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Monday, January 19, 2009

Our world may be a giant hologram

This article in New Scientists is clearly and totally out of my league. But the author, Marcus Chown, wrote it in such a way that attracted me to start reading it and be intrigued:

DRIVING through the countryside south of Hanover, it would be easy to miss the GEO600 experiment. From the outside, it doesn't look much: in the corner of a fielddetector that stretches for 600 metres. stands an assortment of boxy temporary buildings, from which two long trenches emerge, at a right angle to each other, covered with corrugated iron. Underneath the metal sheets, however, lies a

For the past seven years, this German set-up has been looking for gravitational waves - ripples in space-time thrown off by super-dense astronomical objects such as neutron stars and black holes. GEO600 has not detected any gravitational waves so far, but it might inadvertently have made the most important discovery in physics for half a century.

For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time - the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into "grains", just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. "It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time," says Hogan.

If this doesn't blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab's Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: "If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram."

What in the world is cosmic hologram? The author proceeded to explain:

The idea that we live in a hologram probably sounds absurd, but it is a natural extension of our best understanding of black holes, and something with a pretty firm theoretical footing. It has also been surprisingly helpful for physicists wrestling with theories of how the universe works at its most fundamental level.

The holograms you find on credit cards and banknotes are etched on two-dimensional plastic films. When light bounces off them, it recreates the appearance of a 3D image. In the 1990s physicists Leonard Susskind and Nobel prizewinner Gerard 't Hooft suggested that the same principle might apply to the universe as a whole. Our everyday experience might itself be a holographic projection of physical processes that take place on a distant, 2D surface.

The "holographic principle" challenges our sensibilities. It seems hard to believe that you woke up, brushed your teeth and are reading this article because of something happening on the boundary of the universe. No one knows what it would mean for us if we really do live in a hologram, yet theorists have good reasons to believe that many aspects of the holographic principle are true.

Well, it's a long article. I am not about to copy the whole thing. Suffice to jump now to the final paragraph:
Hogan agrees that if the holographic principle is confirmed, it rules out all approaches to quantum gravity that do not incorporate the holographic principle. Conversely, it would be a boost for those that do - including some derived from string theory and something called matrix theory. "Ultimately, we may have our first indication of how space-time emerges out of quantum theory." As serendipitous discoveries go, it's hard to get more ground-breaking than that.
I still have no clear notion on what holographic principle is. But I do like the sound of serendipitous discoveries. Those discoveries in reality really provided the true knowledge base for us! Reading an article like this certainly beats the goo-goo ga-ga boring stuffs about the politics to be taking place in Washington, D.C. tomorrow!

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