The Holographic Universe [we might Live in!]
Are you feeling a little… flat? Well that might be because you are only in 2 dimensions. I know what you’re thinking, insane! Well first check the name of the business and second, check out the science. In fact, it may seem like a joke, but the math suggests that it could very well be true and with it could come a deeper understanding of the universe. Testing this hypothesis (which was first made in the late 90’s) has been harder to do than you might think, but that has now changed. We are officially checking to see if our universe is a hologram!
The unique experiment I am talking about is at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory ( it is called the, of all things, Holometer) and has started collecting data that will answer some mind-bending and badass questions about our universe – including whether we live in a hologram.
The thing is, it’s very possible to have only two dimensions while thinking there are three, for example holograms. Or another good example that everyone is familiar with, characters on a television show would not know that their seemingly 3-D world exists only on a 2-D screen. I know it sounds like that couldn’t apply to us because they are a recording, but even with that argument, who says we arent?
We could be totally clueless that our 3-D space is just an illusion. The information about everything in our universe could actually be encoded in tiny packets in two dimensions.
To keep going with the television metaphor, if you get close enough to your TV screen and you’ll see pixels. These pixels are just small points of data that make a seamless image if you stand back. Scientists think that the universe’s information may be contained in the same way and that the natural “pixel size” of space is roughly 10 trillion trillion times smaller than an atom, a distance that physicists call the Planck scale (there is also a good reason for this mathematically, so just go with it).
“We want to find out whether space-time is a quantum system just like matter is,” said Craig Hogan, director of Fermilab’s Center for Particle Astrophysics and the developer of the holographic noise theory. “If we see something, it will completely change ideas about space we’ve used for thousands of years.”
Quantum theory suggests that it is impossible to know both the exact location and the exact speed of subatomic particles. If space comes in 2-D bits with limited information about the precise location of objects, then space itself would fall under the same theory of uncertainty. The same way that matter continues to jiggle (as quantum waves) even when cooled to absolute zero, this digitized space should have built-in vibrations even in its lowest energy state.
So what the experiment probes the limits of the universe’s ability to store information. If there is a set number of bits that tell you where something is, it eventually becomes impossible to find more specific information about the location – even in principle. In a not so physics example, this means that while that hard drive you are using is storing more and more data, eventually no matter the advances in technology you will hit a point where you can no longer store more data in that amount of space.
The instrument testing these limits is Fermilab’s Holometer, or holographic interferometer, the most sensitive device ever created to measure the quantum jitter of space itself.
Right now the Holometer is operating at full power and uses a pair of interferometers placed close to one another. Each one sends a one-kilowatt laser beam (the equivalent of 200,000 laser pointers for those who like random facts) at a beam splitter and down two perpendicular 40-meter arms. The light is then reflected back to the beam splitter where the two beams recombine, creating fluctuations in brightness if there is motion. Researchers analyze these fluctuations in the returning light to see if the beam splitter is moving in a certain way – being carried along on a jitter of space itself.
“Holographic noise” is expected to be present at all frequencies, but the scientists’ challenge is not to be fooled by other sources of vibrations. That could be a problem with the vibration of technology and the natural vibration of atoms themselves. However, the Holometer is testing a frequency so high – millions of cycles per second – that motions of normal matter are not likely to cause problems.
Rather, the dominant background noise is more often due to radio waves emitted by nearby electronics. So the team made sure that the Holometer experiment is designed to identify and eliminate noise from such conventional sources.
“If we find a noise we can’t get rid of, we might be detecting something fundamental about nature – a noise that is intrinsic to space-time,” said Fermilab physicist Aaron Chou, lead scientist and project manager for the Holometer. “It’s an exciting moment for physics. A positive result will open a whole new avenue of questioning about how space works.”
Not quite convinced? You can read more about our possible holographic universe —here! Or you can find more in the sources section!
Cowen, R. (2013). Simulations back up theory that Universe is a hologram Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature.2013.14328
Li W, & Takayanagi T (2011). Holography and entanglement in flat spacetime. Physical review letters, 106 (14) PMID: 21561179
Piao, Y. (2007). Primordial perturbation spectra in a holographic phase of the Universe Physical Review D, 76 (4) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevD.76.043509
George F. Smoot (2010). Go with the Flow, Average Holographic Universe Int.J.Mod.Phys.D19:2247-2258,2010 arXiv: 1003.5952v1