the reasons might be more benign. Assuming, dubiously, that the journalists understand the subject, they have to try to explain it in language which the average bone-head reader (me) might just stand a chance of partially grasping, not an easy task, and one that could probably only be achieved by the use of metaphor and analogy.

    • Eejit

      . Assuming, dubiously, that the journalists understand the subject, they have to try to explain it in language which the average bone-head reader (me) might just stand a chance of partially grasping, not an easy task, and one that could probably only be achieved by the use of metaphor and analogy.

      I’m in that category as well. I can understand most biological references and matters pertaining to health but I have great difficulty conceptualising these topics (above). It helps when the writer is very skilled in presenting the idea. Sometimes it happens and when it does I’m extremely grateful.

      • Brian Greene is IMO absolutely the best at explaining this stuff for those of us like you and me who don’t have Jos’s level of physics and math knowledge. Unlike some authors he doesn’t dumb it down too much but it still makes sense to someone with a general science background. When I first read some of his descriptions of how space-time really works (things like relative space-time slices) I felt that I was understanding the topic for the first time. Rather the way I felt about evolution when I read The Selfish Gene.

        • The world’s cleverest experts on this topic can’t understand it without using the mathematics, so it’s a safe bit that not only can no-one else do that, but that if they feel an explanation enabled them to do so they have been misled (perhaps not intentionally). If you don’t understand these topics at the mathematical level, how do you divine the conclusion that Greene isn’t dumbing it down? I’d say that’s exactly what he is doing. His description of entirely unspeculative areas of physics is where it starts going wrong; his account of superposition is a good example of this, and what he says about relativity, while largely true, certainly dumbs down the subject by downplaying the most important insight into why relativity occurs, i.e. because of symmetries and invariant physical laws.

          And when he discusses string theory, there’s more. For example, his description of spacetime quantization runs afoul of the issue my first comment on this page discusses. Indeed, one point he skips over is that string theory has another important length scale significantly larger than the Planck length (this is vital to the theory’s explanation of unification). He also describes individual p-branes as analogous to slices of a loaf of bread, which is a bad analogy when you compare the numbers of dimensions of p-branes with that of the 11-dimensional spacetime in which they reside in M-theory.

          I realise these sound like minor quibbles coming from someone like me, but it’s part of a larger point I want to make. If people better understood classical mechanics, they’d understand that relativity and quantum mechanics, while somewhat different, are entirely reasonable corrections, rather than something as weird as magic. Following that, their merger as quantum field theory would be natural. I think that if they appreciated that, they could in principle similarly contextualise string theory as a modification of “traditional” quantum field theory that responds to its problems. I realise they won’t understand the mathematics in great detail, but I think for example that the basic fact that there’s a rationale behind each step in the chain, grounded in the need for physics to make sense in certain important respects, could be made evident with a description that is engineered to that end. Popularisers like Greene usually seem to have a different aim: namely, to present what we know (or, in string theory’s case, speculate) in an especially shocking light.

          • Dammit, Jos. We need you to stop what you’re doing and concentrate on the “Gibbon’s Science Book of Science Books.”

            It may be trite to consider that popular works of science should be subjected to the same processes of review and criticism as formally published papers, but a layer of process that had a little more life than the 500 words in the New Scientist book reviews would be nice.

            What if there was a tradition of expanding subsequent editions of science books with scientists’ comments and critiques perhaps?

            I think Richard Feynman’s observation that he couldn’t teach anybody anything has a ring of truth to it. All he could do, he claimed, was create an impression of understanding so that someone loses their fear of a subject and find it approachable. Slowly and with this familiarity in place they teach themselves.

            Mostly this feeling of comprehension comes from metaphor and metaphors only match up so far.

            Understanding something and having mastery over it are quite different. Understanding is that state where when you approach an aspect of a subject you stop spluttering out the endless string of “but whys?” The easy familiarity a trite metaphor can bring is just great if it is understood to be just a staging post with an incomplete view. (Education through life has ever been a progression of truer replacement truths.)

  3. The Plank unit idea was first popularized in THE NATURE OF THINGS, by Lucretius. Book I, lines 750-752. You can’t make this shit up. I’m actually something of an agnostic with respect to the idea, leaning toward disbelief.

    • I don’t understand people who say things like that. “I’m agnostic to this bit of science”. So what you can pick and choose what science to accept based on your intuition? I can understand saying “this doesn’t make sense to me for the following reason” or “I can’t follow the argument here so I can’t really say I understand it” but not being an “agnostic leaning toward disbelief”.

    • Please do reply to Red Dog’s question, but I have another one. What do lines 750-752 say? We’ll see how they relate to Planck units after that, but I suspect you will have misunderstood the concept if it strikes you as aligning with what Lucretius said.

  4. Stephen of Wimbledon Aug 29, 2014 at 12:35 am

    “There is another way to look at this.

    If proper science journalism was employed, proper science could be taught.

    What get’s my goat about this kind of story is that an opportunity to help us understand the science is missed.

    The journalist who wrote this piece would, perhaps, say that the base knowledge of the general audience limits their ability to explain this story in a more rigorous way. There is some truth in this, as the quality and extent of science education in almost all countries is low.

    However, such a defense is very wrong. First, it is an appeal to accept poor journalism. Second, it’s a circular argument – the audience is poorly educated therefore they won’t understand, therefore the story must be simple, therefore the audience doesn’t learn, therefore the audience is poorly educated … Third, the audience is made up of voters who have a right to be given a factual account. Fourth, the journalist is asking us to accept that adults should not be educated … and on and on …

    We need to understand that journalism is not a profession: They’re not a group of people who share skills and knowledge and have a rigorous code of ethics, standards and principles. They’re just a bunch of people who write for whoever pays, and the one who pays calls the tune. With a very few exceptions (check out the books of Nick Davies) journalists are in fact the opposite of the above.

    If you want better journalism stop reading trash, and complain to those publications, including Net pages, that you find are not delivering the quality you deserve. This is not a personal remark, it is aimed at all who read this. We are all guilty, at some time or other, of thinking that if we pick up a free newspaper on the train or a magazine in the Dentist’s waiting room it won’t do us (or anyone else) any harm. Wrong!

    Think of it this way; how else could you have spent your time? While that time was passing what subjects could you have been thinking about? This is your attention. My busy work day means, at best, I get to use my attention for about three hours a day on the important things.

    Once your attention is diverted you never get it back. Time is not recyclable, recoverable, or re-usable.

    Change comes from within.

    Peace.”

    I’ve read your post and keep returning to it.

    At first I thought your approach was impractical and I still have reservations about it. But I wonder…

    After reading (not many, just a few) of the presentations from contributors linked to from this site I believe the ones I’m referring to are a waste of (my) time and IMHO don’t measure up to standards I expect from a site sponsored by one of the leading minds of the scientic world. The current squabble about Dawkins’ use of Twitter is an example.

    Perhaps a format change would improve the site more than merely casting free some contributors?

    If comment threads following a presentation required just one additional click before becoming visible the crap stemming from the original crap could be effortlessly avoided and the original contribution could be easily judged on its own merits. Of course the ability to comment is part of the draw of a Forum, but there is a downside, IMHO.

    Perhaps the problem is indeed personal and I should deal with it by merely going away myself…

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