Archivi tag: quantum gravity

Alan Guth commenta i risultati di BICEP2

E’ ancora vivo il fermento che ha generato in questi giorni l’annuncio dei ricercatori dell’Harvard CMB Group sull’esperimento BICEP2 in merito alla rivelazione di un segnale presente nella radiazione cosmica di fondo associato al passaggio di onde gravitazionali primordiali, una forte evidenza indiretta dell’inflazione cosmica (post). Il modello inflazionistico fu inizialmente proposto negli anni ’80 da Alan Guth, oggi Victor F. Weisskopf Professor of Physics presso il MIT, che commenta qui di seguito il significato scientifico dei dati ottenuti da BICEP2.

Q: Can you explain the theory of cosmic inflation that you first put forth in 1980?

A: I usually describe inflation as a theory of the “bang” of the Big Bang: It describes the propulsion mechanism that drove the universe into the period of tremendous expansion that we call the Big Bang. In its original form, the Big Bang theory never was a theory of the bang. It said nothing about what banged, why it banged, or what happened before it banged. The original Big Bang theory was really a theory of the aftermath of the bang. The universe was already hot and dense, and already expanding at a fantastic rate. The theory described how the universe was cooled by the expansion, and how the expansion was slowed by the attractive force of gravity. Inflation proposes that the expansion of the universe was driven by a repulsive form of gravity. According to Newton, gravity is a purely attractive force, but this changed with Einstein and the discovery of general relativity. General relativity describes gravity as a distortion of spacetime, and allows for the possibility of repulsive gravity. Modern particle theories strongly suggest that at very high energies, there should exist forms of matter that create repulsive gravity. Inflation, in turn, proposes that at least a very small patch of the early universe was filled with this repulsive-gravity material. The initial patch could have been incredibly small, perhaps as small as 10-24 centimeter, about 100 billion times smaller than a single proton. The small patch would then start to exponentially expand under the influence of the repulsive gravity, doubling in size approximately every 10-37 second. To successfully describe our visible universe, the region would need to undergo at least 80 doublings, increasing its size to about 1 centimeter. It could have undergone significantly more doublings, but at least this number is needed. During the period of exponential expansion, any ordinary material would thin out, with the density diminishing to almost nothing. The behavior in this case, however, is very different: The repulsive-gravity material actually maintains a constant density as it expands, no matter how much it expands! While this appears to be a blatant violation of the principle of the conservation of energy, it is actually perfectly consistent. This loophole hinges on a peculiar feature of gravity: The energy of a gravitational field is negative. As the patch expands at constant density, more and more energy, in the form of matter, is created. But at the same time, more and more negative energy appears in the form of the gravitational field that is filling the region. The total energy remains constant, as it must, and therefore remains very small. It is possible that the total energy of the entire universe is exactly zero, with the positive energy of matter completely canceled by the negative energy of gravity. I often say that the universe is the ultimate free lunch, since it actually requires no energy to produce a universe. At some point the inflation ends because the repulsive-gravity material becomes metastable. The repulsive-gravity material decays into ordinary particles, producing a very hot soup of particles that form the starting point of the conventional Big Bang. At this point the repulsive gravity turns off, but the region continues to expand in a coasting pattern for billions of years to come. Thus, inflation is a prequel to the era that cosmologists call the Big Bang, although it of course occurred after the origin of the universe, which is often also called the Big Bang.

Q: What is the new result announced this week, and how does it provide critical support for your theory?

A: The stretching effect caused by the fantastic expansion of inflation tends to smooth things out — which is great for cosmology, because an ordinary explosion would presumably have left the universe very splotchy and irregular. The early universe, as we can see from the afterglow of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, was incredibly uniform, with a mass density that was constant to about one part in 100,000. The tiny nonuniformities that did exist were then amplified by gravity: In places where the mass density was slightly higher than average, a stronger-than-average gravitational field was created, which pulled in still more matter, creating a yet stronger gravitational field. But to have structure form at all, there needed to be small nonuniformities at the end of inflation. In inflationary models, these nonuniformities — which later produce stars, galaxies, and all the structure of the universe — are attributed to quantum theory. Quantum field theory implies that, on very short distance scales, everything is in a state of constant agitation. If we observed empty space with a hypothetical, and powerful, magnifying glass, we would see the electric and magnetic fields undergoing wild oscillations, with even electrons and positrons popping out of the vacuum and then rapidly disappearing. The effect of inflation, with its fantastic expansion, is to stretch these quantum fluctuations to macroscopic proportions. The temperature nonuniformities in the cosmic microwave background were first measured in 1992 by the COBE satellite, and have since been measured with greater and greater precision by a long and spectacular series of ground-based, balloon-based, and satellite experiments. They have agreed very well with the predictions of inflation. These results, however, have not generally been seen as proof of inflation, in part because it is not clear that inflation is the only possible way that these fluctuations could have been produced. The stretching effect of inflation, however, also acts on the geometry of space itself, which according to general relativity is flexible. Space can be compressed, stretched, or even twisted. The geometry of space also fluctuates on small scales, due to the physics of quantum theory, and inflation also stretches these fluctuations, producing gravity waves in the early universe. The new result, by John Kovac and the BICEP2 collaboration, is a measurement of these gravity waves, at a very high level of confidence. They do not see the gravity waves directly, but instead they have constructed a very detailed map of the polarization of the CMB in a patch of the sky. They have observed a swirling pattern in the polarization (called “B modes”) that can be created only by gravity waves in the early universe, or by the gravitational lensing effect of matter in the late universe. But the primordial gravity waves can be separated, because they tend to be on larger angular scales, so the BICEP2 team has decisively isolated their contribution. This is the first time that even a hint of these primordial gravity waves has been detected, and it is also the first time that any quantum properties of gravity have been directly observed.

Q: How would you describe the significance of these new findings, and your reaction to them?

A: The significance of these new findings is enormous. First of all, they help tremendously in confirming the picture of inflation. As far as we know, there is nothing other than inflation that can produce these gravity waves. Second, it tells us a lot about the details of inflation that we did not already know. In particular, it determines the energy density of the universe at the time of inflation, which is something that previously had a wide range of possibilities. By determining the energy density of the universe at the time of inflation, the new result also tells us a lot about which detailed versions of inflation are still viable, and which are no longer viable. The current result is not by itself conclusive, but it points in the direction of the very simplest inflationary models that can be constructed. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the new result is not the final story, but is more like the opening of a new window. Now that these B modes have been found, the BICEP2 collaboration and many other groups will continue to study them. They provide a new tool to study the behavior of the early universe, including the process of inflation. When I (and others) started working on the effect of quantum fluctuations in the early 1980s, I never thought that anybody would ever be able to measure these effects. To me it was really just a game, to see if my colleagues and I could agree on what the fluctuations would theoretically look like. So I am just astounded by the progress that astronomers have made in measuring these minute effects, and particularly by the new result of the BICEP2 team. Like all experimental results, we should wait for it to be confirmed by other groups before taking it as truth, but the group seems to have been very careful, and the result is very clean, so I think it is very likely that it will hold up.

Courtesy MIT: 3 Questions: Alan Guth on new insights into the ‘Big Bang’

The potential of string theory as an elegant unified description of physics

Nell’Agosto del 1984 due fisici arrivarono ad elaborare una formula che aprì una nuova finestra verso la comprensione della teoria delle stringhe. Lo scorso mese di Dicembre, Michael Green dell’Università di Cambridge e John Schwarz del California Institute of Technology sono stati insigniti del Fundamental Physics Prize 2014, uno dei premi della serie “Breakthrough Prizes” che riguarda le scienze fisiche e biologiche. La citazione del premio, che ammonta a 3 milioni di dollari, dice “per aver introdotto nuove prospettive sulla gravità quantistica e l’unificazione delle forze“.

Green and Schwarz are known for their pioneering work in string theory, postulated as a way of explaining the fundamental constituents of the Universe as tiny vibrating strings. Different types of elementary particles arise in this theory as different vibrational harmonics (or ‘notes’). The scope of string theory has broadened over the past few years and is currently being applied to a far wider field than that for which it was first devised, which has taken those who research into it in unexpected directions. Although the term ‘string theory’ was not coined till 1971, it had its genesis in a paper by the Italian physicist Gabriele Veneziano in 1968, published when Green was a research student in Cambridge. Green was rapidly impressed by its potential and began working seriously on it in the early 1970s. As he explains in the accompanying film, he stuck with string theory during a period when it was overshadowed by other developments in elementary particle physics. As a result of a chance meeting at the CERN accelerator laboratory in Switzerland in the summer of 1979, Green (then a researcher at Queen Mary, London) began to work on string theory with Schwarz. Green says that the relative absence of interest in string theory during the 1970s and early 1980s was actually helpful: it allowed him and a small number of colleagues to focus on their research well away from the limelight. “Initially we were not sure that the theory would be consistent, but as we understood it better we became more and more convinced that the theory had something valuable to say about the fundamental particles and their forces”, he says. In August 1984 the two researchers, while working at the Aspen Center for Physics in Colorado, famously understood how string theory avoids certain inconsistencies (known as ‘anomalies’) that plague more conventional theories in which the fundamental particles are points rather than strings. This convinced other researchers of the potential of string theory as an elegant unified description of fundamental physics. “Suddenly our world changed – and we were called on to give lectures and attend meetings and workshops”, remembers Green. String theory was back on track as a construct that offered a compelling explanation for the fundamental building blocks of the Universe: many researchers shifted the focus of their work into this newly-promising field and, as a result of this upturn in interest, developments in string theory began to take new and unexpected directions. Ideas formulated in the past few years, indicate that string theory has an overarching mathematical structure that may be useful for understanding a much wider variety of problems in theoretical physics that the theory was originally supposed to explain, this includes problems in condensed matter, superconductivity, plasma physics and the physics of fluids. Green is a passionate believer in the exchange of ideas and he values immensely his interaction with the latest generation of researchers to be tackling some of the knottiest problems in particle physics and associated fields. “The best ideas come from the young people entering the field and we need to make sure we continue to attract them into research. It is particularly evident that at present we fail to encourage sufficient numbers of young women to think about careers in physics”, he says. “Scientific research is by its nature competitive and there are, of course, professional jealousies – but there’s also a strong tradition of collaboration in theoretical physics and advances in the subject feel like a communal activity.” In 2009 Green was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge. It comes with a legacy that Green describes as daunting: his immediate predecessor was Professor Stephen Hawking and in its 350-year history the chair has been held by a series of formidable names in the history of mathematical sciences.

The challenges of pushing forward the boundaries in a field that demands thinking in not three dimensions but as many as 11 are tremendous. The explanation of the basic building blocks of nature as different harmonics of a string is only a small part of string theory, and is the feature that is easiest to put across to the general public as it is relatively straightforward to visualise.

Far harder to articulate in words are concepts to do with explaining how time and space might emerge from the theory”, says Green. “Sometimes you hit a problem that you just can’t get out of your head and carry round with you wherever you are. It’s almost a cliché that it’s often when you’re relaxing that a solution will spontaneously present itself”. Like his colleagues Green is motivated by wonderment at the world and the excitement of being part of a close community grappling with fundamental questions. He is often asked to justify the cost of research that can seem so remote from everyday life, and that cannot be tested in any conventional sense. In response he gives the example of the way in which quantum mechanics has revolutionised the way in which many of us live. In terms of developments that may come from advances in string theory, he says: “We can’t predict what the eventual outcomes of our research will be. But, if we are successful, they will certainly be huge and in the meantime, string theory provides a constant stream of unexpected surprises.”

Michael Green will be giving a lecture, ‘The pointless Universe’, as part of Cambridge Science Festival on Thursday 13 March, 5pm-6pm, at Lady Mitchell Hall, Sidgwick Site, Cambridge. The event is free but requires pre-booking.

University of Cambridge: Strings that surprise: how a theory scaled up

Is our Universe a hologram?

E’ circolata di recente nei media la notizia pubblicata da Nature secondo la quale un gruppo di fisici giapponesi avrebbero formulato una teoria che “potrebbe essere considerata l’evidenza più chiara sul fatto che il nostro Universo sarebbe una gigantesca proiezione“. Nei loro articoli, Yoshifumi Hyakutake e colleghi della Ibaraki University in Giappone spiegano  come la loro idea suggerisca che la realtà fisica, così come noi la concepiamo, potrebbe essere in definitiva un ologramma appartenente ad un altro spazio bidimensionale.

In 1997, theoretical physicist Juan Maldacena proposed that an audacious model of the Universe in which gravity arises from infinitesimally thin, vibrating strings could be reinterpreted in terms of well-established physics. The mathematically intricate world of strings, which exist in nine dimensions of space plus one of time, would be merely a hologram: the real action would play out in a simpler, flatter cosmos where there is no gravity. Maldacena’s idea thrilled physicists because it offered a way to put the popular but still unproven theory of strings on solid footing, and because it solved apparent inconsistencies between quantum physics and Einstein’s theory of gravity. It provided physicists with a mathematical “Rosetta stone”, a ‘duality’, that allowed them to translate back and forth between the two languages, and solve problems in one model that seemed intractable in the other and vice versa (see ‘Collaborative physics: String theory finds a bench mate‘). But although the validity of Maldacena’s ideas has pretty much been taken for granted ever since, a rigorous proof has been elusive.

In two papers posted on the arXiv repository, Yoshifumi Hyakutake of Ibaraki University in Japan and his colleagues now provide, if not an actual proof, at least compelling evidence that Maldacena’s conjecture is true.

In one paper, Hyakutake computes the internal energy of a black hole, the position of its event horizon (the boundary between the black hole and the rest of the Universe), its entropy and other properties based on the predictions of string theory as well as the effects of so-called virtual particles that continuously pop into and out of existence (see ‘Astrophysics: Fire in the Hole!‘). In the other, he and his collaborators calculate the internal energy of the corresponding lower-dimensional cosmos with no gravity. The two computer calculations match. “It seems to be a correct computation”, says Maldacena, who is now at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey and who did not contribute to the team’s work.

The findings “are an interesting way to test many ideas in quantum gravity and string theory”, Maldacena adds.

The two papers, he notes, are the culmination of a series of articles contributed by the Japanese team over the past few years. “The whole sequence of papers is very nice because it tests the dual [nature of the universes] in regimes where there are no analytic tests. They have numerically confirmed, perhaps for the first time, something we were fairly sure had to be true, but was still a conjecture, namely that the thermodynamics of certain black holes can be reproduced from a lower-dimensional Universe”, says Leonard Susskind, a theoretical physicist at Stanford University in California who was among the first theoreticians to explore the idea of holographic universes. Neither of the model universes explored by the Japanese team resembles our own, Maldacena notes. The cosmos with a black hole has ten dimensions, with eight of them forming an eight-dimensional sphere. The lower-dimensional, gravity-free one has but a single dimension, and its menagerie of quantum particles resembles a group of idealized springs, or harmonic oscillators, attached to one another. Nevertheless, says Maldacena, the numerical proof that these two seemingly disparate worlds are actually identical gives hope that the gravitational properties of our Universe can one day be explained by a simpler cosmos purely in terms of quantum theory.

Nature: Simulations back up theory that Universe is a hologram

arXiv: Quantum Near Horizon Geometry of Black 0-Brane

arXiv: Holographic description of quantum black hole on a computer

27° Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics

The 27th Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics will be held in downtown Dallas December 8 – 13, 2013. It is organized by the Department of Physics at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) and is chaired by Wolfgang Rindler and Mustapha Ishak. The Symposium will include both invited and contributed talks and posters. This will be a special and historically meaningful Jubilee meeting, marking the 50th anniversary, almost to the day, of the very first of these Texas Symposia, held in Dallas in December 1963. We are excited to welcome hundreds of international astrophysicists back to Dallas fifty years later, both to celebrate the past 50 years of Texas Symposia and relativistic astrophysics and to kick off the next 50 years of remarkable discoveries.

The Symposium will cover the following topics:

Cosmology

  • Cosmic acceleration/dark energy
  • Cosmic microwave background
  • Early universe (Inflation, Cyclic Model, CCC cosmology …)
  • Galaxy formation and reionization
  • Inhomogeneous cosmologies, averaging, and backreaction
  • Large-scale surveys
  • Quantum gravity/cosmology and string cosmology
  • Weak gravitational lensing
  • Experimental/observational cosmology – other topics
  • Theoretical cosmology – other topics
Compact objects and galactic/cluster scales
  • Black holes, mergers, and accretion discs
  • Galaxy evolution and supermassive black holes
  • Imaging black holes
  • Microlensing and exoplanets
  • Neutron stars, pulsars, magnetars, and white dwarfs
  • Nuclear Equation of State for Compact Objects
  • Singularities
  • Strong gravitational lensing
  • Supermassive black hole binaries
  • Tidal disruption of stars by supermassive black holes
  • Compact object observations – other topics
  • Compact object theory – other topics
High-energy astrophysics and astroparticle physics
  • Active galactic nuclei and jets
  • Cosmological implications of the Higgs and the LHC
  • Dark matter astrophysics
  • Dark matter experiments and data
  • Gamma-ray bursts, SNe connection, and sources
  • High-energy cosmic rays (VHE, UHE, mechanisms, etc.)
  • High-energy gamma-rays
  • Nuclear Astrophysics
  • Supernovae and their remnants
  • High-energy astrophysics/astroparticle physics – other topics
Testing general relativity and modified gravity
  • Alternative theories of gravity
  • Strong-field tests of general relativity
  • Testing general relativity at cosmological scales
  • Testing general relativity – other topics
  • Modified gravity – other topics
Gravitational waves
  • Electromagnetic counterparts of gravitational wave sources
  • Ongoing and planned gravitational wave experiments
  • Gravitational wave theory and simulations
  • Results and progress from gravitational wave searches
  • Supernovae and Gravitational Wave Emission
  • Gravitational waves – other topics
Numerical relativity
  • Computer algebra and symbolic programming
  • Locating black hole horizons
  • Numerical simulations
  • Relativistic magnetohydrodynamics
  • Numerical relativity – other topics
Other ongoing and future experiments and surveys
  • ACT, AMS, BOSS, CFHT, Chandra, DES, Euclid, Fermi, HETDEX, HSC, JWST,
  • LHC, LSST, NuSTAR, Pan-STARRS, Planck, SDSS, SKA, SPT, WFIRST, WMAP, …
  • (to be completed after abstract submissions)
And also:
History of relativistic astrophysics
History of the Texas Symposium and interface with other anniversaries
The Kerr solution – 50 years later

A new approach to exploring quantum gravity

I fisici Lawrence Krauss e Frank Wilczek, rispettivamente dell’Arizona State University e dell’Australian National University, hanno pubblicato un lavoro in cui essi propongono una nuovo approccio sulla possibilità di quantizzare la forza di gravità misurando la polarizzazione della radiazione cosmica di fondo. Secondo gli scienziati, questo metodo potrebbe portare ad una connessione tra la radiazione cosmica di fondo e le onde gravitazionali causate dall’inflazione cosmica durante le epoche primordiali della storia cosmica.

Physicists, as most are aware, have been stymied in their efforts to discover a way to unify quantum mechanics and gravity, most scientists in the field believe there is likely a gravity particle they call it a graviton, that carries the force known as gravity. No one of course has ever seen one, or been able to prove it exists. This is because, they say, of how weak it is compared to the other forces, such as electromagnetism, to be able to see it, some have suggested, would require a device so massive that it would collapse in on itself into a black hole. For this reason, some researchers have suggested that we will never be able to see it.

In their paper, Krauss and Wilczek suggest that it might not be necessary to see it, because there might be a way to infer its existence by measuring the CMB.

Their idea is that in the early Universe, just after the Big Bang, as inflation was occurring, gravitational waves should have been created which in turn would have caused photons present in the CMB to scatter in a certain pattern. Finding that pattern would mean finding evidence of a particle that was carrying the gravitational force, the graviton. And if evidence for the existence of a graviton could be found, then physicists would finally have their “universal theory”. They add that they believe that dimensional analysis could provide a link between those early gravitational waves and Planck’s constant, which is of course used in quantum mechanics. There are a couple of issues with the new theory, the first is that technology does not yet exist to measure the CMB in a way that would allow scientists to detect those early gravitational waves and another is proving that any polarization found in the CMB can indeed be attributable to gravitational waves and not some other mechanism, force or process.

arXiv: Using Cosmology to Establish the Quantization of Gravity

Towards understanding the Big Bang

Le leggi della fisica non sono in grado di descrivere cosa accadde durante il Big Bang. Infatti, sia la teoria dei quanti che la relatività generale non permettono di spiegare lo stato fisico singolare, infinitamente denso e caldo che caratterizzava le fasi iniziali della storia dell’Universo. Forse un giorno, la formulazione di una teoria che permetta di descrivere la gravità su scale quantistiche potrebbe fornirci una risposta (vedasi Idee sull’Universo). Oggi, alcuni scienziati del  Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute, AEI) a Golm/Potsdam e del Perimeter Institute in Canada hanno fatto una scoperta importante in questo contesto. La loro idea è quella di assumere che lo spazio consista di piccolissime unità chiamate “mattoni fondamentali”. Partendo da questo concetto, gli scienziati arrivano alla formulazione delle equazioni più importanti della cosmologia, e cioè le equazioni di Friedmann, che permettono di descrivere l’Universo. Il risultato è che questo processo mostra, in definitiva, che la meccanica quantistica e la relatività possono essere effettivamente unificate.

For almost a century, the two major theories of physics have coexisted but have been irreconcilable: while Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity describes gravity and thus the world at large, quantum physics describes the world of atoms and elementary particles. Both theories work extremely well within their own boundaries; however, they break down, as currently formulated, in certain extreme regions, at extremely tiny distances, the so-called Planck scale, for example. Space and time thus have no meaning in black holes or, most notably, during the Big Bang. Daniele Oriti from the Albert Einstein Institute uses a fluid to illustrate this situation: “We can describe the behaviour of flowing water with the long-known classical theory of hydrodynamics. But if we advance to smaller and smaller scales and eventually come across individual atoms, it no longer applies. Then we need quantum physics“. Just as a liquid consists of atoms, Oriti imagines space to be made up of tiny cells or “atoms of space”, and a new theory is required to describe them: quantum gravity.

In Einstein’s relativity theory, space is a continuum. Oriti now breaks down this space into tiny elementary cells and applies the principles of quantum physics to them, thus to space itself and to the theory of relativity describing it. This is the unification idea.

A fundamental problem of all approaches to quantum gravity consists in bridging the huge dimensional scales from the space atoms to the dimensions of the Universe. This is where Oriti, his colleague Lorenzo Sindoni and Steffen Gielen, a former postdoc at the AEI who is now a researcher at the Perimeter Institute in Canada, have succeeded. Their approach is based on so-called group field theory. This is closely related to loop quantum gravity, which the AEI has been developing for some time. The task now consisted in describing how the space of the Universe evolves from the elementary cells. Staying with the idea of fluids: How can the hydrodynamics for the flowing water be derived from a theory for the atoms? This extremely demanding mathematical task recently led to a surprising success. “Under special assumptions, space is created from these building blocks, and evolves like an expanding Universe“, explains Oriti. “For the first time, we were thus able to derive the Friedmann equation directly as part of our complete theory of the structure of space“, he adds. This fundamental equation, which describes the expanding Universe, was derived by the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann in the 1920s on the basis of the General Theory of Relativity. The scientists have therefore succeeded in bridging the gap from the microworld to the macroworld, and thus from quantum mechanics to the General Theory of Relativity: they show that space emerges as the condensate of these elementary cells and evolves into a Universe which resembles our own. Oriti and his colleagues thus see themselves at the start of a difficult but promising journey. Their current solution is valid only for a homogeneous Universe, but our real world is much more complex. It contains inhomogeneities, such as planets, stars and galaxies. The physicists are currently working on including them in their theory. And they have planned something really big as their ultimate goal.

On the one hand, they want to investigate whether it is possible to describe space even during the Big Bang.

A few years ago, former AEI researcher Martin Bojowald found clues, as part of a simplified version of loop quantum gravity, that time and space can possibly be traced back through the Big Bang. With their theory, Oriti and his colleagues are hoping to confirm or improve this result. If it continues to prove successful, the researchers could perhaps use it to explain also the assumed inflationary expansion of the Universe shortly after the Big Bang as well, and the nature of the mysterious dark energy. This energy field causes the Universe to expand at an ever-increasing rate. Oriti’s colleague Lorenzo Sindoni therefore adds: “We will only be able to really understand the evolution of the Universe when we have a theory of quantum gravity“. The AEI researchers are in good company here: Einstein and his successors, who have been searching for this for almost one hundred years.

Max Planck Institute: Quantum steps towards the Big Bang

arXiv: Cosmology from Group Field Theory Formalism for Quantum Gravity

Why nature is quantum?

Sappiamo che gli scienziati sono come dei bambini perchè si pongono sempre la domanda sul ‘perché’ delle cose. Tra queste, una domanda a cui si deve ancora rispondere riguarda come mai la natura si comporta secondo le leggi della fisica quantistica. Oggi, due ricercatori, Corsin Pfister e Stephanie Wehner del Centre for Quantum Technologies presso la National University di Singapore stanno cercando di affrontare la questione in un articolo pubblicato su Nature Communications.

We know that things that follow quantum rules, such as atoms, electrons or the photons that make up light, are full of surprises. They can exist in more than one place at once, for instance, or exist in a shared state where the properties of two particles show what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance“, no matter what their physical separation. Because such things have been confirmed in experiments, researchers are confident the theory is right. But it would still be easier to swallow if it could be shown that quantum physics itself sprang from intuitive underlying principles. One way to approach this problem is to imagine all the theories one could possibly come up with to describe nature, and then work out what principles help to single out quantum physics. A good start is to assume that information follows Einstein’s special relativity and cannot travel faster than light. However, this alone isn’t enough to define quantum physics as the only way nature might behave. Corsin and Stephanie think they have come across a new useful principle. “We have found a principle that is very good at ruling out other theories“, says Corsin. In short, the principle to be assumed is that if a measurement yields no information, then the system being measured has not been disturbed. Quantum physicists accept that gaining information from quantum systems causes disturbance. Corsin and Stephanie suggest that in a sensible world the reverse should be true, too. If you learn nothing from measuring a system, then you can’t have disturbed it. Consider the famous Schrodinger’s cat paradox, a thought experiment in which a cat in a box simultaneously exists in two states (this is known as a ‘quantum superposition’). According to quantum theory it is possible that the cat is both dead and alive until the cat’s state of health is ‘measured’ by opening the box. When the box is opened, allowing the health of the cat to be measured, the superposition collapses and the cat ends up definitively dead or alive. The measurement has disturbed the cat. This is a property of quantum systems in general. Perform a measurement for which you can’t know the outcome in advance, and the system changes to match the outcome you get. What happens if you look a second time? The researchers assume the system is not evolving in time or affected by any outside influence, which means the quantum state stays collapsed. You would then expect the second measurement to yield the same result as the first. After all, “If you look into the box and find a dead cat, you don’t expect to look again later and find the cat has been resurrected“, says Stephanie. “You could say we’ve formalised the principle of accepting the facts“. Corsin and Stephanie show that this principle rules out various theories of nature. They note particularly that a class of theories they call ‘discrete’ are incompatible with the principle. These theories hold that quantum particles can take up only a finite number of states, rather than choose from an infinite, continuous range of possibilities. The possibility of such a discrete ‘state space’ has been linked to quantum gravitational theories proposing similar discreteness in spacetime, where the fabric of the Universe is made up of tiny brick-like elements rather than being a smooth, continuous sheet. As is often the case in research, Corsin and Stephanie reached this point having set out to solve an entirely different problem altogether. Corsin was trying to find a general way to describe the effects of measurements on states, a problem that he found impossible to solve. In an attempt to make progress, he wrote down features that a ‘sensible’ answer should have. This property of information gain versus disturbance was on the list. He then noticed that if he imposed the property as a principle, some theories would fail. Corsin and Stephanie are keen to point out it’s still not the whole answer to the big ‘why’ question: theories other than quantum physics, including classical physics, are compatible with the principle. But as researchers compile lists of principles that each rule out some theories to reach a set that singles out quantum physics, the principle of information gain versus disturbance seems like a good one to include.

See also: Is nature – deep down – actually discrete?

CQT: New principle may help explain why nature is quantum
arXiv: If no information gain implies no disturbance, then any discrete physical theory is classical