Remember that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Professor Moriarty tried to escape from the holodeck? Well, the folks at Fermilab probably saw it, since they are currently launching a one year series of tests to find out if our entire universe is a hologram.

Do we live in a 2D hologram? There’s no short answer, but physicists believe it may be possible. The holographic principle — a property of particle physics’ string theory — proposes that information about a region of space can be ascertained by the information on the surface that surrounds it — much like you can determine, say, currents in water by the eddies on the surface.

But does this actually mean that our universe is an optical illusion created by light diffraction? Fermilab has just switched on a machine that may help a team of researchers figure it out: the Holometer, the most sensitive instrument ever built to measure the quantum jitter of space.

Generally I’m a supporter of pure research, even in cases where there may not be an immediate, industrial benefit from the results. You never know what you might learn. And even leaving aside for a moment the impression that this sounds like an idea that was cooked up while smoking pot with that professor from Animal House, Fermilab does a lot of cool sounding research. But a year’s worth of high energy inteferometer experiments to see if we’re all a digital illusion? Let’s recall for a moment who is footing the bill for all of this.

According to their own economic impact studies, when it comes to their cash flow, [t]he overwhelming majority of these funds (94%) were from the federal government, with the lion’s share coming from the Department of Energy. Their total annual budget is nearly half a billion dollars, and they’ve had the leash tightened on them in the past. This includes a cut under President Obama (!) in 2012 which eliminated a proposal to shoot high-intensity neutrons underground from Illinois to a gold mine in South Dakota, carrying a “multibillion-dollar price tag” over a period of years.

But on the plus side, however much this is costing you – there is no breakdown of the price offered – just think of the possibilities.If these guys can prove that the entire universe is essentially a two dimensional illusion, then the federal government in Washington doesn’t really exist either. See? I bet you feel better already.