Great news: You’re paying for a 1 year experiment to find out if the universe is a hologram

posted at 10:01 am on August 28, 2014 by Jazz Shaw

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.


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Stop spending money trying to figure out something we are incapable of figuring out.

crankyoldlady on August 28, 2014 at 12:46 PM

Plato wrote about this over 2,500 years ago in his Allegory of the Cave. At long last, we taxpayers get to fund the experiment to test his theory.

PaddyORyan on August 28, 2014 at 12:49 PM

I’m pretty sure that liberals are living in a parallel universe

faraway on August 28, 2014 at 12:55 PM

Is this just real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide No escape from reality

Tinker on August 28, 2014 at 12:56 PM

Wouldn’t it be that this is a 3-D reflection of a 4-D universe? It doesn’t make sense to say that this is a “2-D” hologram when it is obvious that we are in a 3-D construct.

But if there is a 4-D construct, and this is a 3-D reflection/shadow of that construct, thenthe analogy would make sense.

Even still, though, a 2-D shadow does not have the memory or properties of the 3-D physical item it represents. It is only a shadow representation of that 3-D object. The same would be true of a 3-D shadow of a 4-D physical object.

For example, I can hold up a clear 3-D cube and shine a light thru it, and a 2-D reflection can appear on the ground. That 2-D reflection has no physical properties and no memory, and it can appear and disappear and change shape at will depending on how I hold it. This type of property is not showing itself in our 3-D world… UNLESS you interject a spiritual realm that is in the 4-D, in which case the things like the documented incidents of things such as ghosts, angels, the sudden appearance and disappearance of the resurrected Christ could be explained as 3-D reflections of 4-D beings.

TrubadorMike on August 28, 2014 at 1:02 PM

matter is congealed energy and energy is evaporated matter…that is all ye knows and all ye needs to know…….here, take this bucket of ice and go sell it to that eskimo over there…

clandestine on August 28, 2014 at 1:18 PM

I’m all for money for basic research. This is one area where the pooling of our money ( and not that much of it, relatively) yields remarkable benefits to technology in the future ( as history shows us) and elevates us as humans in understanding the universe we inhabit. Because it’s either do it this way, or it will never happen. It won’t be market driven as it’s too early in the process for any direct commercializations and it’s too costly for a private entity to take on for curiosities sake.

Allahs vulva on August 28, 2014 at 1:25 PM

I’m gonna be pissed if the Flat Earthers turn out to be right.

Toocon on August 28, 2014 at 1:26 PM

They give to Democrats…

Fallon on August 28, 2014 at 1:29 PM

THERE IS NO SPOON

Marcola on August 28, 2014 at 1:37 PM

This is ridiculous. If we’re trapped inside a simulation, then how could we possibly determine that? The guys running the simulation could just change the rules on us so we’d never make the discovery either way.

R. Waher on August 28, 2014 at 1:43 PM

Plato wrote about this over 2,500 years ago in his Allegory of the Cave. At long last, we taxpayers get to fund the experiment to test his theory.

PaddyORyan on August 28, 2014 at 12:49 PM

Actually, Plato was not suggesting that the world may be an illusion, but that many people treat it that way by believing that the shadows cast on the cave wall from the fire represent reality. That applies right up until they manage to somehow make it out of the cave and see the sun for the first time….after which, they can never go back to their illusion.

“Do you see the light?”

Amazing how some things seem to never change. People today are just as gullible as they were then.

runawayyyy on August 28, 2014 at 1:46 PM

Actually, Plato was not suggesting that the world may be an illusion, but that many people treat it that way by believing that the shadows cast on the cave wall from the fire represent reality. That applies right up until they manage to somehow make it out of the cave and see the sun for the first time….after which, they can never go back to their illusion.

runawayyyy on August 28, 2014 at 1:46 PM

Actually he says they should go back in the cave – to teach the others.

And he says they will probably be killed for doing so. Things never change.

kcewa on August 28, 2014 at 2:03 PM

One can discuss what constitutes appropriate government expenditures, but, of all the things that our government has spent money on, my own opinion is that NASA and the national labs were among the more worthwhile.

justltl on August 28, 2014 at 2:13 PM

As long as we’re being glib about what we “generally support”, let me say I “generally support” the editorial opinions to be found in your blogs, but it’s really time for hotair to stop letting you blog about science. You consistently embarrass the blog by wildly misrepresenting the focus of current research, casting as expensive wild goose chases serious research into the fundamentals of spatiotemporal physics and ethology, to name two I immediately recollect.

Unsurprisingly, you have utterly no idea what is meant by the “holographic principle”, and perhaps even less surprisingly, here you are publically pontificating upon the propriety of indisputably valuable research notwithstanding your obvious ignorance.

In the first place, no one is studying to see whether or not we are a reconstructed 3D image shining thru some god’s holographic toy. The references to the matrix are not even misplaced, they aren’t even remotely sensible in context. Instead, what is being tested is one of the predictions of a very attractive mathematical model tying, roughly, the phenomenal behaviour of a n-dimensional spacetime to information that can be specified in whole on the (reduced-dimensional) boundary of that region of spacetime. I.e., the specification of certain boundary conditions on 2D closed surfaces may be sufficient to describe the phenomenological behaviour of the surface interior.

Due to subtleties that will be ill-understood here, I do not find the notion of holographic fluctuations in spacetime to be theoretically agreeable: I don’t think fermi lab will find evidence of quantised spacetime via holographic fluctuations. But that’s my personal theoretical opinion, and we do science, after all, to test hypotheses.

What’s more, holometer’s laser interferometer will be the most sensitive such instrument ever constructed: supposing the search for holographic fluctuations is ultimately fruitless, I assume — tho I don’t know much about technology — that the instrumentation could be easily repurposed in the ever-increasingly important search for gravitational radiation, a search which will come to dominate experimental verification of early-universe cosmological theories in the coming decades.

In short, the holometer is not only purposeful, not only not frivolous, but in fact an excellent experimental investment that promises many years of fruitful data production in the burgeoning and exciting field of gravitational-wave astrophysics.

In shorter: shame on you! Sometimes money is wasted with bad research. This is emphatically not one of those times!

It’s hard enough to excuse the hubris of a science writer misinterpreting straightforward theoretical results when reporting a preprint. When similar hubris is coming from an author at a blog that has in the past discoursed upon the foolishness of journalism’s self-ordained expertise in everything ever, one finds himself more than a little vexed.

jaxisaneurophysicist on August 28, 2014 at 2:16 PM

the red pill or the blue pill. I already thought they said it was.

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/physicists-discover-clearest-evidence-yet-that-the-universe-is-a-hologram-9000748.html

The argument about the nature of the universe hinges on something that 99.99% of people are not able to comprehend even on the most superficial level — namely, a comparison between the energy contained in a theoretical flat universe with no gravity and the internal energy of a black hole, and whether these two energy levels match or not.

Or whatever.

The point of the Holometer experiment is that it will be able to reveal via the pixelation effect if our universe is, indeed, a hologram. It will achieve this by putting two interferometers really close to each other, creating laser beams and observing possible jitters when they interact. If there are certain kinds of wobbles in the laser beams’ interaction, that means we actually live on a surface of a flat plain and only perceive our universe to be three-dimensional.

And this is where the cosmic horror seeps in. There was an influential piece published in Philosophical Quarterly in 2003, arguing that we probably are living in a computer simulation and this argument has nothing to do with the physical experiments now being carried out. The philosophical argument pivots on the point that if humanity continues surviving and computer technology continues advancing, we will inevitably reach a stage where it will be possible to simulate the entire planet and all of its living beings.

At some later stage, creating these simulacra of Earth will become cheap and common — just like building mobile apps. This means that ultimately there will be billions or trillions of simulations of the universe that offer nearly perfect fidelity. Nearly, but not quite, because at the heart of these fake universes there will be some pixelation if you burrow deep enough.

http://bgr.com/2014/08/27/is-the-universe-a-simulation/

pc253 on August 28, 2014 at 2:41 PM

If the universe is a “hologram”, it means that more information is encoded in spacetime than we had expected. That would be cool, might give is more levers to fiddle with in manipulating the world, and has no theological implications whatsoever.
Prufrock on August 28, 2014 at 10:31 AM

Except that it makes the idea that we’re all here but a giant cosmic oops even less plausible.

Nutstuyu on August 28, 2014 at 2:48 PM

jaxisaneurophysicist on August 28, 2014 at 2:16 PM

Exactly

DarkCurrent on August 28, 2014 at 2:51 PM

You’re ALL wrong.
The earth is just a big computer manufactured by the Magratheans and run by white mice.

42

dentarthurdent on August 28, 2014 at 2:53 PM

Except that it makes the idea that we’re all here but a giant cosmic oops even less plausible.

Nutstuyu on August 28, 2014 at 2:48 PM

How so?

DarkCurrent on August 28, 2014 at 2:56 PM

“Freeze program and exit”
BobMbx on August 28, 2014 at 11:27 AM

Halt and catch fire??

Nutstuyu on August 28, 2014 at 3:02 PM

Halt and catch fire

Nutstuyu on August 28, 2014 at 3:02 PM

Is a pretty good show

DarkCurrent on August 28, 2014 at 3:16 PM

Is this just real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide No escape from reality

Tinker on August 28, 2014 at 12:56 PM

Easy come easy go.

petunia on August 28, 2014 at 3:17 PM

Is this just real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide No escape from reality

Tinker on August 28, 2014 at 12:56 PM

Nicely done Sir.

Free Indeed on August 28, 2014 at 3:30 PM

I actually agree with the hologram experiment. Modern theories are full of paradoxes. Big Bang, Evolution, Life on Other Planets, Paradox of time, etc are all full of paradoxes that can’t be fix. From a logical standpoint creation is freaking strange, beyond our comprehension. If we’re living in a hologram it will explain a lot.

jdun on August 28, 2014 at 4:14 PM

Is this just real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide No escape from reality

Tinker on August 28, 2014 at 12:56 PM

Makes me laugh.
We will not let you go.

S. D. on August 28, 2014 at 4:47 PM

Not to get all pedestrian and practical and stuff, but unless you “guys who depend on this as a revenue stream” are going to somehow generate the tens of trillions of dollars in debt service it will require to keep this country and its economy staggering forward in the decades ahead, this all looks moot.

If you refuse to believe that there is looming fiscal tsunami, then your scientific objectivity seems in question to this observer.

Dolce Far Niente on August 28, 2014 at 11:20 AM

You’re on the WWW. We built that a few offices down from mine at CERN, and released it for free.

We’re all paid up. And that’s just one thing.

You benefit daily in tangible ways from spinoffs we produce. Enjoy.

Prufrock on August 28, 2014 at 5:18 PM

jaxisaneurophysicist on August 28, 2014 at 2:16 PM

Exactly

DarkCurrent on August 28, 2014 at 2:51 PM

Hear, hear.

Jazz — you wanna post something like this, run it past one of the three of us. I’ll be happy to answer questions.

Imagine me trying to opine on the details of down-ticket elections in Virginia, without knowing the names of the people involved. That’s what it’s like, reading your commentary on this topic. There are real fiscal issues facing the sciences… but experiments like this one are not the hot, bright center of those problems.

Prufrock on August 28, 2014 at 5:23 PM

Stop spending money trying to figure out something we areI am incapable of figuring out.

crankyoldlady on August 28, 2014 at 12:46 PM

There — FIFY.

Seriously, cranky, if we were limited to funding things that just anyone could figure out in an afternoon — well, lots of good things would not even be imaginable. The payments are small, the net benefits are significant. That’s why the payments keep coming — goodness knows it’s not because physics has a lot of political patronage.

Prufrock on August 28, 2014 at 5:26 PM

jaxisaneurophysicist

pfft, this guy is sent by the hologram. We will not assimilate.

faraway on August 28, 2014 at 6:27 PM

That headline is a perfect example of why so many independents think the right is so outdated. You might as well have yelled at the kids on your lawn.

Let me ask you something, have we already invented everything that could be invented?

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” – Charles H Duell (US Patent Office Commissioner, 1899)

MrBobSugar on August 28, 2014 at 6:51 PM

The holographic universe/multiverse concept and the idea that we are only simulacra within a larger created world or “game” are two different concepts, needlessly conflated here. You can have the holographic universe (2D manifesting as 4D) without the Matrix-y sci-fi add-on.

Moron Labe on August 28, 2014 at 9:06 PM

Generally I’m a supporter of pure research, even in cases where there may not be an immediate, industrial benefit from the results.

Me, too…but we’re broke.

But given all the BS that we as individuals and our government waste money upon, why the hell not look into it.

————–

My understanding of all this is that our universe is a holographic projection of the real universe.

As pointed out above, Plato basically did say this, and so did the ancient Gnostics with the belief of concentric aeons emanating from the One True God…the Realm of Light.

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 28, 2014 at 10:14 PM

Fermilabs have actually done some very good work with limited physical equipment. for example proved higgs boson extremely rare and @ high energy which forced CERN “discovery” of extremely high energy which has disproved of both string theory multi universe and super symmetry theory.

mathewsjw on August 28, 2014 at 11:08 PM

mathewsjw on August 28, 2014 at 11:08 PM

But I think you have to side with the math over the scientific data in the long run.

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 28, 2014 at 11:16 PM

I think much more interesting, in a non-StarTrekian non-string theory way, is the new (well a couple decades old but dismissed then) theory in the quantum world relating the teeniest micro to the larger….with the added benefit of NO NEED to POSIT the MULTIVERSE….

http://www.wired.com/2014/08/multiverse/

And for the science-minded the importance of failure is, to me, as big a takeaway as the emerging new theory itself.

MaggiePoo on August 28, 2014 at 11:59 PM

In short, the holometer is not only purposeful, not only not frivolous, but in fact an excellent experimental investment that promises many years of fruitful data production in the burgeoning and exciting field of gravitational-wave astrophysics.

jaxisaneurophysicist on August 28, 2014 at 2:16 PM

Well, if they can get a better handle on what Gravity actually is – the rubber sheet metaphor requires a meta-gravity to pull down on the rubber sheet, the graviton particle-exchange theory has problems, etc. – If we can get some idea how Gravity really works, then perhaps we can control it, and inertia, and perhaps mass itself.

And that would make it worthwhile!

ReggieA on August 29, 2014 at 1:27 AM

I thought it was terrible news when they canceled the Texas super collider. What a waste and such a huge missed opportunity. We would have learned so much from that.

bitsy on August 29, 2014 at 7:41 AM

Fermilabs have actually done some very good work with limited physical equipment. for example proved higgs boson extremely rare and @ high energy which forced CERN “discovery” of extremely high energy which has disproved of both string theory multi universe and super symmetry theory.

mathewsjw on August 28, 2014 at 11:08 PM

Corrections for your edification, and that of others:

1. Higgs is not rare — it’s all over the place. It’s hard to separate from background in hadron collisions, and becomes non-virtual only at high energies. For proportion, 125 GeV/c^2 (its production energy) is 1000 times what a fissioning uranium nucleus releases (~200 MeV/c^2)

2. CERN didn’t discover high energy — it made a measurement of the Higgs boson’s characteristics that demonstrate its existence unambiguously. Fermilab didn’t “drive” CERN to make the discovery — we’ve been at this for 30 or more years. It was simply out of Fermilab’s reach.

3. Fermilab is not making do with limited equipment. They have a fine accelerator that’s nearer the end of its service lifetime.

4. String theory can’t be disproved because there have been, by my count, exactly one accessible measurement proposed for this wild profusion of possible theories, and it’s nowhere near testing. See here: for a discussion of CFT/AdS correspondence, which coincidentally has to do with the holography question as well.

5. Supersymmetry is still alive and well.

Cheers.

Prufrock on August 29, 2014 at 11:22 AM

Well, if they can get a better handle on what Gravity actually is – the rubber sheet metaphor requires a meta-gravity to pull down on the rubber sheet, the graviton particle-exchange theory has problems, etc. – If we can get some idea how Gravity really works, then perhaps we can control it, and inertia, and perhaps mass itself.

And that would make it worthwhile!

ReggieA on August 29, 2014 at 1:27 AM

Yeah, that really would be something. Here’s why it’s more expensive than even the big-collider searches we do:

This great poster summarizes and painfully oversimplifies what we know about the fundamental forces and their carrier particles (“bosons”). Note that gravity is weaker than even the weakest of the forces in total strength by a factor of 10^41 times. That’s ten thousand billion billion billion billion times weaker. Or a hundred million decillion times, if you prefer.

If we plotted their relative strengths on a piece of paper… with, let’s say, half an inch between the strongest (“strong” force) and the weakest other than gravity (the “weak” force, which is also related to Higgs, by the way). On that scale, you’d have to plot the point for gravity’s strength 10^39 meters away.

How far is that?

The edge of the observable universe is ~10^26 meters away, 46 billion lightyears. So we’d have to go past that.

How far?

You’d have to cross that same distance 10^13 times. That’s ten trillion universes stacked side to side in order to make our plot.

So — gravity research. Not for the faint of heart, because it sure is faint of signal.

Prufrock on August 29, 2014 at 11:40 AM

A couple of thoughts:

1. Might be a slick answer to the Fermi Paradox (always with the reservation that the FP might not be a paradox at all, because its two sides might not both be true.)

2. What happens when the ants in little Timmy’s “Ant Farm” cleverly find a way out? Timmy’s Mom reaches for the “Raid”!

Ray Van Dune on August 29, 2014 at 11:57 AM

1 If quarks are so much smaller than the protons and neutrons they make up (by a factor of 10,000), why does it only take three quarks to make up one of these particles?

2 I understand intuitively why gravity is so much weaker than the other forces (it explains the minimum size needed to make a spherical planet for instance), but 10^-41 sounds ridiculously tiny. Maybe there’s some wrapped up microdimensions in there somewhere.

Moron Labe on August 29, 2014 at 2:38 PM

1 If quarks are so much smaller than the protons and neutrons they make up (by a factor of 10,000), why does it only take three quarks to make up one of these particles?

2 I understand intuitively why gravity is so much weaker than the other forces (it explains the minimum size needed to make a spherical planet for instance), but 10^-41 sounds ridiculously tiny. Maybe there’s some wrapped up microdimensions in there somewhere.

Moron Labe on August 29, 2014 at 2:38 PM

1. Actually, there are more than three. :) The three are just the ones that have to be there all of the time to keep obeying the rules of charge, lepton number and hypercharge conservation. Their mass, together, comes to about 9.4 MeV/c^2 out of a total of 938 MeV/c^2 — around 1%.

The rest of the mass comes from the energy necessary to bind the three together. Remember how much stronger the strong internuclear force was? It’s hugely stronger than the electromagnetic force that’s trying to force the quarks (two are same-sign charged particles, after all) apart.

Why don’t we see it more often, then? Because it’s an incredibly short-range force, which is due to the fact that its force carrier (a gluon, instead of a photon) can interact with other gluons. They’re flying frantically around all the time between the permanent (“valence”) quarks.

All of that energy (via E=mc^2 if you’re simple, or E^2=p^2c^2+m^2c^4 if you’re dong this for real) is actually mass, one way or another — and it has to act like it. That’s where the rest of the 99% of the weight originates.

So with all of that energy crammed into that tiny space, the universe can (and does) spontaneously create particle-antiparticle pairs. Because they have, combined, a net zero change in charge or lepton number or color charge or anything else, they don’t show up to external detection… but if you hit that proton with a probe of a short enough wavelength, you can start to resolve them. They’re mostly smaller quarks (u,d, s) and occasionally heavier ones (c,t,b). These are called “sea” quarks — they’re temporary and random.

The valence quarks, sea quarks and gluons are collectively called “partons” (historical reasons), by the way.

2. Gravity being weak allows the cosmos to develop structures the way it has, instead of being one big ball of junk.

10^-41 is indeed ridiculously tiny. It’s so silly that it has a name — in theoretical particle physics, it’s called the Hierarchy Problem. There are a whole slew of possible explanations, but none are well-established experimentally. We’re still looking for a good way to address the question. The “hologram” question is part of that effort, by the way. :)

Cheers.

Prufrock on August 29, 2014 at 3:29 PM

So much for the bogus “science” fantasy of post-creation evolution spawned by deranged God-hater, apostate clergyman Darwin. See creation.com for how creationists like Pasteur, NASA’s Von Braun, and countless others, are those who do true science vs evolutionists like God-haters Darwin and Dawkins and climategaters that do it for $ sex & power. God save us. Creation science can’t legitimately be refuted by current pseudo-science mendacity, only ignored, like mendacious climategate does with cool temp stats.

russedav on August 29, 2014 at 6:51 PM

vs evolutionists like God-haters Darwin and Dawkins and climategaters that do it for $ sex & power.

Heh. Clearly, you have never worked in the sciences.

Sorry for feeding the troll. It was just a little snack!

Prufrock on August 30, 2014 at 7:11 PM

The real problem with this is that it’s barely science.

The Fermilab physicist Craig Hogan claims that the holographic principle would imply quantum fluctuations in spatial position[19] that would lead to apparent background noise or “holographic noise” measurable at gravitational wave detectors, in particular GEO 600.[20] However these claims have not been widely accepted, or cited, among quantum gravity researchers and appear to be in direct conflict with string theory calculations.[21]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holographic_principle

TallDave on September 2, 2014 at 11:51 AM

To elucidate: there’s not much support for the idea “holographic noise” even exists.

This is less like searching for the Higgs boson, and more like searching for the phlogiston.

TallDave on September 2, 2014 at 11:54 AM

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