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  • richardmitnick 12:52 pm on December 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Scientists propose a new model with dark energy and our universe riding on an expanding bubble in an extra dimension, String Theory,   

    From phys.org: “Our universe: An expanding bubble in an extra dimension” 

    physdotorg
    From phys.org

    December 28, 2018
    Uppsala University

    1
    In their article, the scientists propose a new model with dark energy and our universe riding on an expanding bubble in an extra dimension. Credit: Suvendu Giri

    Uppsala University researchers have devised a new model for the universe – one that may solve the enigma of dark energy. Their new article, published in Physical Review Letters, proposes a new structural concept, including dark energy, for a universe that rides on an expanding bubble in an additional dimension.

    We have known for the past 20 years that the universe is expanding at an ever accelerating rate. The explanation is the “dark energy” that permeates it throughout, pushing it to expand. Understanding the nature of this dark energy is one of the paramount enigmas of fundamental physics.

    It has long been hoped that string theory will provide the answer. According to string theory, all matter consists of tiny, vibrating “stringlike” entities. The theory also requires there to be more spatial dimensions than the three that are already part of everyday knowledge. For 15 years, there have been models in string theory that have been thought to give rise to dark energy. However, these have come in for increasingly harsh criticism, and several researchers are now asserting that none of the models proposed to date are workable.

    In their article, the scientists propose a new model with dark energy and our universe riding on an expanding bubble in an extra dimension. The whole universe is accommodated on the edge of this expanding bubble. All existing matter in the universe corresponds to the ends of strings that extend out into the extra dimension. The researchers also show that expanding bubbles of this kind can come into existence within the framework of string theory. It is conceivable that there are more bubbles than ours, corresponding to other universes.

    The Uppsala scientists’ model provides a new, different picture of the creation and future fate of the universe, while it may also pave the way for methods of testing string theory.

    See the full article here .

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    About Phys.org in 100 Words

    Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:15 am on September 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The fractal universe" Part 3, , Andrei Linde-Professor of Physics, , , , , , , String Theory   

    From Stanford University: “The fractal universe” Part 3 

    Stanford University Name
    From Stanford University

    1
    The concept of a multiverse, created in a fiery bloom of matter and radiation, is a central part of the String Theory Landscape. (Image credit: Eric Nyquist)

    September 12, 2018
    Ker Than

    Late one summer night nearly 40 years ago, Andrei Linde was seized by a sudden conviction that he knew how the universe was born. His nocturnal eureka moment would lead to the concept of a multiverse, a central part of the String Theory Landscape. This story is part 3 of a five-part series.

    Late one summer night in 1981, while still a junior research fellow at Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow, Andrei Linde was struck by a revelation. Unable to contain his excitement, he shook awake his wife, Renata Kallosh, and whispered to her in their native Russian, “I think I know how the universe was born.”

    Kallosh, a theoretical physicist herself, muttered some encouraging words and fell back asleep. “It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized the full impact of what Andrei had told me,” recalled Kallosh, now a professor of physics at the Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics.

    Linde’s nocturnal eureka moment had to do with a problem in cosmology that he and other theorists, including Stephen Hawking, had struggled with for months.

    A year earlier, a 32-year-old postdoc at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory named Alan Guth shocked the physics community by proposing a bold modification to the Big Bang theory. According to Guth’s idea, which he called “inflation,” our universe erupted from a vacuum-like state and underwent a brief period of faster-than-light expansion.

    Inflation

    4
    Alan Guth, from Highland Park High School and M.I.T., who first proposed cosmic inflation

    HPHS Owls

    Lambda-Cold Dark Matter, Accelerated Expansion of the Universe, Big Bang-Inflation (timeline of the universe) Date 2010 Credit: Alex Mittelmann Coldcreation

    Alan Guth’s notes:
    5

    In less than a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, space-time doubled more than 60 times from a subatomic speck to a volume many times larger than the observable universe.

    Guth envisioned the powerful repulsive force fueling the universe’s exponential growth as a field of energy flooding space. As the universe unfurled, this “inflaton field” decayed, and its shed energy was transfigured into a fiery bloom of matter and radiation. This pivot, from nothing to something and timelessness to time, marked the beginning of the Big Bang. It also prompted Guth to famously quip that the inflationary universe was the “ultimate free lunch.”

    As theories go, inflation was a beauty. It explained in one fell swoop why the universe is so large, why it was born hot, and why its structure appears to be so flat and uniform over vast distances. There was just one problem – it didn’t work.

    Tunneling

    To conclude the unpacking of space-time, Guth borrowed a trick from quantum mechanics called “tunneling” to allow his inflaton field to randomly and instantly skip from a higher, less stable energy state to a lower one, thus bypassing a barrier that could not be scaled by classical physics.

    3
    Andrei Linde and Renata Kallosh, both professors of physics. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

    But closer inspection revealed that quantum tunneling caused the inflaton field to decay quickly and unevenly, resulting in a universe that was neither flat nor uniform. Aware of the fatal flaw in his theory, Guth wrote at the end of his paper on inflation: “I am publishing this paper in the hope that it will … encourage others to find some way to avoid the undesirable features of the inflationary scenario.”

    Guth’s plea was answered by Linde, who on that fateful summer night realized that inflation didn’t require quantum tunneling to work. Instead, the inflaton field could be modeled as a ball rolling down a hill of potential energy that had a very shallow, nearly flat slope. While the ball rolls lazily downhill, the universe is inflating, and as it nears the bottom, inflation slows further and eventually ends. This provided a “graceful exit” to the inflationary state that was lacking in Guth’s model and produced a cosmos like the one we observe. To distinguish it from Guth’s original model while still paying homage to it, Linde dubbed his model “new inflation.”

    Quantum birth of galaxies

    By the time Linde and Kallosh moved to Stanford in 1990, experiments had begun to catch up with the theory. Space missions were finding temperature variations in the energetic afterglow of the Big Bang – called the cosmic microwave background radiation – that confirmed a startling prediction made by the latest inflationary models. These updated models went by various names – “chaotic inflation,” “eternal inflation,” “eternal chaotic inflation” and many more – but they all shared in common the graceful exit that Linde pioneered.

    According to these models, galaxies like the Milky Way grew from faint wrinkles in the fabric of space-time. The density of matter in these wrinkles was slightly greater compared to surrounding areas and this difference was magnified during inflation, allowing them to attract even more matter. From these dense primordial seeds grew the cosmic structures we see today. “Galaxies are children of random quantum fluctuations produced during the first 10-35 seconds after the birth of the universe,” Linde said.

    Universe map Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey

    Inflation predicted that these quantum fluctuations would leave imprints on the universe’s background radiation in the form of hotter and colder regions, and this is precisely what two experiments – dubbed COBE and WMAP – found. “After the COBE and WMAP experiments, inflation started to become part of the standard model of cosmology,” Shamit Kachru said.

    COBE/CMB


    NASA/COBE 1989 to 1993.

    CMB per NASA/WMAP


    NASA/WMAP 2001 to 2010

    CMB per ESA/Planck


    ESA/Planck 2009 to 2013

    5
    Shamit Kachru, Professor of Physics and Director, Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

    The multiverse

    Linde and others later realized that the same quantum fluctuations that produced galaxies can give rise to new inflating regions in the universe. Even though inflation ended in our local cosmic neighborhood 14 billion years ago, it can still continue at the outermost fringes of the universe. The consequence is an ever-expanding sea of inflating space-time dotted with “island universes” or “pocket universes” like our own where inflation has ceased.

    Multiverse. Image credit: public domain, retrieved from https://pixabay.com/

    “As a result, the universe becomes a multiverse, an eternally growing fractal consisting of exponentially many exponentially large parts,” Linde wrote. “These parts are so large that for all practical purposes they look like separate universes.”

    Linde took the multiverse idea even further by proposing that each pocket universe could have differing properties, a conclusion that some string theorists were also reaching independently. “It’s not that the laws of physics are different in each universe, but their realizations,” Linde said. “An analogy is the relationship between liquid water and ice. They’re both H2O but realized differently.”

    Linde’s multiverse is like a cosmic funhouse filled with reality-distorting mirrors. Some pocket universes are resplendent with life, while others were stillborn because they were cursed with too few (or too many) dimensions, or with physics incompatible with the formation of stars and galaxies. An infinite number are exact replicas of ours, but infinitely more are only near-replicas. Right now, there could be countless versions of you inhabiting worlds with histories divergent from ours in ways large and small. In an infinitely expanding multiverse, anything that can happen will happen.

    “The inflationary universe is not just the ultimate free lunch, it’s the only lunch where all possible dishes are served,” Linde said.

    While disturbing to some, this eternal aspect of inflation was just what a small group of string theorists were looking for to help explain a surprise discovery that was upending the physics world – dark energy.

    Dark Energy Survey


    Dark Energy Camera [DECam], built at FNAL


    NOAO/CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile, housing DECam at an altitude of 7200 feet

    See the full article here .


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    Stanford University campus. No image credit

    Leland and Jane Stanford founded the University to “promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” Stanford opened its doors in 1891, and more than a century later, it remains dedicated to finding solutions to the great challenges of the day and to preparing our students for leadership in today’s complex world. Stanford, is an American private research university located in Stanford, California on an 8,180-acre (3,310 ha) campus near Palo Alto. Since 1952, more than 54 Stanford faculty, staff, and alumni have won the Nobel Prize, including 19 current faculty members

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  • richardmitnick 6:37 am on August 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Black Hole Firewalls Could Be Too Tepid to Burn, , , , , String Theory   

    From Nautilus: “Black Hole Firewalls Could Be Too Tepid to Burn” 

    Nautilus

    From Nautilus

    Aug 29, 2018
    Charlie Wood

    Artist’s conception of two merging black holes similar to those detected by LIGO Credit LIGO-Caltech/MIT/Sonoma State /Aurore Simonnet

    1
    String theorists elide a paradox about black holes by extinguishing the walls of fire feared to surround them. NASA

    Despite its ability to bend both minds and space, an Einsteinian black hole looks so simple a child could draw it. There’s a point in the center, a perfectly spherical boundary a bit farther out, and that’s it

    The point is the singularity, an infinitely dense, unimaginably small dot contorting space so radically that anything nearby falls straight in, leaving behind a vacuum. The spherical boundary marks the event horizon, the point of no return between the vacuum and the rest of the universe. But according to Einstein’s theory of gravity, the event horizon isn’t anything that an unlucky astronaut would immediately notice if she were to cross it. “It’s like the horizon outside your window,” said Samir Mathur, a physicist at Ohio State University. “If you actually walked over there, there’s nothing.”

    In 2012, however, this placid picture went up in flames. A team of four physicists took a puzzle first put forward by Stephen Hawking about what happens to all the information that falls into the black hole, and turned it on its head. Rather than insisting that an astronaut (often named Alice) pass smoothly over the event horizon, they prioritized a key postulate of quantum mechanics: Information, like matter and energy, must never be destroyed. That change ended up promoting the event horizon from mathematical boundary to physical object, one they colorfully named the wall of fire.

    “It can’t be empty, and it turns out it has to be full of a lot of stuff, a lot of hot stuff,” said Donald Marolf, a physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and one of the four co-authors [no cited paper]. The argument caused an uproar in the theoretical physics community, much as if cartographers suggested that instead of an imaginary line on their maps, Earth’s equator was actually a wall of bright red bricks.

    The news of a structure at the boundary didn’t shock Mathur, however. For more than a decade he had been arguing that black holes are really balls of strings (from string theory) with hot, fuzzy surfaces. “As you come closer and closer it gets hotter and hotter, and that’s what causes the burning,” he explained.

    In recent years, Mathur has been refining his “fuzzball” description, and his most recent calculations bring marginally good news for Alice. While she wouldn’t live a long and healthy life, the horizon’s heat might not be what does her in.

    Fuzzballs are what you get when you apply string theory, a description of nature that replaces particles with strings, to extremely dense objects. Energize a particle and it can only speed up, but strings stretch and swell as well. That ability to expand, combined with additional flexibility from postulated extra dimensions, makes strings fluff up when enough of them are packed into a small space. They form a fuzzy ball that looks from afar like an ordinary black hole—it has the same size (for a given mass) and emits the same kind of “Hawking radiation” that all black holes emit. As a bonus, the slightly bumpy surface changes the way it emits particles and declaws Hawking’s information puzzle, according to Mathur. “It’s more like a planet,” he said, “and it radiates from that surface just like anything else.”

    33
    Olena Shmahalo / Quanta Magazine

    His new work extends arguments from 2014, which asked what would happen to Alice if she were to fall onto a supermassive fuzzball akin to the one at the heart of our galaxy—one with the mass of millions of suns. In such situations, the force of gravity dominates all others. Assuming this constraint, Mathur and his collaborator found that an incoming Alice particle had almost no chance of smashing into an outgoing particle of Hawking radiation. The surface might be hot, he said, but the way the fuzzball expands to swallow new material prevents anything from getting close enough to burn, so Alice should make it to the surface.


    In response, Marolf suggested that a medium-size fuzzball might still be able to barbecue Alice in other ways. It wouldn’t drag her in as fast, and in a collision at lower energies, forces other than gravity could singe her, too.

    Mathur’s team recently took a more detailed look at Alice’s experience with new calculations published in the Journal of High Energy Physics. They concluded that for a modest fuzzball—one as massive as our sun—the overall chance of an Alice particle hitting a radiation particle was slightly higher than they had found before, but still very close to zero. Their work suggested that you’d have to shrink a fuzzball down to a thousand times smaller than the nanoscale before burning would become likely.

    By allowing Alice to reach the surface more or less intact (she would still undergo an uncontroversial and likely fatal stretching), the theory might even end up restoring the Einsteinian picture of smooth passage across the boundary, albeit in a twisted form. There might be a scenario in which Alice went splat on the surface while simultaneously feeling as if she were falling through open space, whatever that might mean.

    “If you jump onto [fuzzballs] in one description, you break up into little strings. That’s the splat picture,” Mathur said. We typically assume that once her particles start breaking up, Alice ceases to be Alice. A bizarre duality in string theory, however, allows her strings to spread out across the fuzzball in an orderly way that preserves their connections, and, perhaps, her sense of self. “If you look carefully at what [the strings] are doing,” Mathur continued, “they’re actually spreading in a very coherent ball.”

    The details of Mathur’s picture remain rough. And the model rests entirely on the machinery of string theory, a mathematical framework with no experimental evidence. What’s more, not even string theory can handle the messiness of realistic fuzzballs. Instead, physicists focus on contrived examples such as highly organized, extra-frigid bodies with extreme features, said Marika Taylor, a string theorist at the University of Southampton in the U.K.

    Mathur’s calculations are exploratory, she said, approximate generalizations from the common features of the simple models. The next step is a theory that can describe the fuzzball’s surface at the quantum level, from the point of view of the string. Nevertheless, she agreed that the hot firewall idea has always smelled fishy from a string-theory perspective. “You suddenly transition from ‘I’m falling perfectly happily’ to ‘Oh my God, I’m completely destroyed’? That’s unsatisfactory,” she said.

    Marolf refrained from commenting on the latest results until he finished discussing them with Mathur, but said that he was interested in learning more about how the other forces had been accounted for and how the fuzzball surface would react to Alice’s visit. He also pointed out that Mathur’s black hole model was just one of many tactics for resolving Hawking’s puzzle, and there was no guarantee that anyone had hit on the right one. “Maybe the real world is crazier than even the things we’ve thought of yet,” he said, “and we’re just not being clever enough.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 4:33 pm on August 20, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Anomalies, Bosons and fermions, Branes, , , , , Murray Gell-Mann, Parity violation, , , , String Theory, , , The second superstring revolution, Theorist John Schwarz   

    From Caltech: “Long and Winding Road: A Conversation with String Theory Pioneer” John Schwarz 

    Caltech Logo

    From Caltech

    08/20/2018

    Whitney Clavin
    (626) 395-1856
    wclavin@caltech.edu

    John Schwarz discusses the history and evolution of superstring theory.

    1
    John Schwarz. Credit: Seth Hansen for Caltech

    The decades-long quest for a theory that would unify all the known forces—from the microscopic quantum realm to the macroscopic world where gravity dominates—has had many twists and turns. The current leading theory, known as superstring theory and more informally as string theory, grew out of an approach to theoretical particle physics, called S-matrix theory, which was popular in the 1960s. Caltech’s John H. Schwarz, the Harold Brown Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus, began working on the problem in 1971, while a junior faculty member at Princeton University. He moved to Caltech in 1972, where he continued his research with various collaborators from other universities. Their studies in the 1970s and 1980s would dramatically shift the evolution of the theory and, in 1984, usher in what’s known as the first superstring revolution.

    Essentially, string theory postulates that our universe is made up, at its most fundamental level, of infinitesimal tiny vibrating strings and contains 10 dimensions—three for space, one for time, and six other spatial dimensions curled up in such a way that we don’t perceive them in everyday life or even with the most sensitive experimental searches to date. One of the many states of a string is thought to correspond to the particle that carries the gravitational force, the graviton, thereby linking the two pillars of fundamental physics—quantum mechanics and the general theory of relativity, which includes gravity.

    We sat down with Schwarz to discuss the history and evolution of string theory and how the theory itself might have moved past strings.

    What are the earliest origins of string theory?

    The first study often regarded as the beginning of string theory came from an Italian physicist named Gabriele Veneziano in 1968. He discovered a mathematical formula that had many of the properties that people were trying to incorporate in a fundamental theory of the strong nuclear force [a fundamental force that holds nuclei together]. This formula was kind of pulled out of the blue, and ultimately Veneziano and others realized, within a couple years, that it was actually describing a quantum theory of a string—a one-dimensional extended object.

    How did the field grow after this paper?

    In the early ’70s, there were several hundred people worldwide working on string theory. But then everything changed when quantum chromodynamics, or QCD—which was developed by Caltech’s Murray Gell-Mann [Nobel Laureate, 1969] and others—became the favored theory of the strong nuclear force. Almost everyone was convinced QCD was the right way to go and stopped working on string theory. The field shrank down to just a handful of people in the course of a year or two. I was one of the ones who remained.

    How did Gell-Mann become interested in your work?

    Gell-Mann is the one who brought me to Caltech and was very supportive of my work. He took an interest in studies I had done with a French physicist, André Neveu, when we were at Princeton. Neveu and I introduced a second string theory. The initial Veneziano version had many problems. There are two kinds of fundamental particles called bosons and fermions, and the Veneziano theory only described bosons. The one I developed with Neveu included fermions. And not only did it include fermions but it led to the discovery of a new kind of symmetry that relates bosons and fermions, which is called supersymmetry. Because of that discovery, this version of string theory is called superstring theory.

    When did the field take off again?

    A pivotal change happened after work I did with another French physicist, Joël Scherk, whom Gell-Mann and I had brought to Caltech as a visitor in 1974. During that period, we realized that many of the problems we were having with string theory could be turned into advantages if we changed the purpose. Instead of insisting on constructing a theory of the strong nuclear force, we took this beautiful theory and asked what it was good for. And it turned out it was good for gravity. Neither of us had worked on gravity. It wasn’t something we were especially interested in but we realized that this theory, which was having trouble describing the strong nuclear force, gives rise to gravity. Once we realized this, I knew what I would be doing for the rest of my career. And I believe Joël felt the same way. Unfortunately, he died six years later. He made several important discoveries during those six years, including a supergravity theory in 11 dimensions.

    Surprisingly, the community didn’t respond very much to our papers and lectures. We were generally respected and never had a problem getting our papers published, but there wasn’t much interest in the idea. We were proposing a quantum theory of gravity, but in that era physicists who worked on quantum theory weren’t interested in gravity, and physicists who worked on gravity weren’t interested in quantum theory.

    That changed after I met Michael Green [a theoretical physicist then at the University of London and now at the University of Cambridge], at the CERN cafeteria in Switzerland in the summer of 1979. Our collaboration was very successful, and Michael visited Caltech for several extended visits over the next few years. We published a number of papers during that period, which are much cited, but our most famous work was something we did in 1984, which had to do with a problem known as anomalies.

    What are anomalies in string theory?

    One of the facts of nature is that there is what’s called parity violation, which means that the fundamental laws are not invariant under mirror reflection. For example, a neutrino always spins clockwise and not counterclockwise, so it would look wrong viewed in a mirror. When you try to write down a fundamental theory with parity violation, mathematical inconsistencies often arise when you take account of quantum effects. This is referred to as the anomaly problem. It appeared that one couldn’t make a theory based on strings without encountering these anomalies, which, if that were the case, would mean strings couldn’t give a realistic theory. Green and I discovered that these anomalies cancel one another in very special situations.

    When we released our results in 1984, the field exploded. That’s when Edward Witten [a theoretical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton], probably the most influential theoretical physicist in the world, got interested. Witten and three collaborators wrote a paper early in 1985 making a particular proposal for what to do with the six extra dimensions, the ones other than the four for space and time. That proposal looked, at the time, as if it could give a theory that is quite realistic. These developments, together with the discovery of another version of superstring theory, constituted the first superstring revolution.

    Richard Feynman was here at Caltech during that time, before he passed away in 1988. What did he think about string theory?

    After the 1984 to 1985 breakthroughs in our understanding of superstring theory, the subject no longer could be ignored. At that time it acquired some prominent critics, including Richard Feynman and Stephen Hawking. Feynman’s skepticism of superstring theory was based mostly on the concern that it could not be tested experimentally. This was a valid concern, which my collaborators and I shared. However, Feynman did want to learn more, so I spent several hours explaining the essential ideas to him. Thirty years later, it is still true that there is no smoking-gun experimental confirmation of superstring theory, though it has proved its value in other ways. The most likely possibility for experimental support in the foreseeable future would be the discovery of supersymmetry particles. So far, they have not shown up.

    What was the second superstring revolution about?

    The second superstring revolution occurred 10 years later in the mid ’90s. What happened then is that string theorists discovered what happens when particle interactions become strong. Before, we had been studying weakly interacting systems. But as you crank up the strength of the interaction, a 10th dimension of space can emerge. New objects called branes also emerge. Strings are one dimensional; branes have all sorts of dimensions ranging from zero to nine. An important class of these branes, called D-branes, was discovered by the late Joseph Polchinski [BS ’75]. Strings do have a special role, but when the system is strongly interacting, then the strings become less fundamental. It’s possible that in the future the subject will get a new name but until we understand better what the theory is, which we’re still struggling with, it’s premature to invent a new name.

    What can we say now about the future of string theory?

    It’s now over 30 years since a large community of scientists began pooling their talents, and there’s been enormous progress in those 30 years. But the more big problems we solve, the more new questions arise. So, you don’t even know the right questions to ask until you solve the previous questions. Interestingly, some of the biggest spin-offs of our efforts to find the most fundamental theory of nature are in pure mathematics.

    Do you think string theory will ultimately unify the forces of nature?

    Yes, but I don’t think we’ll have a final answer in my lifetime. The journey has been worth it, even if it did take some unusual twists and turns. I’m convinced that, in other intelligent civilizations throughout the galaxy, similar discoveries will occur, or already have occurred, in a different sequence than ours. We’ll find the same result and reach the same conclusions as other civilizations, but we’ll get there by a very different route.

    See the full article here .

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    The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”

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  • richardmitnick 3:39 am on August 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Dark Energy May Be Incompatible With String Theory, , , , String Theory   

    From Quanta Magazine: “Dark Energy May Be Incompatible With String Theory” 

    Quanta Magazine
    From Quanta Magazine

    August 9, 2018
    Natalie Wolchover

    1
    String theory permits a “landscape” of possible universes, surrounded by a “swampland” of logically inconsistent universes. In all of the simple, viable stringy universes physicists have studied, the density of dark energy is either diminishing or has a stable negative value, unlike our universe, which appears to have a stable positive value. Maciej Rebisz for Quanta Magazine

    On June 25, Timm Wrase awoke in Vienna and groggily scrolled through an online repository of newly posted physics papers. One title startled him into full consciousness.

    The paper, by the prominent string theorist Cumrun Vafa of Harvard University and collaborators, conjectured a simple formula dictating which kinds of universes are allowed to exist and which are forbidden, according to string theory. The leading candidate for a “theory of everything” weaving the force of gravity together with quantum physics, string theory defines all matter and forces as vibrations of tiny strands of energy. The theory permits some 10500 different solutions: a vast, varied “landscape” of possible universes. String theorists like Wrase and Vafa have strived for years to place our particular universe somewhere in this landscape of possibilities.

    But now, Vafa and his colleagues were conjecturing that in the string landscape, universes like ours — or what ours is thought to be like — don’t exist. If the conjecture is correct, Wrase and other string theorists immediately realized, the cosmos must either be profoundly different than previously supposed or string theory must be wrong.

    After dropping his kindergartner off that morning, Wrase went to work at the Vienna University of Technology, where his colleagues were also buzzing about the paper. That same day, in Okinawa, Japan, Vafa presented the conjecture at the Strings 2018 conference, which was streamed by physicists worldwide. Debate broke out on- and off-site. “There were people who immediately said, ‘This has to be wrong,’ other people who said, ‘Oh, I’ve been saying this for years,’ and everything in the middle,” Wrase said. There was confusion, he added, but “also, of course, huge excitement. Because if this conjecture was right, then it has a lot of tremendous implications for cosmology.”

    Researchers have set to work trying to test the conjecture and explore its implications. Wrase has already written two papers, including one that may lead to a refinement of the conjecture, and both mostly while on vacation with his family. He recalled thinking, “This is so exciting. I have to work and study that further.”

    The conjectured formula — posed in the June 25 paper by Vafa, Georges Obied, Hirosi Ooguri and Lev Spodyneiko and further explored in a second paper released two days later by Vafa, Obied, Prateek Agrawal and Paul Steinhardt — says, simply, that as the universe expands, the density of energy in the vacuum of empty space must decrease faster than a certain rate. The rule appears to be true in all simple string theory-based models of universes. But it violates two widespread beliefs about the actual universe: It deems impossible both the accepted picture of the universe’s present-day expansion and the leading model of its explosive birth.

    Dark Energy in Question

    Since 1998, telescope observations have indicated that the cosmos is expanding ever-so-slightly faster all the time, implying that the vacuum of empty space must be infused with a dose of gravitationally repulsive “dark energy.”

    In addition, it looks like the amount of dark energy infused in empty space stays constant over time (as best anyone can tell).

    But the new conjecture asserts that the vacuum energy of the universe must be decreasing.

    Vafa and colleagues contend that universes with stable, constant, positive amounts of vacuum energy, known as “de Sitter universes,” aren’t possible. String theorists have struggled mightily since dark energy’s 1998 discovery to construct convincing stringy models of stable de Sitter universes. But if Vafa is right, such efforts are bound to sink in logical inconsistency; de Sitter universes lie not in the landscape, but in the “swampland.” “The things that look consistent but ultimately are not consistent, I call them swampland,” he explained recently. “They almost look like landscape; you can be fooled by them. You think you should be able to construct them, but you cannot.”

    According to this “de Sitter swampland conjecture,” in all possible, logical universes, the vacuum energy must either be dropping, its value like a ball rolling down a hill, or it must have obtained a stable negative value. (So-called “anti-de Sitter” universes, with stable, negative doses of vacuum energy, are easily constructed in string theory.)

    The conjecture, if true, would mean the density of dark energy in our universe cannot be constant, but must instead take a form called “quintessence” — an energy source that will gradually diminish over tens of billions of years. Several telescope experiments are underway now to more precisely probe whether the universe is expanding with a constant rate of acceleration, which would mean that as new space is created, a proportionate amount of new dark energy arises with it, or whether the cosmic acceleration is gradually changing, as in quintessence models. A discovery of quintessence would revolutionize fundamental physics and cosmology, including rewriting the cosmos’s history and future. Instead of tearing apart in a Big Rip, a quintessent universe would gradually decelerate, and in most models, would eventually stop expanding and contract in either a Big Crunch or Big Bounce.

    Paul Steinhardt, a cosmologist at Princeton University and one of Vafa’s co-authors, said that over the next few years, “all eyes should be on” measurements by the Dark Energy Survey, WFIRST and Euclid telescopes of whether the density of dark energy is changing.

    Dark Energy Survey


    Dark Energy Camera [DECam], built at FNAL


    NOAO/CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile, housing DECam at an altitude of 7200 feet

    NASA/WFIRST

    ESA/Euclid spacecraft

    “If you find it’s not consistent with quintessence,” Steinhardt said, “it means either the swampland idea is wrong, or string theory is wrong, or both are wrong or — something’s wrong.”

    Inflation Under Siege

    No less dramatically, the new swampland conjecture also casts doubt on the widely believed story of the universe’s birth: the Big Bang theory known as cosmic inflation.

    Inflation

    4
    Alan Guth, from Highland Park High School and M.I.T., who first proposed cosmic inflation

    HPHS Owls

    Lambda-Cold Dark Matter, Accelerated Expansion of the Universe, Big Bang-Inflation (timeline of the universe) Date 2010 Credit: Alex MittelmannColdcreation

    Alan Guth’s notes:
    5

    According to this theory, a minuscule, energy-infused speck of space-time rapidly inflated to form the macroscopic universe we inhabit. The theory was devised to explain, in part, how the universe got so huge, smooth and flat.

    But the hypothetical “inflaton field” of energy that supposedly drove cosmic inflation doesn’t sit well with Vafa’s formula. To abide by the formula, the inflaton field’s energy would probably have needed to diminish too quickly to form a smooth- and flat-enough universe, he and other researchers explained. Thus, the conjecture disfavors many popular models of cosmic inflation. In the coming years, telescopes such as the Simons Observatory will look for definitive signatures of cosmic inflation, testing it against rival ideas.

    In the meantime, string theorists, who normally form a united front, will disagree about the conjecture. Eva Silverstein, a physics professor at Stanford University and a leader in the effort to construct string-theoretic models of inflation, thinks it is very likely to be false. So does her husband, the Stanford professor Shamit Kachru; he is the first “K” in KKLT, a famous 2003 paper (known by its authors’ initials) that suggested a set of stringy ingredients that might be used to construct de Sitter universes. Vafa’s formula says both Silverstein’s and Kachru’s constructions won’t work. “We’re besieged by these conjectures in our family,” Silverstein joked. But in her view, accelerating-expansion models are no more disfavored now, in light of the new papers, than before. “They essentially just speculate that those things don’t exist, citing very limited and in some cases highly dubious analyses,” she said.

    Matthew Kleban, a string theorist and cosmologist at New York University, also works on stringy models of inflation. He stresses that the new swampland conjecture is highly speculative and an example of “lamppost reasoning,” since much of the string landscape has yet to be explored. And yet he acknowledges that, based on existing evidence, the conjecture could well be true. “It could be true about string theory, and then maybe string theory doesn’t describe the world,” Kleban said. “[Maybe] dark energy has falsified it. That obviously would be very interesting.”

    Mapping the Swampland

    Whether the de Sitter swampland conjecture and future experiments really have the power to falsify string theory remains to be seen. The discovery in the early 2000s that string theory has something like 10^500 solutions killed the dream that it might uniquely and inevitably predict the properties of our one universe. The theory seemed like it could support almost any observations and became very difficult to experimentally test or disprove.

    In 2005, Vafa and a network of collaborators began to think about how to pare the possibilities down by mapping out fundamental features of nature that absolutely have to be true. For example, their “weak gravity conjecture” asserts that gravity must always be the weakest force in any logical universe. Imagined universes that don’t satisfy such requirements get tossed from the landscape into the swampland. Many of these swampland conjectures have held up famously against attack, and some are now “on a very solid theoretical footing,” said Hirosi Ooguri, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology and one of Vafa’s first swampland collaborators. The weak gravity conjecture, for instance, has accumulated so much evidence that it’s now suspected to hold generally, independent of whether string theory is the correct theory of quantum gravity.

    The intuition about where landscape ends and swampland begins derives from decades of effort to construct stringy models of universes. The chief challenge of that project has been that string theory predicts the existence of 10 space-time dimensions — far more than are apparent in our 4-D universe. String theorists posit that the six extra spatial dimensions must be small — curled up tightly at every point. The landscape springs from all the different ways of configuring these extra dimensions. But although the possibilities are enormous, researchers like Vafa have found that general principles emerge. For instance, the curled-up dimensions typically want to gravitationally contract inward, whereas fields like electromagnetic fields tend to push everything apart. And in simple, stable configurations, these effects balance out by having negative vacuum energy, producing anti-de Sitter universes. Turning the vacuum energy positive is hard. “Usually in physics, we have simple examples of general phenomena,” Vafa said. “De Sitter is not such a thing.”

    The KKLT paper, by Kachru, Renata Kallosh, Andrei Linde and Sandip Trivedi, suggested stringy trappings like “fluxes,” “instantons” and “anti-D-branes” that could potentially serve as tools for configuring a positive, constant vacuum energy. However, these constructions are complicated, and over the years possible instabilities have been identified. Though Kachru said he does not have “any serious doubts,” many researchers have come to suspect the KKLT scenario does not produce stable de Sitter universes after all.

    Vafa thinks a concerted search for definitely stable de Sitter universe models is long overdue. His conjecture is, above all, intended to press the issue. In his view, string theorists have not felt sufficiently motivated to figure out whether string theory really is capable of describing our world, instead taking the attitude that because the string landscape is huge, there must be a place in it for us, even if no one knows where. “The bulk of the community in string theory still sides on the side of de Sitter constructions [existing],” he said, “because the belief is, ‘Look, we live in a de Sitter universe with positive energy; therefore we better have examples of that type.’”

    His conjecture has roused the community to action, with researchers like Wrase looking for stable de Sitter counterexamples, while others toy with little-explored stringy models of quintessent universes. “I would be equally interested to know if the conjecture is true or false,” Vafa said. “Raising the question is what we should be doing. And finding evidence for or against it — that’s how we make progress.”

    See the full article here .


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    Formerly known as Simons Science News, Quanta Magazine is an editorially independent online publication launched by the Simons Foundation to enhance public understanding of science. Why Quanta? Albert Einstein called photons “quanta of light.” Our goal is to “illuminate science.” At Quanta Magazine, scientific accuracy is every bit as important as telling a good story. All of our articles are meticulously researched, reported, edited, copy-edited and fact-checked.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:07 pm on June 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Conjectures about gravity, Cosmic censorship conjecture, , Naked singularity in a four-dimensional universe, , , , Singularities, String Theory, Then Stephen said ‘You want to bet?’, Weak gravity   

    From Quanta: “Where Gravity Is Weak and Naked Singularities Are Verboten’ 

    Quanta Magazine
    Quanta Magazine

    June 20, 2017
    Natalie Wolchover

    1
    Mike Zeng for Quanta Magazine

    Physicists have wondered for decades whether infinitely dense points known as singularities can ever exist outside black holes, which would expose the mysteries of quantum gravity for all to see. Singularities — snags in the otherwise smooth fabric of space and time where Albert Einstein’s classical gravity theory breaks down and the unknown quantum theory of gravity is needed — seem to always come cloaked in darkness, hiding from view behind the event horizons of black holes. The British physicist and mathematician Sir Roger Penrose conjectured in 1969 that visible or “naked” singularities are actually forbidden from forming in nature, in a kind of cosmic censorship. But why should quantum gravity censor itself?

    3
    Roger Penrose in Berkeley, California, in 1978, nine years after proposing the cosmic censorship conjecture. George M. Bergman, Berkeley. Source: Archives of the Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach

    Now, new theoretical calculations provide a possible explanation for why naked singularities do not exist — in a particular model universe, at least. The findings indicate that a second, newer conjecture about gravity, if it is true, reinforces Penrose’s cosmic censorship conjecture by preventing naked singularities from forming in this model universe. Some experts say the mutually supportive relationship between the two conjectures increases the chances that both are correct. And while this would mean singularities do stay frustratingly hidden, it would also reveal an important feature of the quantum gravity theory that eludes us.

    “It’s pleasing that there’s a connection” between the two conjectures, said John Preskill of the California Institute of Technology, who in 1991 bet Stephen Hawking that the cosmic censorship conjecture would fail (though he actually thinks it’s probably true).

    The new work, reported in May in Physical Review Letters by Jorge Santos and his student Toby Crisford at the University of Cambridge and relying on a key insight by Cumrun Vafa of Harvard University, unexpectedly ties cosmic censorship to the 2006 weak gravity conjecture [JHEP], which asserts that gravity must always be the weakest force in any viable universe, as it is in ours. (Gravity is by far the weakest of the four fundamental forces; two electrons electrically repel each other 1 million trillion trillion trillion times more strongly than they gravitationally attract each other.) Santos and Crisford were able to simulate the formation of a naked singularity in a four-dimensional universe with a different space-time geometry than ours. But they found that if another force exists in that universe that affects particles more strongly than gravity, the singularity becomes cloaked in a black hole. In other words, where a perverse pinprick would otherwise form in the space-time fabric, naked for all the world to see, the relative weakness of gravity prevents it.

    Santos and Crisford are running simulations now to test whether cosmic censorship is saved at exactly the limit where gravity becomes the weakest force in the model universe, as initial calculations suggest. Such an alliance with the better-established cosmic censorship conjecture would reflect very well on the weak gravity conjecture. And if weak gravity is right, it points to a deep relationship between gravity and the other quantum forces, potentially lending support to string theory over a rival theory called loop quantum gravity. The “unification” of the forces happens naturally in string theory, where gravity is one vibrational mode of strings and forces like electromagnetism are other modes. But unification is less obvious in loop quantum gravity, where space-time is quantized in tiny volumetric packets that bear no direct connection to the other particles and forces. “If the weak gravity conjecture is right, loop quantum gravity is definitely wrong,” said Nima Arkani-Hamed, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study who co-discovered the weak gravity conjecture.

    The new work “does tell us about quantum gravity,” said Gary Horowitz, a theoretical physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

    The Naked Singularities

    In 1991, Preskill and Kip Thorne, both theoretical physicists at Caltech, visited Stephen Hawking at Cambridge. Hawking had spent decades exploring the possibilities packed into the Einstein equation, which defines how space-time bends in the presence of matter, giving rise to gravity. Like Penrose and everyone else, he had yet to find a mechanism by which a naked singularity could form in a universe like ours. Always, singularities lay at the centers of black holes — sinkholes in space-time that are so steep that no light can climb out. He told his visitors that he believed in cosmic censorship. Preskill and Thorne, both experts in quantum gravity and black holes (Thorne was one of three physicists who founded the black-hole-detecting LIGO experiment), said they felt it might be possible to detect naked singularities and quantum gravity effects. “There was a long pause,” Preskill recalled. “Then Stephen said, ‘You want to bet?’”

    The bet had to be settled on a technicality and renegotiated in 1997, after the first ambiguous exception cropped up. Matt Choptuik, a physicist at the University of British Columbia who uses numerical simulations to study Einstein’s theory, showed that a naked singularity can form in a four-dimensional universe like ours when you perfectly fine-tune its initial conditions. Nudge the initial data by any amount, and you lose it — a black hole forms around the singularity, censoring the scene. This exceptional case doesn’t disprove cosmic censorship as Penrose meant it, because it doesn’t suggest naked singularities might actually form. Nonetheless, Hawking conceded the original bet and paid his debt per the stipulations, “with clothing to cover the winner’s nakedness.” He embarrassed Preskill by making him wear a T-shirt featuring a nearly-naked lady while giving a talk to 1,000 people at Caltech. The clothing was supposed to be “embroidered with a suitable concessionary message,” but Hawking’s read like a challenge: “Nature Abhors a Naked Singularity.”

    The physicists posted a new bet online, with language to clarify that only non-exceptional counterexamples to cosmic censorship would count. And this time, they agreed, “The clothing is to be embroidered with a suitable, truly concessionary message.”

    The wager still stands 20 years later, but not without coming under threat. In 2010, the physicists Frans Pretorius and Luis Lehner discovered a mechanism [Physical Review Letters]for producing naked singularities in hypothetical universes with five or more dimensions. And in their May paper, Santos and Crisford reported a naked singularity in a classical universe with four space-time dimensions, like our own, but with a radically different geometry. This latest one is “in between the ‘technical’ counterexample of the 1990s and a true counterexample,” Horowitz said. Preskill agrees that it doesn’t settle the bet. But it does change the story.

    5
    Lucy Reading-Ikkanda/Quanta Magazine

    The Tin Can Universe

    The new discovery began to unfold in 2014, when Horowitz, Santos and Benson Way found that naked singularities could exist in a pretend 4-D universe called “anti-de Sitter” (AdS) space whose space-time geometry is shaped like a tin can. This universe has a boundary — the can’s side — which makes it a convenient testing ground for ideas about quantum gravity: Physicists can treat bendy space-time in the can’s interior like a hologram that projects off of the can’s surface, where there is no gravity. In universes like our own, which is closer to a “de Sitter” (dS) geometry, the only boundary is the infinite future, essentially the end of time. Timeless infinity doesn’t make a very good surface for projecting a hologram of a living, breathing universe.

    Despite their differences, the interiors of both AdS and dS universes obey Einstein’s classical gravity theory — everywhere outside singularities, that is. If cosmic censorship holds in one of the two arenas, some experts say you might expect it to hold up in both.

    Horowitz, Santos and Way were studying what happens when an electric field and a gravitational field coexist in an AdS universe. Their calculations suggested that cranking up the energy of the electric field on the surface of the tin can universe will cause space-time to curve more and more sharply around a corresponding point inside, eventually forming a naked singularity. In their recent paper, Santos and Crisford verified the earlier calculations with numerical simulations.

    But why would naked singularities exist in 5-D and in 4-D when you change the geometry, but never in a flat 4-D universe like ours? “It’s like, what the heck!” Santos said. “It’s so weird you should work on it, right? There has to be something here.”

    Weak Gravity to the Rescue

    In 2015, Horowitz mentioned the evidence for a naked singularity in 4-D AdS space to Cumrun Vafa, a Harvard string theorist and quantum gravity theorist who stopped by Horowitz’s office. Vafa had been working to rule out large swaths of the 10^500 different possible universes that string theory naively allows. He did this by identifying “swamplands”: failed universes that are too logically inconsistent to exist. By understanding patterns of land and swamp, he hoped to get an overall picture of quantum gravity.

    Working with Arkani-Hamed, Luboš Motl and Alberto Nicolis in 2006, Vafa proposed the weak gravity conjecture as a swamplands test. The researchers found that universes only seemed to make sense when particles were affected by gravity less than they were by at least one other force. Dial down the other forces of nature too much, and violations of causality and other problems arise. “Things were going wrong just when you started violating gravity as the weakest force,” Arkani-Hamed said. The weak-gravity requirement drowns huge regions of the quantum gravity landscape in swamplands.

    6
    Jorge Santos (left) and Toby Crisford of the University of Cambridge have found an unexpected link between two conjectures about gravity.
    Courtesy of Jorge Santos

    Weak gravity and cosmic censorship seem to describe different things, but in chatting with Horowitz that day in 2015, Vafa realized that they might be linked. Horowitz had explained Santos and Crisford’s simulated naked singularity: When the researchers cranked up the strength of the electric field on the boundary of their tin-can universe, they assumed that the interior was classical — perfectly smooth, with no particles quantum mechanically fluctuating in and out of existence. But Vafa reasoned that, if such particles existed, and if, in accordance with the weak gravity conjecture, they were more strongly coupled to the electric field than to gravity, then cranking up the electric field on the AdS boundary would cause sufficient numbers of particles to arise in the corresponding region in the interior to gravitationally collapse the region into a black hole, preventing the naked singularity.

    Subsequent calculations by Santos and Crisford supported Vafa’s hunch; the simulations they’re running now could verify that naked singularities become cloaked in black holes right at the point where gravity becomes the weakest force. “We don’t know exactly why, but it seems to be true,” Vafa said. “These two reinforce each other.”

    Quantum Gravity

    The full implications of the new work, and of the two conjectures, will take time to sink in. Cosmic censorship imposes an odd disconnect between quantum gravity at the centers of black holes and classical gravity throughout the rest of the universe. Weak gravity appears to bridge the gap, linking quantum gravity to the other quantum forces that govern particles in the universe, and possibly favoring a stringy approach over a loopy one. Preskill said, “I think it’s something you would put on your list of arguments or reasons for believing in unification of the forces.”

    However, Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute, one of the developers of loop quantum gravity, has pushed back, arguing that if weak gravity is true, there might be a loopy reason for it. And he contends that there is a path to unification [J.Phys.A] of the forces within his theory — a path that would need to be pursued all the more vigorously if the weak gravity conjecture holds.

    Given the apparent absence of naked singularities in our universe, physicists will take hints about quantum gravity wherever they can find them. They’re as lost now in the endless landscape of possible quantum gravity theories as they were in the 1990s, with no prospects for determining through experiments which underlying theory describes our world. “It is thus paramount to find generic properties that such quantum gravity theories must have in order to be viable,” Santos said, echoing the swamplands philosophy.

    Weak gravity might be one such property — a necessary condition for quantum gravity’s consistency that spills out and affects the world beyond black holes. These may be some of the only clues available to help researchers feel their way into the darkness.

    See the full article here .

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    Formerly known as Simons Science News, Quanta Magazine is an editorially independent online publication launched by the Simons Foundation to enhance public understanding of science. Why Quanta? Albert Einstein called photons “quanta of light.” Our goal is to “illuminate science.” At Quanta Magazine, scientific accuracy is every bit as important as telling a good story. All of our articles are meticulously researched, reported, edited, copy-edited and fact-checked.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:56 am on June 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , Nautlius, , , Sean Carroll at Caltech, String Theory, Will Quantum Mechanics Swallow Relativity   

    From Nautilus: “Will Quantum Mechanics Swallow Relativity?” 

    Nautilus

    Nautilus

    June 8, 2017
    By Corey S. Powell
    Illustration by Nicholas Garber

    The contest between gravity and quantum physics takes a new turn.

    It is the biggest of problems, it is the smallest of problems.

    At present physicists have two separate rulebooks explaining how nature works. There is general relativity, which beautifully accounts for gravity and all of the things it dominates: orbiting planets, colliding galaxies, the dynamics of the expanding universe as a whole. That’s big. Then there is quantum mechanics, which handles the other three forces—electromagnetism and the two nuclear forces. Quantum theory is extremely adept at describing what happens when a uranium atom decays, or when individual particles of light hit a solar cell. That’s small.

    Now for the problem: Relativity and quantum mechanics are fundamentally different theories that have different formulations. It is not just a matter of scientific terminology; it is a clash of genuinely incompatible descriptions of reality.

    The conflict between the two halves of physics has been brewing for more than a century—sparked by a pair of 1905 papers by Einstein, one outlining relativity and the other introducing the quantum—but recently it has entered an intriguing, unpredictable new phase. Two notable physicists have staked out extreme positions in their camps, conducting experiments that could finally settle which approach is paramount.

    Basically you can think of the division between the relativity and quantum systems as “smooth” versus “chunky.” In general relativity, events are continuous and deterministic, meaning that every cause matches up to a specific, local effect. In quantum mechanics, events produced by the interaction of subatomic particles happen in jumps (yes, quantum leaps), with probabilistic rather than definite outcomes. Quantum rules allow connections forbidden by classical physics. This was demonstrated in a much-discussed recent experiment, in which Dutch researchers defied the local effect. They showed two particles—in this case, electrons—could influence each other instantly, even though they were a mile apart. When you try to interpret smooth relativistic laws in a chunky quantum style, or vice versa, things go dreadfully wrong.

    Relativity gives nonsensical answers when you try to scale it down to quantum size, eventually descending to infinite values in its description of gravity. Likewise, quantum mechanics runs into serious trouble when you blow it up to cosmic dimensions. Quantum fields carry a certain amount of energy, even in seemingly empty space, and the amount of energy gets bigger as the fields get bigger. According to Einstein, energy and mass are equivalent (that’s the message of e=mc2), so piling up energy is exactly like piling up mass. Go big enough, and the amount of energy in the quantum fields becomes so great that it creates a black hole that causes the universe to fold in on itself. Oops.

    Craig Hogan, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Chicago and the director of the Center for Particle Astrophysics at Fermilab, is reinterpreting the quantum side with a novel theory in which the quantum units of space itself might be large enough to be studied directly. Meanwhile, Lee Smolin, a founding member of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, is seeking to push physics forward by returning back to Einstein’s philosophical roots and extending them in an exciting direction.

    To understand what is at stake, look back at the precedents. When Einstein unveiled general relativity, he not only superseded Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity; he also unleashed a new way of looking at physics that led to the modern conception of the Big Bang and black holes, not to mention atomic bombs and the time adjustments essential to your phone’s GPS. Likewise, quantum mechanics did much more than reformulate James Clerk Maxwell’s textbook equations of electricity, magnetism, and light. It provided the conceptual tools for the Large Hadron Collider, solar cells, all of modern microelectronics.

    What emerges from the dustup could be nothing less than a third revolution in modern physics, with staggering implications. It could tell us where the laws of nature came from, and whether the cosmos is built on uncertainty or whether it is fundamentally deterministic, with every event linked definitively to a cause.

    2
    THE MAN WITH THE HOLOMETER: Craig Hogan, a theoretical astrophysicist at Fermilab, has built a device to measure what he sees as the exceedingly fine graininess of space. “I’m hoping for an experimental result that forces people to focus the theoretical thinking in a different direction,” Hogan says.The Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the University of Chicago

    A Chunky Cosmos

    Hogan, champion of the quantum view, is what you might call a lamp-post physicist: Rather than groping about in the dark, he prefers to focus his efforts where the light is bright, because that’s where you are most likely to be able to see something interesting. That’s the guiding principle behind his current research. The clash between relativity and quantum mechanics happens when you try to analyze what gravity is doing over extremely short distances, he notes, so he has decided to get a really good look at what is happening right there. “I’m betting there’s an experiment we can do that might be able to see something about what’s going on, about that interface that we still don’t understand,” he says.

    A basic assumption in Einstein’s physics—an assumption going all the way back to Aristotle, really—is that space is continuous and infinitely divisible, so that any distance could be chopped up into even smaller distances. But Hogan questions whether that is really true. Just as a pixel is the smallest unit of an image on your screen and a photon is the smallest unit of light, he argues, so there might be an unbreakable smallest unit of distance: a quantum of space.

    In Hogan’s scenario, it would be meaningless to ask how gravity behaves at distances smaller than a single chunk of space. There would be no way for gravity to function at the smallest scales because no such scale would exist. Or put another way, general relativity would be forced to make peace with quantum physics, because the space in which physicists measure the effects of relativity would itself be divided into unbreakable quantum units. The theater of reality in which gravity acts would take place on a quantum stage.

    Hogan acknowledges that his concept sounds a bit odd, even to a lot of his colleagues on the quantum side of things. Since the late 1960s, a group of physicists and mathematicians have been developing a framework called string theory to help reconcile general relativity with quantum mechanics; over the years, it has evolved into the default mainstream theory, even as it has failed to deliver on much of its early promise. Like the chunky-space solution, string theory assumes a fundamental structure to space, but from there the two diverge. String theory posits that every object in the universe consists of vibrating strings of energy. Like chunky space, string theory averts gravitational catastrophe by introducing a finite, smallest scale to the universe, although the unit strings are drastically smaller even than the spatial structures Hogan is trying to find.

    Chunky space does not neatly align with the ideas in string theory—or in any other proposed physics model, for that matter. “It’s a new idea. It’s not in the textbooks; it’s not a prediction of any standard theory,” Hogan says, sounding not the least bit concerned. “But there isn’t any standard theory right?”

    If he is right about the chunkiness of space, that would knock out a lot of the current formulations of string theory and inspire a fresh approach to reformulating general relativity in quantum terms. It would suggest new ways to understand the inherent nature of space and time. And weirdest of all, perhaps, it would bolster an au courant notion that our seemingly three-dimensional reality is composed of more basic, two-dimensional units. Hogan takes the “pixel” metaphor seriously: Just as a TV picture can create the impression of depth from a bunch of flat pixels, he suggests, so space itself might emerge from a collection of elements that act as if they inhabit only two dimensions.

    Like many ideas from the far edge of today’s theoretical physics, Hogan’s speculations can sound suspiciously like late-night philosophizing in the freshman dorm. What makes them drastically different is that he plans to put them to a hard experimental test. As in, right now.

    Starting in 2007, Hogan began thinking about how to build a device that could measure the exceedingly fine graininess of space. As it turns out, his colleagues had plenty of ideas about how to do that, drawing on technology developed to search for gravitational waves. Within two years Hogan had put together a proposal and was working with collaborators at Fermilab, the University of Chicago, and other institutions to build a chunk-detecting machine, which he more elegantly calls a “holometer.” (The name is an esoteric pun, referencing both a 17th-century surveying instrument and the theory that 2-D space could appear three-dimensional, analogous to a hologram.)

    Beneath its layers of conceptual complexity, the holometer is technologically little more than a laser beam, a half-reflective mirror to split the laser into two perpendicular beams, and two other mirrors to bounce those beams back along a pair of 40-meter-long tunnels. The beams are calibrated to register the precise locations of the mirrors. If space is chunky, the locations of the mirrors would constantly wander about (strictly speaking, space itself is doing the wandering), creating a constant, random variation in their separation. When the two beams are recombined, they’d be slightly out of sync, and the amount of the discrepancy would reveal the scale of the chunks of space.

    For the scale of chunkiness that Hogan hopes to find, he needs to measure distances to an accuracy of 10-18 meters, about 100 million times smaller than a hydrogen atom, and collect data at a rate of about 100 million readings per second. Amazingly, such an experiment is not only possible, but practical. “We were able to do it pretty cheaply because of advances in photonics, a lot of off the shelf parts, fast electronics, and things like that,” Hogan says. “It’s a pretty speculative experiment, so you wouldn’t have done it unless it was cheap.” The holometer is currently humming away, collecting data at the target accuracy; he expects to have preliminary readings by the end of the year.

    Hogan has his share of fierce skeptics, including many within the theoretical physics community. The reason for the disagreement is easy to appreciate: A success for the holometer would mean failure for a lot of the work being done in string theory. Despite this superficial sparring, though, Hogan and most of his theorist colleagues share a deep core conviction: They broadly agree that general relativity will ultimately prove subordinate to quantum mechanics. The other three laws of physics follow quantum rules, so it makes sense that gravity must as well.

    For most of today’s theorists, though, belief in the primacy of quantum mechanics runs deeper still. At a philosophical—epistemological—level, they regard the large-scale reality of classical physics as a kind of illusion, an approximation that emerges from the more “true” aspects of the quantum world operating at an extremely small scale. Chunky space certainly aligns with that worldview.

    Hogan likens his project to the landmark Michelson-Morley experiment of the 19th century, which searched for the aether—the hypothetical substance of space that, according to the leading theory of the time, transmitted light waves through a vacuum. The experiment found nothing; that perplexing null result helped inspire Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which in turn spawned the general theory of relativity and eventually turned the entire world of physics upside down. Adding to the historical connection, the Michelson-Morley experiment also measured the structure of space using mirrors and a split beam of light, following a setup remarkably similar to Hogan’s.

    “We’re doing the holometer in that kind of spirit. If we don’t see something or we do see something, either way it’s interesting. The reason to do the experiment is just to see whether we can find something to guide the theory,” Hogan says. “You find out what your theorist colleagues are made of by how they react to this idea. There’s a world of very mathematical thinking out there. I’m hoping for an experimental result that forces people to focus the theoretical thinking in a different direction.”

    Whether or not he finds his quantum structure of space, Hogan is confident the holometer will help physics address its big-small problem. It will show the right way (or rule out the wrong way) to understand the underlying quantum structure of space and how that affects the relativistic laws of gravity flowing through it.

    _______________________________________________________________________

    The Black Hole Resolution

    Here on Earth, the clash between the top-down and bottom-up views of physics is playing out in academic journals and in a handful of complicated experimental apparatuses. Theorists on both sides concede that neither pure thought nor technologically feasible tests may be enough to break the deadlock, however. Fortunately, there are other places to look for a more definitive resolution. One of the most improbable of these is also one of the most promising—an idea embraced by physicists almost regardless of where they stand ideologically.

    “Black hole physics gives us a clean experimental target to look for,” says Craig Hogan, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Chicago and the director of the Center for Particle Astrophysics at Fermilab. “The issues around quantum black holes are important,” agrees Lee Smolin, a founding member of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada.

    Black holes? Really? Granted, these objects are more commonly associated with questions than with answers. They are not things you can create in the laboratory, or poke and prod with instruments, or even study up close with a space probe. Nevertheless, they are the only places in the universe where Hogan’s ideas unavoidably smash into Smolin’s and, more importantly, where the whole of quantum physics collides with general relativity in a way that is impossible to ignore.

    At the outer boundary of the black hole—the event horizon—gravity is so extreme that even light cannot escape, making it an extreme test of how general relativity behaves. At the event horizon, atomic-scale events become enormously stretched out and slowed down; the horizon also divides the physical world into two distinct zones, inside and outside. And there is a very interesting meeting place in terms of the size of a black hole. A stellar-mass black hole is about the size of Los Angeles; a black hole with the mass of the Earth would be roughly the size of a marble. Black holes literally bring the big-small problem in physics home to the human scale.

    The importance of black holes for resolving that problem is the reason why Stephen Hawking and his cohorts debate about them so often and so vigorously. It turns out that we don’t actually need to cozy up close to black holes in order to run experiments with them. Quantum theory implies that a single particle could potentially exist both inside and outside the event horizon, which makes no sense. There is also the question of what happens to information about things that fall into a black hole; the information seems to vanish, even though theory says that information cannot be destroyed. Addressing these contradictions is forcing theoretical physicists to grapple more vigorously than ever before with the interplay of quantum mechanics and general relativity.

    Best of all, the answers will not be confined to the world of theory. Astrophysicists have increasingly sophisticated ways to study the region just outside the event horizon by monitoring the hot, brilliant clouds of particles that swirl around some black holes. An even greater breakthrough is just around the corner: the Event Horizon Telescope. This project is in the process of linking together about a dozen radio dishes from around the world, creating an enormous networked telescope so powerful that it will be able to get a clear look at Sagittarius A*, the massive black hole that resides in the center of our galaxy. Soon, possibly by 2020, the Event Horizon Telescope should deliver its first good portraits. What they show will help constrain the theories of black holes, and so offer telling clues about how to solve the big-small problem.

    Human researchers using football stadium-size radio telescopes, linked together into a planet-size instrument, to study a star-size black hole, to reconcile the subatomic-and-cosmic-level enigma at the heart of physics … if it works, the scale of the achievement will be truly unprecedented.

    Event Horizon Telescope Array

    Event Horizon Telescope map

    The locations of the radio dishes that will be part of the Event Horizon Telescope array. Image credit: Event Horizon Telescope sites, via University of Arizona at https://www.as.arizona.edu/event-horizon-telescope.

    Arizona Radio Observatory
    Arizona Radio Observatory/Submillimeter-wave Astronomy (ARO/SMT)

    ESO/APEX
    Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment (APEX)

    CARMA Array no longer in service
    Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA)

    Atacama Submillimeter Telescope Experiment (ASTE)
    Atacama Submillimeter Telescope Experiment (ASTE)

    Caltech Submillimeter Observatory
    Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO)

    IRAM NOEMA interferometer
    Institut de Radioastronomie Millimetrique (IRAM) 30m

    James Clerk Maxwell Telescope interior, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA
    James Clerk Maxwell Telescope interior, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

    Large Millimeter Telescope Alfonso Serrano
    Large Millimeter Telescope Alfonso Serrano

    CfA Submillimeter Array Hawaii SAO
    Submillimeter Array Hawaii SAO

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array
    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array, Chile

    Future Array/Telescopes

    Plateau de Bure interferometer
    Plateau de Bure interferometer

    South Pole Telescope SPTPOL
    South Pole Telescope SPTPOL

    _______________________________________________________________________

    3
    THE SYNTHESIZER: Black holes are the only place where the whole of quantum physics collides with general relativity in a way that is impossible to ignore. An artist’s impression shows the surroundings of the supermassive black hole at the heart of the active galaxy in the southern constellation of Centaurus. Observations at a European Southern Observatory in Chile have revealed not only the torus of hot dust around the black hole but also a wind of cool material in the polar regions. ESO/M. Kornmesser

    A Really, Really Big Show

    If you are looking for a totally different direction, Smolin of the Perimeter Institute is your man. Where Hogan goes gently against the grain, Smolin is a full-on dissenter: “There’s a thing that Richard Feynman told me when I was a graduate student. He said, approximately, ‘If all your colleagues have tried to demonstrate that something’s true and failed, it might be because that thing is not true.’ Well, string theory has been going for 40 or 50 years without definitive progress.”

    And that is just the start of a broader critique. Smolin thinks the small-scale approach to physics is inherently incomplete. Current versions of quantum field theory do a fine job explaining how individual particles or small systems of particles behave, but they fail to take into account what is needed to have a sensible theory of the cosmos as a whole. They don’t explain why reality is like this, and not like something else. In Smolin’s terms, quantum mechanics is merely “a theory of subsystems of the universe.”

    A more fruitful path forward, he suggests, is to consider the universe as a single enormous system, and to build a new kind of theory that can apply to the whole thing. And we already have a theory that provides a framework for that approach: general relativity. Unlike the quantum framework, general relativity allows no place for an outside observer or external clock, because there is no “outside.” Instead, all of reality is described in terms of relationships between objects and between different regions of space. Even something as basic as inertia (the resistance of your car to move until forced to by the engine, and its tendency to keep moving after you take your foot off the accelerator) can be thought of as connected to the gravitational field of every other particle in the universe.

    That last statement is strange enough that it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider it more closely. Consider a thought problem, closely related to the one that originally led Einstein to this idea in 1907. What if the universe were entirely empty except for two astronauts. One of them is spinning, the other is stationary. The spinning one feels dizzy, doing cartwheels in space. But which one of the two is spinning? From either astronaut’s perspective, the other is the one spinning. Without any external reference, Einstein argued, there is no way to say which one is correct, and no reason why one should feel an effect different from what the other experiences.

    The distinction between the two astronauts makes sense only when you reintroduce the rest of the universe. In the classic interpretation of general relativity, then, inertia exists only because you can measure it against the entire cosmic gravitational field. What holds true in that thought problem holds true for every object in the real world: The behavior of each part is inextricably related to that of every other part. If you’ve ever felt like you wanted to be a part of something big, well, this is the right kind of physics for you. It is also, Smolin thinks, a promising way to obtain bigger answers about how nature really works, across all scales.

    “General relativity is not a description of subsystems. It is a description of the whole universe as a closed system,” he says. When physicists are trying to resolve the clash between relativity and quantum mechanics, therefore, it seems like a smart strategy for them to follow Einstein’s lead and go as big as they possibly can.

    Smolin is keenly aware that he is pushing against the prevailing devotion to small-scale, quantum-style thinking. “I don’t mean to stir things up, it just kind of happens that way. My role is to think clearly about these difficult issues, put my conclusions out there, and let the dust settle,” he says genially. “I hope people will engage with the arguments, but I really hope that the arguments lead to testable predictions.”

    At first blush, Smolin’s ideas sound like a formidable starting point for concrete experimentation. Much as all of the parts of the universe are linked across space, they may also be linked across time, he suggests. His arguments led him to hypothesize that the laws of physics evolve over the history of the universe. Over the years, he has developed two detailed proposals for how this might happen. His theory of cosmological natural selection, which he hammered out in the 1990s, envisions black holes as cosmic eggs that hatch new universes. More recently, he has developed a provocative hypothesis about the emergence of the laws of quantum mechanics, called the principle of precedence—and this one seems much more readily put to the test.

    Smolin’s principle of precedence arises as an answer to the question of why physical phenomena are reproducible. If you perform an experiment that has been performed before, you expect the outcome will be the same as in the past. (Strike a match and it bursts into flame; strike another match the same way and … you get the idea.) Reproducibility is such a familiar part of life that we typically don’t even think about it. We simply attribute consistent outcomes to the action of a natural “law” that acts the same way at all times. Smolin hypothesizes that those laws actually may emerge over time, as quantum systems copy the behavior of similar systems in the past.

    One possible way to catch emergence in the act is by running an experiment that has never been done before, so there is no past version (that is, no precedent) for it to copy. Such an experiment might involve the creation of a highly complex quantum system, containing many components that exist in a novel entangled state. If the principle of precedence is correct, the initial response of the system will be essentially random. As the experiment is repeated, however, precedence builds up and the response should become predictable … in theory. “A system by which the universe is building up precedent would be hard to distinguish from the noises of experimental practice,” Smolin concedes, “but it’s not impossible.”

    Although precedence can play out at the atomic scale, its influence would be system-wide, cosmic. It ties back to Smolin’s idea that small-scale, reductionist thinking seems like the wrong way to solve the big puzzles. Getting the two classes of physics theories to work together, though important, is not enough, either. What he wants to know—what we all want to know—is why the universe is the way it is. Why does time move forward and not backward? How did we end up here, with these laws and this universe, not some others?

    The present lack of any meaningful answer to those questions reveals that “there’s something deeply wrong with our understanding of quantum field theory,” Smolin says. Like Hogan, he is less concerned about the outcome of any one experiment than he is with the larger program of seeking fundamental truths. For Smolin, that means being able to tell a complete, coherent story about the universe; it means being able to predict experiments, but also to explain the unique properties that made atoms, planets, rainbows, and people. Here again he draws inspiration from Einstein.

    “The lesson of general relativity, again and again, is the triumph of relationalism,” Smolin says. The most likely way to get the big answers is to engage with the universe as a whole.

    And the Winner Is …

    If you wanted to pick a referee in the big-small debate, you could hardly do better than Sean Carroll, an expert in cosmology, field theory, and gravitational physics at Caltech. He knows his way around relativity, he knows his way around quantum mechanics, and he has a healthy sense of the absurd: He calls his personal blog Preposterous Universe.

    Right off the bat, Carroll awards most of the points to the quantum side. “Most of us in this game believe that quantum mechanics is much more fundamental than general relativity is,” he says. That has been the prevailing view ever since the 1920s, when Einstein tried and repeatedly failed to find flaws in the counterintuitive predictions of quantum theory. The recent Dutch experiment demonstrating an instantaneous quantum connection between two widely separated particles—the kind of event that Einstein derided as “spooky action at a distance”—only underscores the strength of the evidence.

    Taking a larger view, the real issue is not general relativity versus quantum field theory, Carroll explains, but classical dynamics versus quantum dynamics. Relativity, despite its perceived strangeness, is classical in how it regards cause and effect; quantum mechanics most definitely is not. Einstein was optimistic that some deeper discoveries would uncover a classical, deterministic reality hiding beneath quantum mechanics, but no such order has yet been found. The demonstrated reality of spooky action at a distance argues that such order does not exist.

    “If anything, people under-appreciate the extent to which quantum mechanics just completely throws away our notions of space and locality [the notion that a physical event can affect only its immediate surroundings]. Those things simply are not there in quantum mechanics,” Carroll says. They may be large-scale impressions that emerge from very different small-scale phenomena, like Hogan’s argument about 3-D reality emerging from 2-D quantum units of space.

    Despite that seeming endorsement, Carroll regards Hogan’s holometer as a long shot, though he admits it is removed from his area of research. At the other end, he doesn’t think much of Smolin’s efforts to start with space as a fundamental thing; he regards the notion as absurd as trying to argue that air is more fundamental than atoms. As for what kind of quantum system might take physics to the next level, Carroll remains broadly optimistic about string theory, which he says “seems to be a very natural extension of quantum field theory.” In all these ways, he is true to the mainstream, quantum-based thinking in modern physics.

    Yet Carroll’s ruling, while almost entirely pro-quantum, is not purely an endorsement of small-scale thinking. There are still huge gaps in what quantum theory can explain. “Our inability to figure out the correct version of quantum mechanics is embarrassing,” he says. “And our current way of thinking about quantum mechanics is simply a complete failure when you try to think about cosmology or the whole universe. We don’t even know what time is.” Both Hogan and Smolin endorse this sentiment, although they disagree about what to do in response. Carroll favors a bottom-up explanation in which time emerges from small-scale quantum interactions, but declares himself “entirely agnostic” about Smolin’s competing suggestion that time is more universal and fundamental. In the case of time, then, the jury is still out.

    No matter how the theories shake out, the large scale is inescapably important, because it is the world we inhabit and observe. In essence, the universe as a whole is the answer, and the challenge to physicists is to find ways to make it pop out of their equations. Even if Hogan is right, his space-chunks have to average out to the smooth reality we experience every day. Even if Smolin is wrong, there is an entire cosmos out there with unique properties that need to be explained—something that, for now at least, quantum physics alone cannot do.

    By pushing at the bounds of understanding, Hogan and Smolin are helping the field of physics make that connection. They are nudging it not just toward reconciliation between quantum mechanics and general relativity, but between idea and perception. The next great theory of physics will undoubtedly lead to beautiful new mathematics and unimaginable new technologies. But the best thing it can do is create deeper meaning that connects back to us, the observers, who get to define ourselves as the fundamental scale of the universe.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:30 am on June 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Ludwig Boltzmann, Microstates, , , String Theory, The Crisis of the Multiverse   

    From Nautilus: “The Crisis of the Multiverse” 

    Nautilus

    Nautilus

    June 8, 2017
    Ben Freivogel

    Physicists have always hoped that once we understood the fundamental laws of physics, they would make unambiguous predictions for physical quantities. We imagined that the underlying physical laws would explain why the mass of the Higgs particle must be 125 gigaelectron-volts, as was recently discovered, and not any other value, and also make predictions for new particles that are yet to be discovered.

    CERN CMS Higgs Event

    CERN ATLAS Higgs Event

    For example, we would like to predict what kind of particles make up the dark matter.

    These hopes now appear to have been hopelessly naïve. Our most promising fundamental theory, string theory, does not make unique predictions. It seems to contain a vast landscape of solutions, or “vacua,” each with its own values of the observable physical constants. The vacua are all physically realized within an enormous eternally inflating multiverse.

    Has the theory lost its mooring to observation? If the multiverse is large and diverse enough to contain some regions where dark matter is made out of light particles and other regions where dark matter is made out of heavy particles, how could we possibly predict which one we should see in our own region? And indeed many people have criticized the multiverse concept on just these grounds. If a theory makes no predictions, it ceases to be physics.

    But an important issue tends to go unnoticed in debates over the multiverse. Cosmology has always faced a problem of making predictions. The reason is that all our theories in physics are dynamical: The fundamental physical laws describe what will happen, given what already is. So, whenever we make a prediction in physics, we need to specify what the initial conditions are. How do we do that for the entire universe? What sets the initial initial conditions? This is science’s version of the old philosophical question of First Cause.

    The multiverse offers an answer. It is not the enemy of prediction, but its friend.

    The main idea is to make probabilistic predictions. By calculating what happens frequently and what happens rarely in the multiverse, we can make statistical predictions for what we will observe. This is not a new situation in physics. We understand an ordinary box of gas in the same way. Although we cannot possibly keep track of the motion of all the individual molecules, we can make extremely precise predictions for how the gas as a whole will behave. Our job is to develop a similar statistical understanding of events in the multiverse.

    This understanding could take one of three forms. First, the multiverse, though very large, might be able to explore only a finite number of different states, just like an ordinary box of gas. In this case we know how to make predictions, because after a while the multiverse forgets about the unknown initial conditions. Second, perhaps the multiverse is able to explore an infinite number of different states, in which case it never forgets its initial conditions, and we cannot make predictions unless we know what those conditions are. Finally, the multiverse might explore an infinite number of different states, but the exponential expansion of space effectively erases the initial conditions.

    1
    NEVER ENOUGH TIME: Synchronizing clocks is impossible to do in an infinite universe, which in turn undercuts the ability of physics to make predictions. Matteo Ianeselli / Wikimedia Commons

    In many ways, the first option is the most agreeable to physicists, because it extends our well-established statistical techniques. Unfortunately, the predictions we arrive at disagree violently with observations. The second option is very troubling, because our existing laws are incapable of providing the requisite initial conditions. It is the third possibility that holds the most promise for yielding sensible predictions.

    But this program has encountered severe conceptual obstacles. At root, our problems arise because the multiverse is an infinite expanse of space and time. These infinities lead to paradoxes and puzzles wherever we turn. We will need a revolution in our understanding of physics in order to make sense of the multiverse.

    The first option for making statistical predictions in cosmology goes back to a paper by the Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann in 1895. Although it turns out to be wrong, in its failure we find the roots of our current predicament.

    Boltzmann’s proposal was a bold extrapolation from his work on understanding gases. To specify completely the state of a gas would require specifying the exact position of every molecule. That is impossible. Instead, what we can measure—and would like to make predictions for—is the coarse-grained properties of the box of gas, such as the temperature and the pressure.

    A key simplification allows us to do this. As the molecules bounce around, they will arrange and rearrange themselves in every possible way they can, thus exploring all their possible configurations, or “microstates.” This process will erase the memory of how the gas started out, allowing us to ignore the problem of initial conditions. Since we can’t keep track of where all the molecules are, and anyway their positions change with time, we assume that any microstate is equally likely.

    This gives us a way to calculate how likely it is to find the box in a given coarse-grained state, or “macrostate”: We simply count the fraction of microstates consistent with what we know about the macrostate. So, for example, it is more likely that the gas is spread uniformly throughout the box rather than clumped in one corner, because only very special microstates have all of the gas molecules in one region of the box.

    For this procedure to work, the total number of microstates, while very large, must be finite. Otherwise the system will never be able to explore all its states. In a box of gas, this finitude is guaranteed by the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics. Because the position of each molecule cannot be specified exactly, the gas has only a finite number of distinct configurations.

    Gases that start off clumpy for some reason will spread out, for a simple reason: It is statistically far more likely for their molecules to be uniformly distributed rather than clustered. If the molecules begin in a fairly improbable configuration, they will naturally evolve to a more probable one as they bounce around randomly.

    Yet our intuition about gases must be altered when we consider huge spans of time. If we leave the gas in the box for long enough, it will explore some unusual microstates. Eventually all of the particles will accidentally cluster in one corner of the box.

    With this insight, Boltzmann launched into his cosmological speculations. Our universe is intricately structured, so it is analogous to a gas that clusters in one corner of a box—a state that is far from equilibrium. Cosmologists generally assume it must have begun that way, but Boltzmann pointed out that, over the vastness of the eons, even a chaotic universe will randomly fluctuate into a highly ordered state. Attributing the idea to his assistant, known to history only as “Dr. Schuetz,” Boltzmann wrote:

    “It may be said that the world is so far from thermal equilibrium that we cannot imagine the improbability of such a state. But can we imagine, on the other side, how small a part of the whole universe this world is? Assuming the universe is great enough, the probability that such a small part of it as our world should be in its present state, is no longer small.”

    “If this assumption were correct, our world would return more and more to thermal equilibrium; but because the whole universe is so great, it might be probable that at some future time some other world might deviate as far from thermal equilibrium as our world does at present.”

    It is a compelling idea. What a shame that it is wrong.

    The trouble was first pointed out by the astronomer and physicist Sir Arthur Eddington in 1931, if not earlier. It has to do with what are now called “Boltzmann brains.” Suppose the universe is like a box of gas and, most of the time, is in thermal equilibrium—just a uniform, undifferentiated gruel. Complex structures, including life, arise only when there are weird fluctuations. At these moments, gas assembles into stars, our solar system, and all the rest. There is no step-by-step process that sculpts it. It is like a swirling cloud that, all of a sudden, just so happens to take the shape of a person.

    The problem is a quantitative one. A small fluctuation that makes an ordered structure in a small part of space is far, far more likely than a large fluctuation that forms ordered structures over a huge region of space. In Boltzmann and Schuetz’s theory, it would be far, far more likely to produce our solar system without bothering to make all of the other stars in the universe. Therefore, the theory conflicts with observation: It predicts that typical observers should see a completely blank sky, without stars, when they look up at night.

    Taking this argument to an extreme, the most common type of observer in this theory is one that requires the minimal fluctuation away from equilibrium. We imagine this as an isolated brain that survives just long enough to notice it is about to die: the so-called Boltzmann brain.

    If you take this type of theory seriously, it predicts that we are just some very special Boltzmann brains who have been deluded into thinking that we are observing a vast, homogeneous universe. At the next instant our delusions are extremely likely to be shattered, and we will discover that there are no other stars in the universe. If our state of delusion lasts long enough for this article to appear, you can safely discard the theory.

    What are we to conclude? Evidently, the whole universe is not like a box of gas after all. A crucial assumption in Boltzmann’s argument is that there are only a finite (if very large) number of molecular configurations. This assumption must be incorrect. Otherwise, we would be Boltzmann brains.

    2
    DON’T WAKE ME UP: Hibernation thought-experiments reveal a deep paradox with probability in an infinite multiverse. Twentieth Century Fox-Film Corporation / Photofest

    So, we must seek a new approach to making predictions in cosmology. The second option on our list is that the universe has an infinite number of states available to it. Then the tools that Boltzmann developed are no longer useful in calculating the probability of different things happening.

    But then we’re back to the problem of initial conditions. Unlike a finite box of gas, which forgets about its initial conditions as the molecules scramble themselves, a system with an infinite number of available states cannot forget its initial conditions, because it takes an infinite time to explore all of its available states. To make predictions, we would need a theory of initial conditions. Right now, we don’t have one. Whereas our present theories take the prior state of the universe as an input, a theory of initial conditions would have to give this state as an output. It would thus require a profound shift in the way physicists think.

    The multiverse offers a third way—that is part of its appeal. It allows us to make cosmological predictions in a statistical way within the current theoretical framework of physics. In the multiverse, the volume of space grows indefinitely, all the while producing expanding bubbles with a variety of states inside. Crucially, the predictions do not depend on the initial conditions. The expansion approaches a steady-state behavior, with the expanding high-energy state continually expanding and budding off lower-energy regions. The overall volume of space is growing, and the number of bubbles of every type is growing, but the ratio (and the probabilities) remain fixed.

    The basic idea of how to make predictions in such a theory is simple. We count how many observers in the multiverse measure a physical quantity to have a given value. The probability of our observing a given outcome equals the proportion of observers in the multiverse who observe that outcome.

    For instance, if 10 percent of observers live in regions of the multiverse where dark matter is made out of light particles (such as axions), while 90 percent of observers live in regions where dark matter is made out of heavy particles (which, counterintuitively, are called WIMPs), then we have a 10 percent chance of discovering that dark matter is made of light particles.

    The very best reason to believe this type of argument is that Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas at Austin used it to successfully predict the value of the cosmological constant a decade before it was observed. The combination of a theoretically convincing motivation with Weinberg’s remarkable success made the multiverse idea attractive enough that a number of researchers, including me, have spent years trying to work it out in detail.

    The major problem we faced is that, since the volume of space grows without bound, the number of observers observing any given thing is infinite, making it difficult to characterize which events are more or less likely to occur. This amounts to an ambiguity in how to characterize the steady-state behavior, known as the measure problem.

    Roughly, the procedure to make predictions goes as follows. We imagine that the universe evolves for a large but finite amount of time and count all of the observations. Then we calculate what happens when the time becomes arbitrarily large. That should tell us the steady-state behavior. The trouble is that there is no unique way to do this, because there is no universal way to define a moment in time. Observers in distant parts of spacetime are too far apart and accelerating away from each other too fast to be able to send signals to each other, so they cannot synchronize their clocks. Mathematically, we can choose many different conceivable ways to synchronize clocks across these large regions of space, and these different choices lead to different predictions for what types of observations are likely or unlikely.

    One prescription for synchronizing clocks tells us that most of the volume will be taken up by the state that expands the fastest. Another tells us that most of the volume will be taken up by the state the decays the slowest. Worse, many of these prescriptions predict that the vast majority of observers are Boltzmann brains. A problem we thought we had eliminated came rushing back in.

    When Don Page at the University of Alberta pointed out the potential problems with Boltzmann brains in a paper in 2006, Raphael Bousso at U.C. Berkeley and I were thrilled to realize that we could turn the problem on its head. We found we could use Boltzmann brains as a tool—a way to decide among differing prescriptions for how to synchronize clocks. Any proposal that predicts that we are Boltzmann brains must perforce be wrong. We were so excited (and worried that someone else would have the same idea) that we wrote our paper in just two days after Page’s paper appeared. Over the course of several years, persistent work by a relatively small group of researchers succeeded in using these types of tests to eliminate many proposals and to form something of a consensus in the field on a nearly unique solution to the measure problem. We felt that we had learned how to tame the frightening infinities of the theory.

    Just when things were looking good, we encountered a conceptual problem that I see no escape from within our current understanding: the end-of-time problem. Put simply, the theory predicts that the universe is on the verge of self-destruction.

    The issue came into focus via a thought experiment suggested by Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Vitaly Vanchurin at the University of Michigan in Duluth. This experiment is unusual even by the standards of theoretical physics. Suppose that you flip a coin and do not see the result. Then you are put into a cryogenic freezer. If the coin came up heads, the experimenters wake you up after one year. If the coin came up tails, the experimenters instruct their descendants to wake you up after 50 billion years. Now suppose you have just woken up and have a chance to bet whether you have been asleep for 1 year or 50 billion years. Common sense tells us that the odds for such a bet should be 50/50 if the coin is fair.

    But when we apply our rules for how to do calculations in an eternally expanding universe, we find that you should bet that you only slept for one year. This strange effect occurs because the volume of space is exponentially expanding and never stops. So the number of sleeper experiments beginning at any given time is always increasing. A lot more experiments started a year ago than 50 billion years ago, so most of the people waking up today were asleep for a short time.

    The scenario may sound extreme, even silly. But that’s just because the conditions we are dealing with in cosmology are extreme, involving spans of times and volumes of space that are outside human experience. You can understand the problem by thinking about a simpler scenario that is mathematically identical. Suppose that the population of Earth doubles every 30 years—forever. From time to time, people perform these sleeper experiments, except now the subjects sleep either for 1 year or for 100 years. Suppose that every day 1 percent of the population takes part.

    Now suppose you are just waking up in your cryogenic freezer and are asked to bet how long you were asleep. On the one hand, you might argue that obviously the odds are 50/50. On the other, on any given day, far more people wake up from short naps than from long naps. For example, in the year 2016, sleepers who went to sleep for a short time in 2015 will wake up, as will sleepers who began a long nap in 1916. But since far more people started the experiment in 2015 than in 1916 (always 1 percent of the population), the vast majority of people who wake up in 2016 slept for a short time. So it might be natural to guess that you are waking from a short nap.

    The fact that two logical lines of argument yield contradictory answers tells us that the problem is not well-defined. It just isn’t a sensible problem to calculate probabilities under the assumption that the human population grows exponentially forever, and indeed it is impossible for the population to grow forever. What is needed in this case is some additional information about how the exponential growth stops.

    Consider two options. In the first, one day no more babies are born, but every sleeper experiment that has begun eventually finishes. In the second, a huge meteor suddenly destroys the planet, terminating all sleeper experiments. You will find that in option one, half of all observers who ever wake up do so from short naps, while in option two, most observers who ever wake up do so from short naps. It’s dangerous to take a long nap in the second option, because you might be killed by a meteor while sleeping. Therefore, when you wake up, it’s reasonable to bet that you most likely took a short nap. Once the theory becomes well-defined by making the total number of people finite, probability questions have unique, sensible answers.

    In eternal expansion, more sleepers wake up from short naps. Bousso, Stefan Leichenauer at Berkeley, Vladimir Rosenhaus at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, and I pointed out that these strange results have a simple physical interpretation: The reason that more sleepers wake up from short naps is that living in an eternally expanding universe is dangerous, because one can run into the end of time. Once we realized this, it became clear that this end-of-time effect was an inherent characteristic of the recipe we were using to calculate probabilities, and it is there whether or not anyone actually decides to undertake these strange sleeper experiments. In fact, given the parameters that define our universe, we calculated that there is about a 50 percent probability of encountering the end of time in the next 5 billion years.

    To be clear about the conclusion: No one thinks that time suddenly ends in spacetimes like ours, let alone that we should be conducting peculiar hibernation experiments. Instead, the point is that our recipe for calculating probabilities accidentally injected a novel type of catastrophe into the theory. This problem indicates that we are missing major pieces in our understanding of physics over large distances and long times.

    To put it all together: Theoretical and observational evidence suggests that we are living in an enormous, eternally expanding multiverse where the constants of nature vary from place to place. In this context, we can only make statistical predictions.

    If the universe, like a box of gas, can exist in only a finite number of available states, theory predicts that we are Boltzmann brains, which conflicts with observations, not to mention common sense. If, on the contrary, the universe has an infinite number of available states, then our usual statistical techniques are not predictive, and we are stuck. The multiverse appears to offer a middle way. The universe has an infinite number of states available, avoiding the Boltzmann brain problem, yet approaches a steady-state behavior, allowing for a straightforward statistical analysis. But then we still find ourselves making absurd predictions. In order to make any of these three options work, I think we will need a revolutionary advance in our understanding of physics.

    See the full article here .

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    Welcome to Nautilus. We are delighted you joined us. We are here to tell you about science and its endless connections to our lives. Each month we choose a single topic. And each Thursday we publish a new chapter on that topic online. Each issue combines the sciences, culture and philosophy into a single story told by the world’s leading thinkers and writers. We follow the story wherever it leads us. Read our essays, investigative reports, and blogs. Fiction, too. Take in our games, videos, and graphic stories. Stop in for a minute, or an hour. Nautilus lets science spill over its usual borders. We are science, connected.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:02 pm on December 2, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , String Theory   

    From Ethan Siegel: “What every layperson should know about string theory” 

    From Ethan Siegel

    12.2.16

    1
    The idea that instead of 0-dimensional particles, it’s 1-dimensional strings that fundamentally make up the Universe is at the core of string theory. Image credit: flickr user Trailfan, via https://www.flickr.com/photos/7725050@N06/631503428.

    If you’ve ever wondered just why it has piqued the interest of so many, have a look inside.

    “I just think too many nice things have happened in string theory for it to be all wrong. Humans do not understand it very well, but I just don’t believe there is a big cosmic conspiracy that created this incredible thing that has nothing to do with the real world.” -Edward Witten

    It’s one of the most brilliant, controversial and unproven ideas in all of physics: string theory. At the heart of string theory is the thread of an idea that’s run through physics for centuries, that at some fundamental level, all the different forces, particles, interactions and manifestations of reality are tied together as part of the same framework. Instead of four independent fundamental forces — strong, electromagnetic, weak and gravitational — there’s one unified theory that encompasses all of them. In many regards, string theory is the best contender for a quantum theory of gravitation, which just happens to unify at the highest-energy scales. Although there’s no experimental evidence for it, there are compelling theoretical reasons to think it might be true. A year ago, the top living string theorist, Ed Witten, wrote a piece on what every physicist should know about string theory. Here’s what that means, translated for non-physicists.

    2
    The difference between standard quantum field theory interactions (L), for point-like particles, and string theory interactions (R), for closed strings. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Kurochka.

    When it comes to the laws of nature, it’s remarkable how many similarities there are between seemingly unrelated phenomena. The way that two massive bodies gravitate, according to Newton’s laws, is almost identical to the way that electrically charged particles attract-or-repel. The way a pendulum oscillates is completely analogous to the way a mass on a spring moves back-and-forth, or the way a planet orbits a star. Gravitational waves, water waves and light waves all share remarkably similar features, despite arising from fundamentally different physical origins. And in the same vein, although most don’t realize it, the quantum theory of a single particle and how you’d approach a quantum theory of gravity are similarly analogous.

    3
    A Feynman diagram representing electron-electron scattering, which requires summing over all the possible histories of the particle-particle interactions. Image credit: Dmitri Fedorov.

    he way quantum field theory works is that you take a particle and you perform a mathematical “sum over histories.” You can’t just calculate where the particle was and where it is and how it got to be there, since there’s an inherent, fundamental quantum uncertainty to nature. Instead, you add up all the possible ways it could have arrived at its present state, appropriately weighted probabilistically, and that’s how you calculate the state of a single particle. Because Einstein’s General Relativity isn’t concerned with particles but rather the curvature of spacetime, you don’t average over all possible histories of a particle, but rather over all possible spacetime geometries.

    4
    Gravity, governed by Einstein, and everything else (strong, weak and electromagnetic interactions), governed by quantum physics, are the two independent rules known to govern everything in our Universe. Image credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

    Working in three spatial dimensions is very difficult, but if you go down to one dimension, things become very simple. The only possible one-dimensional surfaces are an open string, where there are two separate, unattached ends, or a closed string, where the two ends are attached to form a loop. In addition, the spatial curvature — so complicated in three dimensions — becomes trivial. So what we’re left with, if we want to add in matter, is a set of scalar fields (just like certain types of particles) and the cosmological constant (which acts just like a mass term): a beautiful analogy.

    The extra degrees of freedom a particle gains from being in multiple dimensions don’t play much of a role; so long as you can define a momentum vector, that’s the main dimension that matters. In one dimension, therefore, quantum gravity looks just like a free quantum particle in any arbitrary number of dimensions. The next step is to incorporate interactions, and to go from a free particle with no scattering amplitudes or cross-sections to one that can play a physical role, coupled to the Universe.

    5
    A graph with trivalent vertices is a key component of constructing the path integral relevant for 1-D quantum gravity. Image credit: Phys. Today 68, 11, 38 (2015).

    Graphs, like the one above, allow us to describe the physical concept of action in quantum gravity. If we write down all the possible combinations of such graphs and sum over them — applying the same laws like conservation of momentum that we always enforce — we can complete the analogy. Quantum gravity in one dimension is very much like a single particle interacting in any number of dimensions.

    6
    The probability of finding a quantum particle at any particular location is never 100%; the probability is spread out over both space and time. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Maschen.

    The next step would be to move from one spatial dimension to 3+1 dimensions: where the Universe has three spatial dimensions and one time dimension. But doing it for gravity may be very challenging. Instead, there might be a better approach in working in the opposite direction. Instead of calculating how a single particle (a zero-dimensional entity) behaves in any number of dimensions, maybe we could calculate how a string, whether open or closed (a one-dimensional entity) behaves. And then, from that, we can look for analogies to a more complete theory of quantum gravity in a more realistic number of dimensions.

    7
    Feynman diagrams (top) are based off of point particles and their interactions. Converting them into their string theory analogues (bottom) gives rise to surfaces which can have non-trivial curvature. Image credit: Phys. Today 68, 11, 38 (2015).

    Instead of points and interactions, we immediately start working with surfaces. And once you have a true, multi-dimensional surface, that surface can be curved in non-trivial ways. You start getting very interesting behavior out; behavior that just might be at the root of the spacetime curvature we experience in our Universe as General Relativity. While 1D quantum gravity gave us quantum field theory for particles in a possibly curved spacetime, it didn’t describe gravitation itself. The subtle piece of the puzzle that was missing? There was no correspondence between operators, or the functions that represent quantum mechanical forces and properties, and states, or how the particles and their properties evolve over time. But if we move from point-like particles to string-like entities, that correspondence shows up.

    8
    Deforming the spacetime metric can be represented by the fluctuation (labelled ‘p’), and if you apply it to the string analogues, it describes a spacetime fluctuation and corresponds to a quantum state of the string. Image credit: Phys. Today 68, 11, 38 (2015).

    There’s a real operator-state correspondence, where a fluctuation in the spacetime metric (i.e., an operator) automatically represents a state in the quantum mechanical description of a string’s properties. So you can get a quantum theory of gravity in spacetime from string theory. But that’s not all you get: you also get quantum gravity unified with the other particles and forces in spacetime, the ones that correspond to the other operators in the field theory of the string. There’s also the operator that describes the spacetime geometry’s fluctuations, and the other quantum states of the string. The biggest news about string theory is that it can give you a working quantum theory of gravity.

    9
    Brian Greene presenting on String Theory. Image credit: NASA/Goddard/Wade Sisler.

    That doesn’t mean it’s a foregone conclusion, however, that string theory is the path to quantum gravity. The great hope of string theory is that these analogies will hold up at all scales, and that there will be an unambiguous, one-to-one mapping of the string picture onto the Universe we observe around us. Right now, there are only a few sets of dimensions that the string/superstring picture is self-consistent in, and the most promising one doesn’t give us the four-dimensional gravity of Einstein, but rather a 10-dimensional Brans-Dicke theory of gravity. In order to recover the gravity of our Universe, you must “get rid of” six dimensions and take the Brans-Dicke coupling constant, ω, to infinity. How this happens remains an open challenge for string theory.

    10
    A 2-D projection of a Calabi-Yau manifold, one popular method of compactifying the extra, unwanted dimensions of String Theory. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Lunch.

    But string theory offers a path to quantum gravity, and if we make the judicious choices of “the math works out this way,” we can get both General Relativity and the Standard Model out of it. It’s the only idea, to date, that gives us this, and that’s why it’s so hotly pursued. No matter whether you tout string theory’s successes or failure, or how you feel about its lack of verifiable predictions, it will no doubt remain one of the most active areas of theoretical physics research, and at the core of a great many physicists’ dreams of an ultimate theory.

    See the full article here .

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    “Starts With A Bang! is a blog/video blog about cosmology, physics, astronomy, and anything else I find interesting enough to write about. I am a firm believer that the highest good in life is learning, and the greatest evil is willful ignorance. The goal of everything on this site is to help inform you about our world, how we came to be here, and to understand how it all works. As I write these pages for you, I hope to not only explain to you what we know, think, and believe, but how we know it, and why we draw the conclusions we do. It is my hope that you find this interesting, informative, and accessible,” says Ethan

     
  • richardmitnick 7:18 am on September 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , String Theory   

    From Quanta: “The Strange Second Life of String Theory” 

    Quanta Magazine
    Quanta Magazine

    September 15, 2016
    K.C. Cole

    String theory has so far failed to live up to its promise as a way to unite gravity and quantum mechanics.
    At the same time, it has blossomed into one of the most useful sets of tools in science.

    1
    Renee Rominger/Moonrise Whims for Quanta Magazine

    String theory strutted onto the scene some 30 years ago as perfection itself, a promise of elegant simplicity that would solve knotty problems in fundamental physics — including the notoriously intractable mismatch between Einstein’s smoothly warped space-time and the inherently jittery, quantized bits of stuff that made up everything in it.

    It seemed, to paraphrase Michael Faraday, much too wonderful not to be true: Simply replace infinitely small particles with tiny (but finite) vibrating loops of string. The vibrations would sing out quarks, electrons, gluons and photons, as well as their extended families, producing in harmony every ingredient needed to cook up the knowable world. Avoiding the infinitely small meant avoiding a variety of catastrophes. For one, quantum uncertainty couldn’t rip space-time to shreds. At last, it seemed, here was a workable theory of quantum gravity.

    Even more beautiful than the story told in words was the elegance of the math behind it, which had the power to make some physicists ecstatic.

    To be sure, the theory came with unsettling implications. The strings were too small to be probed by experiment and lived in as many as 11 dimensions of space. These dimensions were folded in on themselves — or “compactified” — into complex origami shapes. No one knew just how the dimensions were compactified — the possibilities for doing so appeared to be endless — but surely some configuration would turn out to be just what was needed to produce familiar forces and particles.

    For a time, many physicists believed that string theory would yield a unique way to combine quantum mechanics and gravity. “There was a hope. A moment,” said David Gross, an original player in the so-called Princeton String Quartet, a Nobel Prize winner and permanent member of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “We even thought for a while in the mid-’80s that it was a unique theory.”

    And then physicists began to realize that the dream of one singular theory was an illusion. The complexities of string theory, all the possible permutations, refused to reduce to a single one that described our world. “After a certain point in the early ’90s, people gave up on trying to connect to the real world,” Gross said. “The last 20 years have really been a great extension of theoretical tools, but very little progress on understanding what’s actually out there.”

    Many, in retrospect, realized they had raised the bar too high. Coming off the momentum of completing the solid and powerful “standard model” of particle physics in the 1970s, they hoped the story would repeat — only this time on a mammoth, all-embracing scale. “We’ve been trying to aim for the successes of the past where we had a very simple equation that captured everything,” said Robbert Dijkgraaf, the director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. “But now we have this big mess.”

    Like many a maturing beauty, string theory has gotten rich in relationships, complicated, hard to handle and widely influential. Its tentacles have reached so deeply into so many areas in theoretical physics, it’s become almost unrecognizable, even to string theorists. “Things have gotten almost postmodern,” said Dijkgraaf, who is a painter as well as mathematical physicist.

    The mathematics that have come out of string theory have been put to use in fields such as cosmology and condensed matter physics — the study of materials and their properties. It’s so ubiquitous that “even if you shut down all the string theory groups, people in condensed matter, people in cosmology, people in quantum gravity will do it,” Dijkgraaf said.

    “It’s hard to say really where you should draw the boundary around and say: This is string theory; this is not string theory,” said Douglas Stanford, a physicist at the IAS. “Nobody knows whether to say they’re a string theorist anymore,” said Chris Beem, a mathematical physicist at the University of Oxford. “It’s become very confusing.”

    String theory today looks almost fractal. The more closely people explore any one corner, the more structure they find. Some dig deep into particular crevices; others zoom out to try to make sense of grander patterns. The upshot is that string theory today includes much that no longer seems stringy. Those tiny loops of string whose harmonics were thought to breathe form into every particle and force known to nature (including elusive gravity) hardly even appear anymore on chalkboards at conferences. At last year’s big annual string theory meeting, the Stanford University string theorist Eva Silverstein was amused to find she was one of the few giving a talk “on string theory proper,” she said. A lot of the time she works on questions related to cosmology.

    Even as string theory’s mathematical tools get adopted across the physical sciences, physicists have been struggling with how to deal with the central tension of string theory: Can it ever live up to its initial promise? Could it ever give researchers insight into how gravity and quantum mechanics might be reconciled — not in a toy universe, but in our own?

    “The problem is that string theory exists in the landscape of theoretical physics,” said Juan Maldacena, a mathematical physicist at the IAS and perhaps the most prominent figure in the field today. “But we still don’t know yet how it connects to nature as a theory of gravity.” Maldacena now acknowledges the breadth of string theory, and its importance to many fields of physics — even those that don’t require “strings” to be the fundamental stuff of the universe — when he defines string theory as “Solid Theoretical Research in Natural Geometric Structures.”

    An Explosion of Quantum Fields

    One high point for string theory as a theory of everything came in the late 1990s, when Maldacena revealed that a string theory including gravity in five dimensions was equivalent to a quantum field theory in four dimensions. This “AdS/CFT” duality appeared to provide a map for getting a handle on gravity — the most intransigent piece of the puzzle — by relating it to good old well-understood quantum field theory.

    This correspondence was never thought to be a perfect real-world model. The five-dimensional space in which it works has an “anti-de Sitter” geometry, a strange M.C. Escher-ish landscape that is not remotely like our universe.

    But researchers were surprised when they dug deep into the other side of the duality. Most people took for granted that quantum field theories — “bread and butter physics,” Dijkgraaf calls them — were well understood and had been for half a century. As it turned out, Dijkgraaf said, “we only understand them in a very limited way.”

    These quantum field theories were developed in the 1950s to unify special relativity and quantum mechanics. They worked well enough for long enough that it didn’t much matter that they broke down at very small scales and high energies. But today, when physicists revisit “the part you thought you understood 60 years ago,” said Nima Arkani-Hamed, a physicist at the IAS, you find “stunning structures” that came as a complete surprise. “Every aspect of the idea that we understood quantum field theory turns out to be wrong. It’s a vastly bigger beast.”

    Researchers have developed a huge number of quantum field theories in the past decade or so, each used to study different physical systems. Beem suspects there are quantum field theories that can’t be described even in terms of quantum fields. “We have opinions that sound as crazy as that, in large part, because of string theory.”

    This virtual explosion of new kinds of quantum field theories is eerily reminiscent of physics in the 1930s, when the unexpected appearance of a new kind of particle — the muon — led a frustrated I.I. Rabi to ask: “Who ordered that?” The flood of new particles was so overwhelming by the 1950s that it led Enrico Fermi to grumble: “If I could remember the names of all these particles, I would have been a botanist.”

    Physicists began to see their way through the thicket of new particles only when they found the more fundamental building blocks making them up, like quarks and gluons. Now many physicists are attempting to do the same with quantum field theory. In their attempts to make sense of the zoo, many learn all they can about certain exotic species.

    Conformal field theories (the right hand of AdS/CFT) are a starting point. In the simplest type of conformal field theory, you start with a version of quantum field theory where “the interactions between the particles are turned off,” said David Simmons-Duffin, a physicist at the IAS. If these specific kinds of field theories could be understood perfectly, answers to deep questions might become clear. “The idea is that if you understand the elephant’s feet really, really well, you can interpolate in between and figure out what the whole thing looks like.”

    Like many of his colleagues, Simmons-Duffin says he’s a string theorist mostly in the sense that it’s become an umbrella term for anyone doing fundamental physics in underdeveloped corners. He’s currently focusing on a physical system that’s described by a conformal field theory but has nothing to do with strings. In fact, the system is water at its “critical point,” where the distinction between gas and liquid disappears. It’s interesting because water’s behavior at the critical point is a complicated emergent system that arises from something simpler. As such, it could hint at dynamics behind the emergence of quantum field theories.

    Beem focuses on supersymmetric field theories, another toy model, as physicists call these deliberate simplifications. “We’re putting in some unrealistic features to make them easier to handle,” he said. Specifically, they are amenable to tractable mathematics, which “makes it so a lot of things are calculable.”

    Toy models are standard tools in most kinds of research. But there’s always the fear that what one learns from a simplified scenario does not apply to the real world. “It’s a bit of a deal with the devil,” Beem said. “String theory is a much less rigorously constructed set of ideas than quantum field theory, so you have to be willing to relax your standards a bit,” he said. “But you’re rewarded for that. It gives you a nice, bigger context in which to work.”

    It’s the kind of work that makes people such as Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, wonder if the field has strayed too far from its early ambitions — to find, if not a “theory of everything,” at least a theory of quantum gravity. “Answering deep questions about quantum gravity has not really happened,” he said. “They have all these hammers and they go looking for nails.” That’s fine, he said, even acknowledging that generations might be needed to develop a new theory of quantum gravity. “But it isn’t fine if you forget that, ultimately, your goal is describing the real world.”

    It’s a question he has asked his friends. Why are they investigating detailed quantum field theories? “What’s the aspiration?” he asks. Their answers are logical, he says, but steps removed from developing a true description of our universe.

    nstead, he’s looking for a way to “find gravity inside quantum mechanics.” A paper he recently wrote with colleagues claims to take steps toward just that. It does not involve string theory.

    The Broad Power of Strings

    Perhaps the field that has gained the most from the flowering of string theory is mathematics itself. Sitting on a bench beside the IAS pond while watching a blue heron saunter in the reeds, Clay Córdova, a researcher there, explained how what seemed like intractable problems in mathematics were solved by imagining how the question might look to a string. For example, how many spheres could fit inside a Calabi-Yau manifold — the complex folded shape expected to describe how spacetime is compactified? Mathematicians had been stuck. But a two-dimensional string can wiggle around in such a complex space. As it wiggled, it could grasp new insights, like a mathematical multidimensional lasso. This was the kind of physical thinking Einstein was famous for: thought experiments about riding along with a light beam revealed E=mc2. Imagining falling off a building led to his biggest eureka moment of all: Gravity is not a force; it’s a property of space-time.

    2
    The amplituhedron is a multi-dimensional object that can be used to calculate particle interactions. Physicists such as Chris Beem are applying techniques from string theory in special geometries where “the amplituhedron is its best self,” he says. Nima Arkani-Hamed

    Using the physical intuition offered by strings, physicists produced a powerful formula for getting the answer to the embedded sphere question, and much more. “They got at these formulas using tools that mathematicians don’t allow,” Córdova said. Then, after string theorists found an answer, the mathematicians proved it on their own terms. “This is a kind of experiment,” he explained. “It’s an internal mathematical experiment.” Not only was the stringy solution not wrong, it led to Fields Medal-winning mathematics. “This keeps happening,” he said.

    String theory has also made essential contributions to cosmology. The role that string theory has played in thinking about mechanisms behind the inflationary expansion of the universe — the moments immediately after the Big Bang, where quantum effects met gravity head on — is “surprisingly strong,” said Silverstein, even though no strings are attached.

    Still, Silverstein and colleagues have used string theory to discover, among other things, ways to see potentially observable signatures of various inflationary ideas. The same insights could have been found using quantum field theory, she said, but they weren’t. “It’s much more natural in string theory, with its extra structure.”

    Inflationary models get tangled in string theory in multiple ways, not least of which is the multiverse — the idea that ours is one of a perhaps infinite number of universes, each created by the same mechanism that begat our own. Between string theory and cosmology, the idea of an infinite landscape of possible universes became not just acceptable, but even taken for granted by a large number of physicists. The selection effect, Silverstein said, would be one quite natural explanation for why our world is the way it is: In a very different universe, we wouldn’t be here to tell the story.

    This effect could be one answer to a big problem string theory was supposed to solve. As Gross put it: “What picks out this particular theory” — the Standard Model — from the “plethora of infinite possibilities?”

    Silverstein thinks the selection effect is actually a good argument for string theory. The infinite landscape of possible universes can be directly linked to “the rich structure that we find in string theory,” she said — the innumerable ways that string theory’s multidimensional space-time can be folded in upon itself.

    Building the New Atlas

    At the very least, the mature version of string theory — with its mathematical tools that let researchers view problems in new ways — has provided powerful new methods for seeing how seemingly incompatible descriptions of nature can both be true. The discovery of dual descriptions of the same phenomenon pretty much sums up the history of physics. A century and a half ago, James Clerk Maxwell saw that electricity and magnetism were two sides of a coin. Quantum theory revealed the connection between particles and waves. Now physicists have strings.

    “Once the elementary things we’re probing spaces with are strings instead of particles,” said Beem, the strings “see things differently.” If it’s too hard to get from A to B using quantum field theory, reimagine the problem in string theory, and “there’s a path,” Beem said.

    In cosmology, string theory “packages physical models in a way that’s easier to think about,” Silverstein said. It may take centuries to tie together all these loose strings to weave a coherent picture, but young researchers like Beem aren’t bothered a bit. His generation never thought string theory was going to solve everything. “We’re not stuck,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like we’re on the verge of getting it all sorted, but I know more each day than I did the day before – and so presumably we’re getting somewhere.”

    Stanford thinks of it as a big crossword puzzle. “It’s not finished, but as you start solving, you can tell that it’s a valid puzzle,” he said. “It’s passing consistency checks all the time.”

    “Maybe it’s not even possible to capture the universe in one easily defined, self-contained form, like a globe,” Dijkgraaf said, sitting in Robert Oppenheimer’s many windowed office from when he was Einstein’s boss, looking over the vast lawn at the IAS, the pond and the woods in the distance. Einstein, too, tried and failed to find a theory of everything, and it takes nothing away from his genius.

    “Perhaps the true picture is more like the maps in an atlas, each offering very different kinds of information, each spotty,” Dijkgraaf said. “Using the atlas will require that physics be fluent in many languages, many approaches, all at the same time. Their work will come from many different directions, perhaps far-flung.”

    He finds it “totally disorienting” and also “fantastic.”

    Arkani-Hamed believes we are in the most exciting epoch of physics since quantum mechanics appeared in the 1920s. But nothing will happen quickly. “If you’re excited about responsibly attacking the very biggest existential physics questions ever, then you should be excited,” he said. “But if you want a ticket to Stockholm for sure in the next 15 years, then probably not.”

    See the full article here .

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    Formerly known as Simons Science News, Quanta Magazine is an editorially independent online publication launched by the Simons Foundation to enhance public understanding of science. Why Quanta? Albert Einstein called photons “quanta of light.” Our goal is to “illuminate science.” At Quanta Magazine, scientific accuracy is every bit as important as telling a good story. All of our articles are meticulously researched, reported, edited, copy-edited and fact-checked.

     
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