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  • richardmitnick 1:32 pm on April 26, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , String Theory   

    From Penn Today: “Making sense of string theory” 

    From Penn Today

    April 25, 2019
    Erica K. Brockmeier


    A Q&A with theoretical physicists Mirjam Cvetic, Ling Lin, and Muyang Liu about what string theory is and how their recent discovery of a “quadrillion solutions” might change the course of the field.

    Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity provided physicists with both an improved understanding of gravity as well as new, unanswered questions. While it was groundbreaking, it wasn’t able to describe gravity as a consistent quantum theory, or one that successfully describes all of the forces of nature. To this day, Einstein’s dream of linking gravity with electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces into a single framework has yet to be realized.

    Two scientists later proposed an idea where gravity and electromagnetism could emerge from the same theoretical approach, but only with additional dimensions in the equations. While their theory was too simple to completely describe the universe, their idea of the “compactification” of dimensions eventually became the foundation of string theory research.

    Physicists at Penn have published a paper with a “quadrillion” string theory solutions that each describes a hypothetical universe with the same particles and fundamental forces as our own.

    Penn Today sat down with co-authors Mirjam Cvetic, Ling Lin, and Muyang Liu to learn more about what these solutions mean, how physicists use tiny strings to explain physical phenomena, and how the field of theoretical physics will progress in the future.

    What, broadly speaking, is string theory, and how did this theory come about?

    Cvetic: In understanding how nature works, we want to understand the origin of fundamental forces of nature. And in this context we explain particle physics in terms of quantum mechanical phenomena. Elementary particle physics is consistent with quantum mechanics, but we also have gravity theory that we want to describe in terms of quantum phenomena, and that’s where things get hard.

    Lin: It’s like the people who invented gravity had a different language than people who invented quantum mechanics.

    Cvetic: That’s the main motivation of string theory: Originally intended as a description of the strong nuclear force, people realized that it allows for a quantum description of gravity. The way we identify quantum particles in string theory, including quantum particles of gravity, is by vibrations, excitations of tiny strings. String theory as a consistent quantum theory does not live in three spatial/one time dimensions, but in 10 dimensions. So we are dealing with the idea of compactifying six extra dimensions, namely, shrinking them to small sizes. While unobservable to us, these dimensions can still be probed by the microscopic strings and affect how they behave.

    But there is a byproduct here: The shrinking of extra dimensions allows us to start describing particle physics. We observe not only the quantum particle of gravity but also the quantum particle of, say, electromagnetic interactions, which we call a photon.

    In some ways you say, “Oh gosh, extra dimensions, that’s trouble,” but these extra dimensions also naturally produce types of interactions in four dimensions other than gravity, which we did not ask for in the beginning. Depending on the geometric shapes of the extra dimensions, we may identify these interactions with other forces of nature, like electromagnetism and nuclear forces.

    In our current understanding, these forces are described by the so-called standard model of particle physics, but this does not include gravity. And that’s where string theory becomes an interesting field of research.

    What are the challenges of finally realizing Einstein’s dream of unifying the other forces with gravity?

    Lin: If you think about music, it’s like someone invented the notation, but what we actually observe in an experiment is a particular piece. The problem is that we don’t have a good system that allows us to write down what we observe in experiments, or, to use that same analogy, what we listen to in a concert hall, using the system we have.

    It’s like our sheet music can distinguish between half-tone steps, but there is other music that has finer intonational increments. So our current sheet music will never be able to capture that, and, if there’s a particular piece that has these kinds of changes, how do we capture these things?

    String theory is trying to propose a new system of writing down music, a new system of writing down theories of quantum gravity. But it’s not just a system to write down what we know for our world because we don’t even know all the features that are worth writing down.

    We have a few hints what specific features our system needs to provide, and what we are trying to do is explore more technical things, like do these kinds of mathematical tools actually help us in capturing features of the standard model.

    Your paper relied on methods from the F-theory branch of string theory. What are the benefits of this approach, and what does having a quadrillion solutions really mean?

    Cvetic: The beautiful thing about this regime of string theory is that we can describe its properties in terms of geometry: The shape of this additional compact space, how singular it is, how it determines properties of the particles in three space/one time dimension. So for certain properties, in particular to get the standard model particles out, the power of geometry helped us uncover examples where we can match it to the music of the standard model.

    Lin: The quadrillion solutions are related to the question of how special is our universe, the standard model and the particle physics phenomena that we observe, in what we call the string landscape. From a particle physics perspective, people think that, if I change certain parameters of the standard model, our world would be very drastically different, so it is special in some sense.

    In string theory we have this nice feature that everything comes in discrete numbers, so we can count how many solutions there are. What we show is that, yes, the standard model is special, but within string theory it has the potential to be realized in many different ways.

    What are the challenges of your work, and where do you go next?

    Cvetic: For consistency, the constructions from string theory rely on something called supersymmetry. We include supersymmetry because it’s a technical tool we need for deriving these properties, but it can be broken at large energies. This is an important issue because people would like to match, in all details, our constructions to experimental constraints where we don’t observe supersymmetry at low energies, so we would be required to address those things in more details.

    Lin: That’s one of the conceptual problems of string theory. If someone builds a new detector and finds these additional particles, associated with supersymmetry, at some higher energies than what we are currently reaching in experiments, that would be an advance on the experimental side which could help us a lot. On the other hand, not observing supersymmetry in the near future does not mean that string theory is wrong. It just means that we need to develop new frameworks and methods to improve our toolkit.

    In terms of what to do with these quadrillion examples, these are not just something to be put in a museum, but you can actually use these examples to test new conceptual frameworks and computational methods in string theory. Somebody else will maybe have some ideas, for example, how to break supersymmetry, and now that we have this huge ensemble to explore these ideas, and it’s so large that you could even think about using big data techniques.

    It’s like you produce a bunch of cars, and, even if you just smash them into a wall to test if your airbags are working, they are still providing some usefulness.

    What continues to excite you and inspire you about this area of research?

    Cvetic: I think one of the strengths of the Penn effort is that we ask questions from theory that are relevant to our colleagues in experimental high energy physics. So on one side, the questions we are asking are questions related to things that high energy experimentalists are testing in colliders, and on the other hand we are using techniques of formal string theory that tie us closely to our math department colleagues.

    Lin: What I find interesting about what we do, and more broadly what string theory provides, is the idea of dual descriptions for the same phenomena that suddenly makes certain aspects much easier to grasp. There have been these sorts of ideas floating around in theoretical physics, but it’s string theory that has made this notion of dualities much more present. These ideas have, for example, influenced works in condensed matter which have no immediate connection to string theory.

    And if one thinks from the mathematician’s perspective, what’s also very intriguing is that suddenly, after centuries where mathematicians provided tools for physicists, we’re now at a stage where we can use our intuition to tell mathematicians what to do. That’s unprecedented throughout the history of science, that physics is now guiding math.

    Liu: This interplay between physics and math is particularly fascinating to me in F-theory. The powerful dictionary between concepts in fundamental theoretical physics and beautiful abstract math allows us to translate many demanding questions that intrigue physicists into solvable questions in geometry. Conversely, our physical intuition can uncover novel theorems which are tough to prove under pure mathematical circumstances.

    Cvetic: I think F-theory is amazing. But to understand on a deeper level it’s like uncovering something beyond quantum gravity or beyond string theory. I think that, specifically, the important role of geometry in string theory and more generally in theoretical physics, has led to tremendous conceptual progress, and we may be just scratching the tip of the iceberg of some of these fundamental ideas.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 12:10 pm on April 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Falsifiability and physics", , , , , , , , Karl Popper (1902-1994) "The Logic of Scientific Discovery", String Theory, ,   

    From Symmetry: “Falsifiability and physics” 

    Symmetry Mag
    From Symmetry

    Matthew R. Francis

    Illustration by Sandbox Studio, Chicago with Corinne Mucha

    Can a theory that isn’t completely testable still be useful to physics?

    What determines if an idea is legitimately scientific or not? This question has been debated by philosophers and historians of science, working scientists, and lawyers in courts of law. That’s because it’s not merely an abstract notion: What makes something scientific or not determines if it should be taught in classrooms or supported by government grant money.

    The answer is relatively straightforward in many cases: Despite conspiracy theories to the contrary, the Earth is not flat. Literally all evidence is in favor of a round and rotating Earth, so statements based on a flat-Earth hypothesis are not scientific.

    In other cases, though, people actively debate where and how the demarcation line should be drawn. One such criterion was proposed by philosopher of science Karl Popper (1902-1994), who argued that scientific ideas must be subject to “falsification.”

    Popper wrote in his classic book The Logic of Scientific Discovery that a theory that cannot be proven false—that is, a theory flexible enough to encompass every possible experimental outcome—is scientifically useless. He wrote that a scientific idea must contain the key to its own downfall: It must make predictions that can be tested and, if those predictions are proven false, the theory must be jettisoned.

    When writing this, Popper was less concerned with physics than he was with theories like Freudian psychology and Stalinist history. These, he argued, were not falsifiable because they were vague or flexible enough to incorporate all the available evidence and therefore immune to testing.

    But where does this falsifiability requirement leave certain areas of theoretical physics? String theory, for example, involves physics on extremely small length scales unreachable by any foreseeable experiment.

    String Theory depiction. Cross section of the quintic Calabi–Yau manifold Calabi yau.jpg. Jbourjai (using Mathematica output)

    Cosmic inflation, a theory that explains much about the properties of the observable universe, may itself be untestable through direct observations.

    Some critics believe these theories are unfalsifiable and, for that reason, are of dubious scientific value.

    At the same time, many physicists align with philosophers of science who identified flaws in Popper’s model, saying falsification is most useful in identifying blatant pseudoscience (the flat-Earth hypothesis, again) but relatively unimportant for judging theories growing out of established paradigms in science.

    “I think we should be worried about being arrogant,” says Chanda Prescod-Weinstein of the University of New Hampshire. “Falsifiability is important, but so is remembering that nature does what it wants.”

    Prescod-Weinstein is both a particle cosmologist and researcher in science, technology, and society studies, interested in analyzing the priorities scientists have as a group. “Any particular generation deciding that they’ve worked out all that can be worked out seems like the height of arrogance to me,” she says.

    Tracy Slatyer of MIT agrees, and argues that stringently worrying about falsification can prevent new ideas from germinating, stifling creativity. “In theoretical physics, the vast majority of all the ideas you ever work on are going to be wrong,” she says. “They may be interesting ideas, they may be beautiful ideas, they may be gorgeous structures that are simply not realized in our universe.”

    Particles and practical philosophy

    Take, for example, supersymmetry. SUSY is an extension of the Standard Model in which each known particle is paired with a supersymmetric partner.

    Standard Model of Supersymmetry via DESY

    The theory is a natural outgrowth of a mathematical symmetry of spacetime, in ways similar to the Standard Model itself. It’s well established within particle physics, even though supersymmetric particles, if they exist, may be out of scientists’ experimental reach.

    SUSY could potentially resolve some major mysteries in modern physics. For one, all of those supersymmetric particles could be the reason the mass of the Higgs boson is smaller than quantum mechanics says it should be.

    CERN CMS Higgs Event

    CERN ATLAS Higgs Event

    “Quantum mechanics says that [the Higgs boson] mass should blow up to the largest mass scale possible,” says Howard Baer of the University of Oklahoma. That’s because masses in quantum theory are the result of contributions from many different particles involved in interactions—and the Higgs field, which gives other particles mass, racks up a lot of these interactions. But the Higgs mass isn’t huge, which requires an explanation.

    “Something else would have to be tuned to a huge negative [value] in order to cancel [the huge positive value of those interactions] and give you the observed value,” Baer says. That level of coincidence, known as a “fine-tuning problem,” makes physicists itchy. “It’s like trying to play the lottery. It’s possible you might win, but really you’re almost certain to lose.”

    If SUSY particles turn up in a certain mass range, their contributions to the Higgs mass “naturally” solve this problem, which has been an argument in favor of the theory of supersymmetry. So far, the Large Hadron Collider has not turned up any SUSY particles in the range of “naturalness.”


    CERN map

    CERN LHC Tunnel

    CERN LHC particles

    However, the broad framework of supersymmetry can accommodate even more massive SUSY particles, which may or may not be detectable using the LHC. In fact, if naturalness is abandoned, SUSY doesn’t provide an obvious mass scale at all, meaning SUSY particles might be out of range for discovery with any earthly particle collider. That point has made some critics queasy: If there’s no obvious mass scale at which colliders can hunt for SUSY, is the theory falsifiable?

    A related problem confronts dark matter researchers: Despite strong indirect evidence for a large amount of mass invisible to all forms of light, particle experiments have yet to find any dark matter particles. It could be that dark matter particles are just impossible to directly detect. A small but vocal group of researchers has argued that we need to consider alternative theories of gravity instead.

    Fritz Zwicky, the Father of Dark Matter research.No image credit after long search

    Astronomer Vera Rubin at the Lowell Observatory in 1965, worked on Dark Matter (The Carnegie Institution for Science)

    U Washington ADMX Axion Dark Matter Experiment

    DEAP Dark Matter detector, The DEAP-3600, suspended in the SNOLAB deep in Sudbury’s Creighton Mine

    Dark Side-50 Dark Matter Experiment at Gran Sasso

    Slatyer, whose research involves looking for dark matter, considers the criticism partly as a problem of language. “When you say ‘dark matter,’ [you need] to distinguish dark matter from specific scenarios for what dark matter could be,” she says. “The community has not always done that well.”

    In other words, specific models for dark matter can stand or fall, but the dark matter paradigm as a whole has withstood all tests so far. But as Slatyer points out, no alternative theory of gravity can explain all the phenomena that a simple dark matter model can, from the behavior of galaxies to the structure of the cosmic microwave background.

    Prescod-Weinstein argues that we’re a long way from ruling out all dark matter possibilities. “How will we prove that the dark matter, if it exists, definitively doesn’t interact with the Standard Model?” she says. “Astrophysics is always a bit of a detective game. Without laboratory [detection of] dark matter, it’s hard to make definitive statements about its properties. But we can construct likely narratives based on what we know about its behavior.”

    Similarly, Baer thinks that we haven’t exhausted all the SUSY possibilities yet. “People say, ‘you’ve been promising supersymmetry for 20 or 30 years,’ but it was based on overly optimistic naturalness calculations,” he says. “I think if one evaluates the naturalness properly, then you find that supersymmetry is still even now very natural. But you’re going to need either an energy upgrade of LHC or an ILC [International Linear Collider] in order to discover it.”

    ILC schematic, being planned for the Kitakami highland, in the Iwate prefecture of northern Japan

    Beyond falsifiability of dark matter or SUSY, physicists are motivated by more mundane concerns. “Even if these individual scenarios are in principle falsifiable, how much money would [it] take and how much time would it take?” Slatyer says. In other words, rather than try to demonstrate or rule out SUSY as a whole, physicists focus on particle experiments that can be performed within a certain number of budgetary cycles. It’s not romantic, but it’s true nevertheless.

    Illustration by Sandbox Studio, Chicago with Corinne Mucha

    Is it science? Who decides?

    Historically, sometimes theories that seem untestable turn out to just need more time. For example, 19th century physicist Ludwig Boltzmann and colleagues showed they could explain many results in thermal physics and chemistry if everything were made up of “atoms”—what we call particles, atoms, and molecules today—governed by Newtonian physics.

    Since atoms were out of reach of experiments of the day, prominent philosophers of science argued that the atomic hypothesis was untestable in principle, and therefore unscientific.

    However, the atomists eventually won the day: J. J. Thompson demonstrated the existence of electrons, while Albert Einstein showed that water molecules could make grains of pollen dance on a pond’s surface.

    Atoms provide a case study for how falsifiability proved to be the wrong criterion. Many other cases are trickier.

    For instance, Einstein’s theory of general relativity is one of the best-tested theories in all of science. At the same time, it allows for physically unrealistic “universes,” such as a “rotating” cosmos where movement back and forth in time is possible, which are contradicted by all observations of the reality we inhabit.

    General relativity also makes predictions about things that are untestable by definition, like how particles move inside the event horizon of a black hole: No information about these trajectories can be determined by experiment.

    The first image of a black hole, Messier 87 Credit Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, via NSF 4.10.19

    Yet no knowledgeable physicist or philosopher of science would argue that general relativity is unscientific. The success of the theory is due to enough of its predictions being testable.

    Eddington/Einstein exibition of gravitational lensing solar eclipse of 29 May 1919

    Another type of theory may be mostly untestable, but have important consequences. One such theory is cosmic inflation, which (among other things) explains why we don’t see isolated magnetic monopoles and why the universe is a nearly uniform temperature everywhere we look.

    The key property of inflation—the extremely rapid expansion of spacetime during a tiny split second after the Big Bang—cannot be tested directly. Cosmologists look for indirect evidence for inflation, but in the end it may be difficult or impossible to distinguish between different inflationary models, simply because scientists can’t get the data. Does that mean it isn’t scientific?


    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:

    “A lot of people have personal feelings about inflation and the aesthetics of physical theories,” Prescod-Weinstein says. She’s willing to entertain alternative ideas which have testable consequences, but inflation works well enough for now to keep it around. “It’s also the case that the majority of the cosmology community continues to take inflation seriously as a model, so I have to shrug a little when someone says it’s not science.”

    On that note, Caltech cosmologist Sean M. Carroll argues that many very useful theories have both falsifiable and unfalsifiable predictions. Some aspects may be testable in principle, but not by any experiment or observation we can perform with existing technology. Many particle physics models fall into that category, but that doesn’t stop physicists from finding them useful. SUSY as a concept may not be falsifiable, but many specific models within the broad framework certainly are. All the evidence we have for the existence of dark matter is indirect, which won’t go away even if laboratory experiments never find dark matter particles. Physicists accept the concept of dark matter because it works.

    Slatyer is a practical dark matter hunter. “The questions I’m most interested asking are not even just questions that are in principle falsifiable, but questions that in principle can be tested by data on the timescale of less than my lifetime,” she says. “But it’s not only problems that can be tested by data on a timescale of ‘less than Tracy’s lifetime’ are good scientific questions!”

    Prescod-Weinstein agrees, and argues for keeping an open mind. “There’s a lot we don’t know about the universe, including what’s knowable about it. We are a curious species, and I think we should remain curious.”

    See the full article here .


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    Stem Education Coalition

    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 8:17 am on April 5, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , In string theory a “solution” implies a vacuum of spacetime that is governed by Einstein’s theory of gravity coupled to a quantum field theory., In the past two decades a new branch of string theory called F-theory has allowed physicists to work with strongly interacting or strongly coupled strings, , , String theorists can use algebraic geometry to analyze the various ways of compactifying extra dimensions in F-theory and to find solutions., String Theory,   

    From Scientific American: “Found: A Quadrillion Ways for String Theory to Make Our Universe” 

    Scientific American

    From Scientific American

    Mar 29, 2019
    Anil Ananthaswamy

    Stemming from the “F-theory” branch of string theory, each solution replicates key features of the standard model of particle physics.

    Photo: dianaarturovna/Getty Images

    Physicists who have been roaming the “landscape” of string theory — the space of zillions and zillions of mathematical solutions of the theory, where each solution provides the kinds of equations physicists need to describe reality — have stumbled upon a subset of such equations that have the same set of matter particles as exists in our universe.

    String Theory depiction. Cross section of the quintic Calabi–Yau manifold Calabi yau.jpg. Jbourjai (using Mathematica output)

    Standard Model of Supersymmetry via DESY

    But this is no small subset: there are at least a quadrillion such solutions, making it the largest such set ever found in string theory.

    According to string theory, all particles and fundamental forces arise from the vibrational states of tiny strings. For mathematical consistency, these strings vibrate in 10-dimensional spacetime. And for consistency with our familiar everyday experience of the universe, with three spatial dimensions and the dimension of time, the additional six dimensions are “compactified” so as to be undetectable.

    Different compactifications lead to different solutions. In string theory, a “solution” implies a vacuum of spacetime that is governed by Einstein’s theory of gravity coupled to a quantum field theory. Each solution describes a unique universe, with its own set of particles, fundamental forces and other such defining properties.

    Some string theorists have focused their efforts on trying to find ways to connect string theory to properties of our known, observable universe — particularly the standard model of particle physics, which describes all known particles and all their mutual forces except gravity.

    Much of this effort has involved a version of string theory in which the strings interact weakly. However, in the past two decades, a new branch of string theory called F-theory has allowed physicists to work with strongly interacting, or strongly coupled, strings.

    F-theory is a branch of string theory developed by Cumrun Vafa. The new vacua described by F-theory were discovered by Vafa and allowed string theorists to construct new realistic vacua — in the form of F-theory compactified on elliptically fibered Calabi–Yau four-folds. The letter “F” supposedly stands for “Father”.

    F-theory is formally a 12-dimensional theory, but the only way to obtain an acceptable background is to compactify this theory on a two-torus. By doing so, one obtains type IIB superstring theory in 10 dimensions. The SL(2,Z) S-duality symmetry of the resulting type IIB string theory is manifest because it arises as the group of large diffeomorphisms of the two-dimensional torus.

    More generally, one can compactify F-theory on an elliptically fibered manifold (elliptic fibration), i.e. a fiber bundle whose fiber is a two-dimensional torus (also called an elliptic curve). For example, a subclass of the K3 manifolds is elliptically fibered, and F-theory on a K3 manifold is dual to heterotic string theory on a two-torus. Also, the moduli spaces of those theories should be isomorphic.

    The large number of semirealistic solutions to string theory referred to as the string theory landscape, with 10 272 , 000 {\displaystyle 10^{272,000}} {\displaystyle 10^{272,000}} elements or so, is dominated by F-theory compactifications on Calabi–Yau four-folds.[3] There are about 10 15 {\displaystyle 10^{15}} 10^{15} of those solutions consistent with the Standard Model of particle physics.



    “An intriguing, surprising result is that when the coupling is large, we can start describing the theory very geometrically,” says Mirjam Cvetic of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

    This means that string theorists can use algebraic geometry — which uses algebraic techniques to tackle geometric problems — to analyze the various ways of compactifying extra dimensions in F-theory and to find solutions. Mathematicians have been independently studying some of the geometric forms that appear in F-theory. “They provide us physicists a vast toolkit”, says Ling Lin, also of the University of Pennsylvania. “The geometry is really the key… it is the ‘language’ that makes F-theory such a powerful framework.”

    Now, Cvetic, Lin, James Halverson of Northeastern University in Boston, and their colleagues have used such techniques to identify a class of solutions with string vibrational modes that lead to a similar spectrum of fermions (or, particles of matter) as is described by the standard model — including the property that all fermions come in three generations (for example, the electron, muon and tau are the three generations of one type of fermion).

    Standard Model of Particle Physics (LATHAM BOYLE AND MARDUS OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

    The F-theory solutions found by Cvetic and colleagues have particles that also exhibit the handedness, or chirality, of the standard model particles. In particle physics lingo, the solutions reproduce the exact “chiral spectrum” of standard model particles. For example, the quarks and leptons in these solutions come in left and right-handed versions, as they do in our universe.

    The new work shows that there are at least a quadrillion solutions in which particles have the same chiral spectrum as the standard model, which is 10 orders of magnitude more solutions than had been found within string theory until now. “This is by far the largest domain of standard model solutions,” Cvetic says. “It’s somehow surprising and actually also rewarding that it turns out to be in the strongly coupled string theory regime, where geometry helped us.”

    A quadrillion — while it’s much, much smaller than the size of the landscape of solutions in F-theory (which at last count was shown to be of the order of 10272,000) — is a tremendously large number. “And because it’s a tremendously large number, and it gets something nontrivial in real world particle physics correct, we should take it seriously and study it further,” Halverson says.

    Further study would involve uncovering stronger connections with the particle physics of the real world. The researchers still have to work out the couplings or interactions between particles in the F-theory solutions — which again depend on the geometric details of the compactifications of the extra dimensions.

    It could be that within the space of the quadrillion solutions, there are some with couplings that could cause the proton to decay within observable timescales. This would clearly be at odds with the real world, as experiments have yet to see any sign of protons decaying. Alternatively, physicists could search for solutions that realize the spectrum of standard model particles that preserve a mathematical symmetry called R-parity. “This symmetry forbids certain proton decay processes and would be very attractive from a particle physics point of view, but is missing in our current models,” Lin says.

    Also, the work assumes supersymmetry, which means that all the standard model particles have partner particles. String theory needs this symmetry in order to ensure the mathematical consistency of solutions.

    But in order for any supersymmetric theory to tally with the observable universe, the symmetry has to be broken (much like how a diner’s selection of cutlery and drinking glass on her left or right side will “break” the symmetry of the table setting at a round dinner table). Else, the partner particles would have the same mass as standard model particles — and that is clearly not the case, since we don’t observe any such partner particles in our experiments.

    Crucially, experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have also shown that supersymmetry — if it is the correct description of nature — is not broken even at the energy scales probed by the LHC, given that the LHC has yet to find any supersymmetric particles.

    String theorists think that supersymmetry might be broken only at extremely high energies that are not within experimental reach anytime soon. “The expectation in string theory is that high-scale [supersymmetry] breaking, which is fully consistent with LHC data, is completely possible,” Halverson says. “It requires further analysis to determine whether or not it happens in our case.”

    Despite these caveats, other string theorists are approving of the new work. “This is definitely a step forward in demonstrating that string theory gives rise to many solutions with features of the standard model,” says string theorist Washington Taylor of MIT.

    “It’s very nice work,” says Cumrun Vafa, one of the developers of F-theory, at Harvard University. “The fact you can arrange the geometry and topology to fit with not only Einstein’s equations, but also with the [particle] spectrum that we want, is not trivial. It works out nicely here.”

    But Vafa and Taylor both caution that these solutions are far from matching perfectly with the standard model. Getting solutions to match exactly with the particle physics of our world is one of the ultimate goals of string theory. Vafa is among those who think that, despite the immensity of the landscape of solutions, there exists a unique solution that matches our universe. “I bet there is exactly one,” he says. But, “to pinpoint this is not going to be easy.”

    See the full article here .

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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” 

    From phys.org

    December 28, 2018
    Uppsala University

    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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  • 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

    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.


    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:

    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.


    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.

    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.


    NASA/COBE 1989 to 1993.


    NASA/WMAP 2001 to 2010

    CMB per ESA/Planck

    ESA/Planck 2009 to 2013

    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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  • 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” 


    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

    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.”

    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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    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 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


    Whitney Clavin
    (626) 395-1856

    John Schwarz discusses the history and evolution of superstring theory.

    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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  • 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

    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


    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.


    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:

    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 .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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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

    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?

    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.

    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.

    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 .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

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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?” 



    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.

    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)

    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, Chile

    Future Array/Telescopes

    Plateau de Bure interferometer
    Plateau de Bure interferometer

    South Pole Telescope SPTPOL
    South Pole Telescope SPTPOL


    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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    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.

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