Projector Conjecture: We’re probably not stuck on the Holodeck

With news stories conjuring images of simulated realities, there has been a good amount of buzz about an article in Nature this week whose headline stated that “Simulations Back up theory that Universe is a hologram.”

A team of physicists has provided some of the clearest evidence yet that our Universe could be just one big projection.

So… there is no spoon?

Wisecracks aside, they’re referring to the Holographic principle, which allows a representation of a volume of space to be mathematically expressed or “encoded” on a boundary to the region, sort of like expressing multiple dimensions’ contents across fewer dimensions; a “flatter” surface. Thus disparate models could represent the same data. That’s what these research groups accomplished here:

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. 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.

So both models were mathematically consistent, despite one having its properties expressed in fewer dimensions than the other, or “flattened.” This is pretty cool, and they appear to have done some pretty good work, but what implication does it hold for this universe?

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.

Okay, so it was a proof of concept for the modeling of some very specific example cases. It may not sound as exciting as the “living in a hologram” headlines, and the holograms to which they refer are not what the public might picture when they hear the word.

It’s this sort of result-hyping that leads to a disillusioned public.

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Holodeck in USS Eclipse

Holodeck in USS Eclipse, Jin Zan, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons

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  6 comments for “Projector Conjecture: We’re probably not stuck on the Holodeck

  1. December 13, 2013 at 6:56 PM

    This story irritates me in particular, because this is not by any means an easy concept to understand, but all the headlines try to sum it up in less than ten words. If the reader isn’t at least somewhat familiar with string theory, they aren’t going to get what this research means. While what they’ve done is pretty cool, it’s only paradigm shifting to physicists working on string theory. And much like biocentrism, the implication that reality isn’t what we think it is, is hollow and dishonest.

  2. December 13, 2013 at 9:22 PM

    This is way over my head, but I would like to ask a related question to anyone who might have the answer: When I was growing up, I always understood “the universe” to mean “all there is”. If something else was discovered, it just meant that the universe was a bit more than we thought. Now, I hear of “multiple universes”. That makes no sense to me. It’s like multiple infinities. If there’s more, there’s more, why multiple? Even if they’re in different dimensions or time frames or whatever. What now is the definition of “universe”?f

  3. December 13, 2013 at 10:05 PM

    I’ve read “The Black Hole War” by Leonard Susskind which talks of the “surface” of a black hole having a holographic representation of every bit of matter that fell into it, and thus he famously won a bet with Stephen Hawking. However, even that may not be the most fascinating revelation …

    In the book, Susskind writes of a fascinating connection to one of those really odd people one might not suspect: Werner Erhard, the creator of est/Landmark Forum (it was/is, like Scientology, part of the “Human Potential Movement”), was a big fan of modern physics, and would use his personal money to fly leading physicists from around the world to his residence for “conferences.” Physicists were apparently glad to oblige and get a chance to meet one another, and significant discussions happened.

  4. December 13, 2013 at 10:53 PM

    “It’s this sort of result-hyping that leads to a disillusioned public.”
    I saw this on Google Plus a few months back, perhaps this is an appropriate place to post it:
    https://plus.google.com/u/0/109948695552125975880/posts/JyDKn4QRyk6

  5. December 17, 2013 at 10:38 AM

    Yes Lagayai, I agree that it is difficult to get one’s head round the idea of a Multiverse, or ‘other’ Universes, but this could be possible. The Universe in which we exist has a time-scale, as it it came into being about 13.8 billion years ago. If another Universe existed before that, or perhaps in completely different dimensions, this would not be ‘our’ Universe but a separate one.

  6. Lagaya1
    December 17, 2013 at 1:35 PM

    Thanks, Michael. I’ve heard that it’s called a different Universe if it has it’s own set of physics laws that do not apply to ours. I see why they would want to separate them, but to me, it’s still just semantics.

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