The Universe Might Be A Hologram, But Not Really

I want you to travel back to 1997.

It’s an exciting time; Disney’s Hercules is hitting theaters, Third Eye Blind’s Semi-Charmed Life is at the top of the charts. Mike Tyson is getting ready to bite Evander Holyfield’s ear off.

Okay, well, maybe exciting isn’t the right word. But then a guy named Juan Maldacena stumbles onto the scene and provides the first holographic descriptions of a higher-dimensional object.

“…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.”

That’s a weird thought.

Fast forward to today, and researchers at Ibaraki University in Japan have published two new papers providing evidence that Maldacena’s idea may be correct. In a nutshell, they ran two simulations, one of the (hypothetical) properties of a black hole based on string theory, and the other of the “corresponding lower-dimensional cosmos with no gravity,” and the two simulations matched.

You can read the two papers here: Quantum Near Horizon Geometry of Black 0-Brane and Holographic description of quantum black hole on a computer.

The scientists have proven that Maldacena’s idea is valid for this specific theoretical situation. According to Leonard Susskind, one of the pioneers of the holographic universe idea, “They have numerically confirmed…that the thermodynamics of certain black holes can be reproduced from a lower-dimensional universe.”

Now, it’s all very complicated and I don’t want to write more in fear of horribly misrepresenting the science (if I haven’t already), but it’s an interesting read. Head over to Nature for the full story. However, I’m actually posting this so I can highlight this next bit:

The problem with science, physics in particular, is that people see words like “hologram” and instantly think of Star Trek or R2D2 projecting Princess Leia on a coffee table. As usual, things are a bit more nuanced than that, and the media doesn’t exactly help.

Universe Today has a good post by Brian Koberlein explaining these papers and the whole “holographic universe” thing in layman’s terms. It’s still fascinating, but it’s not like we’re living in SEGA’s Hologram Time Traveler or anything, despite the headlines, at least not in this case.

I mean, I don’t think we are. That would be terrifying.

Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.

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