This post began as a sharing of an intriguing article about a new development in quantum physics. As with just about anything in quantum theory in general and particle physics in specific, the reported breakthrough is essentially incomprehensible but sounds worldview-shattering. It would be totally out of reach except for the extraordinary gift of a science writer, Natalie Wolchover, who has managed a miracle. Not to keep you wondering, the origin of this story is a cover article from Quanta Magazine, a division of the mathematically-focused and grants-heavy Simons Foundation in New York City. Here are some quotes:
Physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality.
This is completely new and very much simpler than anything that has been done before,” said Andrew Hodges, a mathematical physicist at Oxford University who has been following the work.
The revelation that particle interactions, the most basic events in nature, may be consequences of geometry significantly advances a decades-long effort to reformulate quantum field theory, the body of laws describing elementary particles and their interactions.
That this even uses the words “very much simpler” reflects our problem.
The amplituhedron is not built out of space-time and probabilities; these properties merely arise as consequences of the jewel’s geometry. The usual picture of space and time, and particles moving around in them, is a construct.
“It’s a better formulation that makes you think about everything in a completely different way,” said David Skinner, a theoretical physicist at Cambridge University.
…But the new amplituhedron research suggests space-time, and therefore dimensions, may be illusory anyway.
“We can’t rely on the usual familiar quantum mechanical space-time pictures of describing physics,” Arkani-Hamed said. “We have to learn new ways of talking about it. This work is a baby step in that direction.”
Physicists must also prove that the new geometric formulation applies to the exact particles that are known to exist in the universe, rather than to the idealized quantum field theory they used to develop it…
Beyond making calculations easier or possibly leading the way to quantum gravity, the discovery of the amplituhedron could cause an even more profound shift, Arkani-Hamed said. That is, giving up space and time as fundamental constituents of nature and figuring out how the Big Bang and cosmological evolution of the universe arose out of pure geometry.”
Online comments about the new findings range from utterly fascinating (the Quanta original article) to the usual snark (the Wired reprint) of True Mathematicians (fundamentalists) toward heathen non-mathematicians (the rest of us) who try to understand the findings in words. A charge of “Pseudoscience!” looms. Translation, we note, is problematic no less with quantum theory than with the Bible.
I hope you will read both the article and the comments (and if you’re up for it, read the comments in the Wired reprint). Here is the Quanta article itself:
Next time in this space (if it actually exists), there will be another article which may help illustrate why I believe this week’s entry may have something to do with NDEs and their ilk. (No, I’m not entirely off-topic! Stay tuned.)