Saturday, January 2, 2010

Quantum of time

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

The holographic principle radically changes our picture of space-time. Theoretical physicists have long believed that quantum effects will cause space-time to convulse wildly on the tiniest scales. At this magnification, the fabric of space-time becomes grainy and is ultimately made of tiny units rather like pixels, but a hundred billion billion times smaller than a proton...

So what would it mean if holographic noise has been found? [University of Washington's John] Cramer likens it to the discovery of unexpected noise by an antenna at Bell Labs in New Jersey in 1964. That noise turned out to be the cosmic microwave background, the afterglow of the big bang fireball... 'It confirmed the big bang and opened up a whole field of cosmology.'

[Fermilab physicist Craig] Hogan is more specific. 'Forget Quantum of Solace, we would have directly observed the quantum of time. It's the smallest possible interval of time -- the Planck length divided by the speed of light.'

More importantly, confirming the holographic principle would be a big help to researchers trying to unite quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of gravity... 'Ultimately, we may have our first indication of how space-time emerges out of quantum theory,' [says Hogan]. As serendipitous discoveries go, it's hard to get more ground-breaking than that.
Image source here.