> IKH)` Dbjbj 8F{{!4((((4I:\rrrrr$hrrrrrrrPs(0Iqqq<Id((TV6Maldecena paper on quantum gravity
www.sciam.com SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN
57
The
Illusion
Illusion
of
Gravity
Gravity
T
T
hree spatial dimensions are visible all aroundus
up/down, left/right, forward/backward.Add time to the mix, and the result is a four-dimensional blending of space and time knownas spacetime. Thus, we live in a four-dimen-sional universe. Or do we?Amazingly, some new theories of physics predict that oneof the three dimensions of space could be a kind of an illu-sion
that in actuality all the particles and elds that make upreality are moving about in a two-dimensional realm like theFlatland of Edwin A. Abbott. Gravity, too, would be part of the illusion: a force that is not present in the two-dimensionalworld but that materializes along with the emergence of theillusory third dimension.Or, more precisely, the theories predict that the number of dimensions in reality could be a matter of perspective: physi-cists could choose to describe reality as obeying one set of laws(including gravity) in three dimensions or, equivalently, asobeying a different set of laws that operates in two dimensions(in the absence of gravity). Despite the radically different de-scriptions, both theories would describe everything that wesee and all the data we could gather about how the universeworks. We would have no way to determine which theory wasreally true.Such a scenario strains the imagination. Yet an analogousphenomenon occurs in everyday life. A hologram is a two-di-mensional object, but when viewed under the correct lightingconditions it produces a fully three-dimensional image. All theinformation describing the three-dimensional image is in es-sence encoded in the two-dimensional hologram. Similarly,according to the new physics theories, the entire universe couldbe a kind of a hologram [see Information in the HolographicUniverse, by Jacob D. Bekenstein;
Scientic American,
August 2003].The holographic description is more than just an intellec-tual or philosophical curiosity. A computation that might be
HYPERLINK "http://www.scribd.com/doc/78911693/Juan-Maldacena-The-Illusion-of-Gravity"http://www.scribd.com/doc/78911693/Juan-Maldacena-The-Illusion-of-Gravity
The Illusion of gravity
The force of gravityand one of the dimensions of space might be generatedout of the peculiar interactions of particles and eldsexisting in a lower-dimensional realm
By Juan Maldacena
T
hree spatial dimensions are visible all aroundus
up/down, left/right, forward/backward.Add time to the mix, and the result is a four-dimensional blending of space and time knownas spacetime. Thus, we live in a four-dimen-sional universe. Or do we?Amazingly, some new theories of physics predict that oneof the three dimensions of space could be a kind of an illu-sion
that in actuality all the particles and elds that make upreality are moving about in a two-dimensional realm like theFlatland of Edwin A. Abbott. Gravity, too, would be part of the illusion: a force that is not present in the two-dimensionalworld but that materializes along with the emergence of theillusory third dimension.Or, more precisely, the theories predict that the number of dimensions in reality could be a matter of perspective: physi-cists could choose to describe reality as obeying one set of laws(including gravity) in three dimensions or, equivalently, as
obeying a different set of laws that operates in two dimensions(in the absence of gravity). Despite the radically different de-scriptions, both theories would describe everything that wesee and all the data we could gather about how the universeworks. We would have no way to determine which theory wasreally true.Such a scenario strains the imagination. Yet an analogousphenomenon occurs in everyday life. A hologram is a two-di-mensional object, but when viewed under the correct lightingconditions it produces a fully three-dimensional image. All theinformation describing the three-dimensional image is in es-sence encoded in the two-dimensional hologram. Similarly,according to the new physics theories, the entire universe couldbe a kind of a hologram [see Information in the HolographicUniverse, by Jacob D. Bekenstein;
Scientic American,
August 2003].The holographic description is more than just an intellec-tual or philosophical curiosity. A computation that might be
58
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN NOVEMBER 2005
very difcult in one realm can turn outto be relatively straightforward in theother, thereby turning some intractableproblems of physics into ones that areeasily solved. For example, the theoryseems useful in analyzing a recent ex-perimental high-energy physics result.Moreover, the holographic theories offera fresh way to begin constructing aquantum theory of gravity
a theory of gravity that respects the principles of quantum mechanics. A quantum theory
of gravity is a key ingredient in any effortto unify all the forces of nature, and it isneeded to explain both what goes on inblack holes and what happened in thenanoseconds after the big bang. The ho-lographic theories provide potential res-olutions of profound mysteries that havedogged attempts to understand how atheory of quantum gravity could work.
A Difficult Marriage
a quantum theory
of gravity is aholy grail for a certain breed of physicistbecause all physics except for gravity iswell described by quantum laws. Thequantum description of physics repre-sents an entire paradigm for physicaltheories, and it makes no sense for onetheory, gravity, to fail to conform to it.Now about 80 years old, quantum me
chanics was rst developed to describethe behavior of particles and forces inthe atomic and subatomic realms. It is atthose size scales that quantum effectsbecome signicant. In quantum theo-ries, objects do not have denite posi-tions and velocities but instead are de-scribed by probabilities and waves thatoccupy regions of space. In a quantumworld, at the most fundamental level ev-erything is in a state of constant ux,even empty space, which is in fact
lled with virtual particles that perpetu-ally pop in and out of existence.In contrast, physicists best theory of gravity, general relativity, is an inher-ently classical (that is, nonquantum)theory. Einstein s magnum opus
bcd$@(B(*4z6|6-8D9j:=@CCDDUh|heh(heCJ(aJ(hn\he0Jjh =UjheUhe#$FHKMQS\ejlt} gd(DVz|dh2"$*.r+!-!!""#$B(|6.88gd|gd(, generalrelativity explains that concentrations of matter or energy cause spacetime tocurve and that this curvature deects thetrajectories of particles, just as shouldhappen for particles in a gravitationaleld. General relativity is a beautifultheory, and many of its predictions havebeen tested to great accuracy.
In a classical theory such as generalrelativity, objects have denite locationsand velocities, like the planets orbitingthe sun. One can plug those locationsand velocities (and the masses of the ob-jects) into the equations of general rela
tivity and deduce the curvature of space-time and from that deduce the effects of gravity on the objects trajectories. Fur-thermore, empty spacetime is perfectlysmooth no matter how closely one exam-ines it
a seamless arena in which matterand energy can play out their lives The problem in devising a quantumversion of general relativity is not justthat on the scale of atoms and electrons,particles do not have denite locationsand velocities. To make matters worse,
at the even tinier scale delineated by thePlanck length (10
33
centimeter), quan-tum principles imply that spacetime it-self should be a seething foam, similar tothe sea of virtual particles that lls emp-ty space. When matter and spacetimeare so protean, what do the equations of general relativity predict? The answer isthat the equations are no longer ade-quate. If we assume that matter obeysthe laws of quantum mechanics andgravity obeys the laws of general relativ-ity, we end up with mathematical con-tradictions. A quantum theory of gravity(one that fits within the paradigm of quantum theories) is needed
89l:::=CDDDDDgd|In most situations, the contradictoryrequirements of quantum mechanicsand general relativity are not a problem,because either the quantum effects orthe gravitational effects are so small thatthey can be neglected or dealt with byapproximations. When the curvature of spacetime is very large, however, thequantum aspects of gravity become sig-nicant. It takes a very large mass or agreat concentration of mass to producemuch spacetime curvature. Even thecurvature produced near the sun is ex-eedingly small compared with theamount needed for quantum gravity ef-fects to become apparent.
Though these effects are completelynegligible now, they were very impor-tant in the beginning of the big bang,which is why a quantum theory of grav-ity is needed to describe how the big
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