(Roughly) Daily

But it’s so REAL!…

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For the last seven years, a joint German-British project, GEO600, has been looking for gravitational waves, “extremely small ripples in the structure of spacetime caused by astrophysical events like supernovae or coalescing massive binaries (neutron stars, black holes).”  In 1916, Einstein predicted that they should exist, but no one has ever directly observed them.  As The New Scientist reports,  while GEO600 still hasn’t found any, it may have inadvertently made the most important discovery in physics in the last several decades.

If Geo600’s observations mean what they seem to mean, we live in a huge, cosmic hologram.

For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time – the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into “grains”, just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. “It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time,” says Hogan.

If this doesn’t blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab’s Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: “If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram.”

The idea that we live in a hologram probably sounds absurd, but it is a natural extension of our best understanding of black holes, and something with a pretty firm theoretical footing. It has also been surprisingly helpful for physicists wrestling with theories of how the universe works at its most fundamental level.

The holograms you find on credit cards and banknotes are etched on two-dimensional plastic films. When light bounces off them, it recreates the appearance of a 3D image. In the 1990s physicists Leonard Susskind and Nobel prizewinner Gerard ‘t Hooft suggested that the same principle might apply to the universe as a whole. Our everyday experience might itself be a holographic projection of physical processes that take place on a distant, 2D surface.

The full report is here.

And readers can find copies of Edwin A. Abbott’s eerily delightful– and, it seems, possibly prophetic– 19th Century masterpiece, Flatland (replete with the author’s own illustrations) here.

As we slip on our 3-D glasses, we might honor that champion of two dimensions, Popeye the Sailor, who made his first appearance in a strip (called “Thimble Theater”) on this date in 1929 (along with Castor Oyle, father of Olive, who “meets” Popeye seven days later).

As we digest the GEO600 news, we might recall Popeye’s wise reminder:

I yam what I yam and tha’s all what I yam.

PopeyfirstPopeye’s first appearance (here for larger)

Written by LW

January 17, 2009 at 1:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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