Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?

The Universe As Hologram 532

Several readers sent in news of theoretical work bolstering the proposition that the universe may be a hologram. The story begins at the German experiment GEO600, a laser inteferometer looking for gravity waves. For years, researchers there have been locating and eliminating sources of interference and noise from the experiment (they have not yet seen a gravity wave). For months they have been puzzling over a source of noise they could not explain. Then Craig Hogan, a Fermilab physicist, approached them with a possible answer: that GEO600 may have stumbled upon a fundamental limit where space-time stops behaving like a smooth continuum and instead dissolves into "grains." The "holographic principle" suggests that the universe at small scales would be "blurry," its smallest features far larger than Planck scale, and possibly accessible to current technology such as the GEO600. The holographic principle, if borne out, could help distinguish among competing theories of quantum gravity, but "We think it's at least a year too early to get excited," the lead GEO600 scientist said.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Universe As Hologram

Comments Filter:
  • by Jonah Bomber ( 535788 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @01:26PM (#26483789)
    [pulls out 3-D glasses]
    • Re:Alrighty then (Score:4, Informative)

      by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Friday January 16, 2009 @03:01PM (#26485395) Homepage Journal

      You don't need glasses to view a hologram. Unlike a stereoscopic film with two almost identical pictures, a transmission hologram (we learned about it in an undergrad physics class in college) is a single image that looks like nothing but an interference pattern, which is exactly what it is. When laser light is passed through a lens so that it is not a straight narrow beam, but gets wider as it gets more distant, the image appears in true 3-D on the film. If you move to the side you can see around objects in the picture.

      To make one of these, you need two lasers and a large photographic film. One laser is shined on the subject and the other at the film, and it records the interference between the two lasers.

      Of course, if you're nearsighted you'll need glasses to see it clearly. Or maybe contact lenses. If you have serious stabismus (crossed eyes) or are blind in one eye or for some other medical reason can't see stereoscopically, 3-D movies are no different than normal 2-D movies, but holograms are still in 3-D.

      There are excellent holograms at the museum of magic and witchcraft in San Fransisco (if it's still there; I visited in the early 70s). There are also holograms at Disney World, most notably in the Haunted Mansion. There is a stereoscopic movie using polarized glasses at Epcot.

      I saw a New Scientist article on the "universe may be a hologram" last week, but I think some theorists are misunderstanding what they're seeing (or reporters are misunderstanding what the theorists are saying).

      Of course, our "reality" may not in fact be real. It may well be a videogame and you paid good money (or what passes for money in the real reality) to play (whoever dies with the most stuff loses), or it may be punishment for some horrible crime you commited in the real universe.

      Or Morpheus may simply be looking for Neo. Or Geordi may be enjoying himself and you'll disappear when he says "end program".

  • by wtansill ( 576643 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @01:26PM (#26483805)
    That we're all living on a small anti-counterfeiting patch on God's MasterCard?
  • Plato (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @01:28PM (#26483821) Journal

    Was in Plato who suggested that people were only seeing a shadow of reality and it was up to philosophers to see the reality and describe it to the masses? It has been years since I studied philosophy, but I seem to recall something like this. I also seem to recall one of his lesser-known disciples, Aristotle discounting this altogether and starting his own school of thought.

    Amazing how things come full circle.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Please don't confuse philosophy and physics. They are two separate fields. The physics here is suggesting that the Universe might behave. Plato was commenting on the difference between human perception and reality.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Actually this isn't a bad tie in.
        Plato wasn't discussing human perception as in each person's perception is different but that we only see a shadow of truth.

        If we're living 'in a hologram' where we are unable to perceive an extra dimension that exists and affects us, then is it really that different from Plato's example?

        • Re:Plato (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Barradrewda ( 1016610 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @02:30PM (#26484825)
          I think what you are referring to is Plato's "forms". The objects we encounter merely participate in the -ness of the perfect forms which reside in what is playfully (or pejoratively) called Plato's Heaven. So my chair is a chair because it has the property "chairness", that is, there is a perfect chair that resides outside of our perceptual reality that lends its form to my chair. It is a bit more detailed but that is the gist. Aristotle was right to abandon it.
          And as for the comments below about the distinction between philosophy and physics, both Descartes and Newton were considered philosophers. Most contemporary philosophy, though, relies heavily on the natural sciences to support or confute philosophical theories. Philosophy of mind works with cognitive science, philosophy of language with various natural sciences, and metaphysics with chemistry, physics, mathematics, etc... I prefer Wittgenstein's definition of philosophy from the Tractatus. He calls philosophy an "activity" that is meant to sharpen and hone the critical thinking necessary in scientific inquiry. There are many cases where philosophical theories have been supported by scientific investigation just as many have been thrown out because certain scientific hypotheses do not support them.
          • Re:Plato (Score:4, Informative)

            by khellendros1984 ( 792761 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @03:50PM (#26486385) Journal
            Plato had a thought experiment, to which the previous poster was referring. Imagine prisoners chained to a wall. They've been there their entire lives, and all they can see is the shifting shadows on the wall as people move across the light leading into their dungeon. Those shadows are a reflection of reality, but they themselves aren't reality. One day, one of the prisoners gets free and is able to go outside. He comes back in, describing the world outside to his brethren, but they consider his story to be fictional. After all, everyone can see that reality is made up of shadows shifting on the wall.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jellomizer ( 103300 )

        Mixing philosophy and physics is actually a good idea.
        Philosophy is actually a good study for the mind, it actually helps you to see other options.
        If you can Philosophically ask yourself what if everything I know is wrong, then how might the universe behave to match my perceptions, without following what I expect to be true.

        Sometimes Science comes up with an answer that fits that available data, which is actually incorrect. Which is normally found by finding new data that the original answer doesn't work. H

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by zappepcs ( 820751 )

      That got hijacked by the neocons:

      people were only seeing a shadow of reality and it was up to politicians to see the reality and describe it to the masses?

    • Nothing has come full circle, as this idea hasn't been confirmed by rigorous experimentation.

    • Re:Plato (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Thiez ( 1281866 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @01:47PM (#26484117)

      > Amazing how things come full circle.

      If by a 'full circle' you mean that you are able to identify one of the millions of ideas from the past that has, when interpreted in a certain way, certain superficial similarities with a theory in modern physics, then yes, amazing!

  • by The_Quinn ( 748261 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @01:31PM (#26483871) Homepage
    "Computer, arch"


    Nope, not a hologram.

  • Commander Riker, this is Captain Picard. We seem to be trapped in a holodeck simulation of the Matrix, and Mr. LaForge has broken his leg because the safeties are off. Can you beam us out?
    • Of course they can't.
      The only way to get out is to complete the program. As anything else the Holodeck will interfere with all and only technology used for getting them out. After the program completes everything starts working fine again, so no need to fix it.

  • So... (Score:4, Funny)

    by sxltrex ( 198448 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @01:33PM (#26483893)

    There is no spoon?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by G0rAk ( 809217 )
      If you were to look closely enough at it the spoon would begin to pixelate. It is not that there is no spoon so much as the substrate on which the spoon exists is finite.
  • Huh? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @01:38PM (#26483969)
    He showed that the physics inside a hypothetical universe with five dimensions and shaped like a Pringle is the same as the physics taking place on the four-dimensional boundary.
    [checks calendar] No, it's not April yet... that settles it then -- we must be living on a giant potato chip! Precisely the type of universe one would expect a Flying Spaghetti Monster to design!
  • Okay... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @01:38PM (#26483971)

    Translating dense physics-speak is not my forte, but as I'm sure I'll be corrected if I'm wrong -- here goes. Einstein said that gravity is a linear (not discrete) force. What that means is that while it might decrease over distance, the effect never truly becomes zero. I think these guys are saying that it does, in fact, become zero. That is, gravity, contrary to Einstein's relativity equations... is discrete, like a particle, and not all like a wave (that can continue forever). Is that about right?

    • Re:Okay... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @01:52PM (#26484203)

      That sounds like a credible description of Quantum Gravity, or rather the big question of quantum gravity, namely, IS gravity a continuous force or is it quantized? Nobody knows if "gravitons" exist.

      The issue in this article is that these discontinuous "blurry" fluctuations are much (much much much) larger than a planck length, and this agrees with the assumptions of the so-called holographic principle, and this experiment may not be picking up gravitons so much as it's detecting the blurryness you would expect from a 2-dimensional hologram projected into 3-space. Since the 2-dimensional "horizon" of the universe can only encode information on the scale of a planck length, thus the projection in 3-space within is going to have a much lower information density. I think. I'm not a physicist...

      This is all, of course, impossible. []

    • Re:Okay... (Score:5, Informative)

      by zmooc ( 33175 ) <(zmooc) (at) (> on Friday January 16, 2009 @02:03PM (#26484373) Homepage

      You might be right, but your explanation is not what I understood from the article (but translating dense physics-speak isn't my forte either;-)). What I understood from it is that they've still not been able to measure gravity waves, so we still don't know if gravity behaves like a particle or not. What they're saying, is that space and time might be grainy, and even more grainy than was previously thought and possibly even so grainy that it renders our current attempt of measuring gravity waves futile.

      So it's not about gravity being discrete, it's about space and time being discrete, which shows up as a jitter-like noise in the gravity-wave measuring experiment.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

        So it's not about gravity being discrete, it's about space and time being discrete, which shows up as a jitter-like noise in the gravity-wave measuring experiment.

        So the universe isn't actually analog at all...It's digital. It just looks analog to us due to all the anti-aliasing.

  • Anti-science (Score:2, Interesting)

    by philspear ( 1142299 )

    Does this sound to anyone a little like the argument for intelligent design? "We can't explain why animals are the way they are because an intelligent creator that we don't understand has made them this way," to me sounds a lot like "We've gotten to the highest possible resolution of the nanoscale universe, because it's a hologram and that's it's highest resolution. It's okay that we can't see what we want to see, because it's not actually there."

    I'm not a physicist so I might be missing the real testable

    • Re:Anti-science (Score:5, Insightful)

      by db32 ( 862117 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @01:49PM (#26484161) Journal
      You need to read up more on the ideas surrounding a holographic universe. There are plenty of things on that that actually suggest that model as a reason for many of the phenomenon we observe. It isn't anti-science at all. Science generally advances quite a bit when "well, we can't see what we wanted to...we must have been wrong...we should try something else".

      "Elements" are called elements because EARLY chemistry believed that all things were made up of a combination of elements in nature (earth, fire, water, etc). Of course over the years this was refined, and then refined again, and then once again refined some more. Atomic theory has come a LONG way from the expectation that all things were made out of the "elements of nature" through these constant refinements and NOT finding what we expected to find.
      • Re:Anti-science (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @03:15PM (#26485655) Journal

        The deeper we look the more layers we find. It's like finding out that your Commodore-64 is really an 8086-PC emulating the C64, but that the 8086 is really a 286 emulating the 8086. But the 286 is really a 386 emulating a 286, which is really a Pentium emulating a 386 emulating a 286 emulating a 8086 emulating a C64, and new evidence suggests that the Pentium is being emulated also.

        God, knock it off already! It's not funny anymore.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        "Elements" are called elements because EARLY chemistry believed that all things were made up of a combination of elements in nature (earth, fire, water, etc).

        Their four elements were earth, wind, fire, and water. I believe we simply misunderstand the ancients. The four "elements" weren't elements as we know them (hydrogen, helium, etc) but the four states of matter: solid, gaseous, plasma, and liquid.

        Of course, they misunderstood the universe. But of course we do, too, although we misunderstand it less and

    • Re:Anti-science (Score:4, Informative)

      by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @02:45PM (#26485071) Journal

      > Does this sound to anyone a little like the argument for intelligent design?


      Take a look at one of the earlier papers on the holographic hypothesis here []. It comes about, not because some physicist has simply thought "what happens if the universe is a giant hologram". It's implicit, in an incredibly surprising and beautiful way, in general relativity, a well tested physical model.

      Hints can also been seen in a bunch of other independent physical results like the Bekenstein bound [] which point towards the 'granularity' of the 2D surface.

      Nobody's copping out. People aren't even making up that much new stuff. They're working out the details of what's already contained within existing (and in some cases, well tested) physical theories.

      It's probably worth remembering that for every press release made by a physics department there are probably years of work and thought by multiple physicists.

  • by vjmurphy ( 190266 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @01:41PM (#26484037) Homepage

    This just in, Red Dwarf's Rimmer and Voyager's doctor upset, complain of "hologram of a hologram" prejudice.

  • Flatland! (Score:5, Informative)

    by schneidafunk ( 795759 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @01:42PM (#26484043)
    This story reminds me of an amazing book written in the late 1800's, "Flatland", which applies today more than ever.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by escay ( 923320 )

      Indeed! while Flatland turns out to be more of a social commentary than a scientific one (as many good sci-fi books eventually mature into), the physical concept that Spaceland is merely a 3D projection of 2D information is very interesting.

      This is not the first time noise in an experiment [] led to a groundbreaking discovery (if this indeed turns out to be one). Kudos to the scientists - often times the compulsive search for signal obscures the importance of noise.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        A similar conjecture was described in a SciAm issue about (guessing) 2-3 years ago - that our observable 3D universe might actually be a 2D universe where our perception is creating a the illusion of a third dimension that doesn't really exist. But IIRC it required the universe to have negative curvature.
  • If the 3-dimensional universe is actually a 2-dimensional hologram, then maybe the whole thing is stored in RAM in some computer?

  • So... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by chemindefer ( 707238 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @01:50PM (#26484169)
    Ceci n'est pas une pipe?
  • by aquatone282 ( 905179 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @01:58PM (#26484309)

    Screw that! I'm getting drunk NOW!


  • by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @01:59PM (#26484313) Homepage Journal
    The Universe as an illusion in Hindu philosophy: [] .

    I, for one, welcome our new Matrix overlords, and will be on the holodeck if you need me.

  • Black holes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by barakn ( 641218 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @02:18PM (#26484647)

    This theory was stimulated by research suggesting the information about a collapsed star is stored in quantum fluctuations of the black hole's horizon. However, when applied to the universe as a whole, to quote the NewScientist article: "the cosmos has a horizon too - the boundary from beyond which light has not had time to reach us in the 13.7-billion-year lifespan of the universe." I had some questions resulting from my own dim understanding of black holes and having read only the NewScientist article, not the published paper.

    Matter that falls into a black hole, from the perspective of a faraway observer at rest w/ respect to the black hole, appears to slow down and the light reflected becomes redshifted - the object appears to be almost frozen in time just before the redshifting becomes so great that the object becomes invisible. The object never appears to actually go in but is stuck forever at the event horizon. This suggests to me that information about infalling matter is also stored in the black hole's horizon. So what I'd like to know - is the surface area of all the black holes within the visible universe included in their calculations along with the surface area of the visible universe? If not, are even black holes simply holograms of the visible universe's surface area, thus making the information encoded in the black hole horizons redundant? Would including the black hole surface area significantly change the expected frequency of the holographic noise?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fermion ( 181285 )
      There are a couple really interesting things here. As mentioned, the assumption is that information is lost to the black hole, then hawking radiation, in which pairs of virtual particles form at the edge of a black hole, and then sometimes one of the pair manages to escape slowly facilitates the evaporation of the black hole. This of course assumes that evaporation rate by the virtual particles is greater than the rate of incoming matter, something that might be true when the universe becomes very large a
  • 10^(-16) meters? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by omuls are tasty ( 1321759 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @02:30PM (#26484817)

    The article states that the uncertaintly at the Planck scale at the (hypothetical) border could translate to something like 10^(-16)m scale in "our world"? But some 10 years ago when I was at some research facility near Padua, they had a gravitational wave detector which they claimed could detect movement on the scale of 10^(-21)m so that would suggest we can already make much more precise measurements. How would that be possible?

    (Disclaimer if I'm missing something obvious: I'm not a physicist)

  • by Tweenk ( 1274968 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @02:51PM (#26485167)

    I remember reading about the same proposition in a Scientific American article about 3 years ago (I used to read my national edition and there is a lag). However, they were basing the proposition on the analysis of the thermodynamical properties of black holes. Apparently the maximum entropy of a system is determined by the surface area of a sphere that encloses it. Above this limit the matter collapses into a black hole, which has an entropy proportional to its surface area. []

  • Heim Theory (Score:4, Interesting)

    by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @03:33PM (#26486039) Journal

    I wonder if there is any relation at all to the "grains" and Heim's "metrons".

    A single elementary particle is characterized not only by and the limiting distances R+- of its gravitational field, but also by its Compton wavelength. R- vanishes in empty space when the mass of the field source approaches zero, while R+, , and the Compton wavelength all diverge. However, since the smallest geometrical unit must be a real number and a property of empty space its value has to remain finite. As shown in [1], only a single product having this property can be formed from the 4 characteristic lengths above. The result is an area, , bounded on all sides by geodesics, whose present numerical value is = ca. 6.15x10-70 m2. This quantity, called a metron, represents the smallest area existing in empty space and requires the differential calculus to be replaced by a calculus of finite areas. Accordingly, a whole chapter in [1] is devoted to the development of a difference calculus considering the finite area of . This enables any differential expression to be metronized. It follows that in any subspace Rn, whose dimensionality n is divisible by 2, the geometrical continuum is replaced by a metronic lattice formed by n-dimensional volumes bounded on all sides by metrons. Thus, R6 and R12 are 6-dimensional and 12-dimensional metronic lattices, respectively. Since all dimensions are metronized, even time proceeds in finite, calculable steps. By the use of a difference calculus it becomes possible to consider in the nonlinear system of geometric structures in R6.
    - Bastic Thoughts of Heim's Theory []

  • Wonderful Book (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shambalagoon ( 714768 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @03:50PM (#26486403) Homepage

    I highly recommend "The Holographic Universe" by Michael Talbot, which talks a great deal on the topic. It takes the work of physicist David Bohm and neurophysiologist Karl Pribram, and goes on to explain how the holographic model can easily explain paranormal and psychic phenomenon. I've studied mysticism, spirituality, physics, and neuroscience for ten years, and the holographic model fits perfectly with what people experience during waking life, in dreams, at near-death, and during other mystical experiences.

    I realize that most Slashdot readers will look upon this with skepticism, but after all these years of research and study, I can honestly say that if this isn't the way the universe works, it's the way it should work.

  • by CFBMoo1 ( 157453 ) on Friday January 16, 2009 @04:32PM (#26487327) Homepage

    From Me: Universe, please start beach babe program 101.

    From Universe: Fatal error in beach babe execution. Dork array value out of range.



Bell Labs Unix -- Reach out and grep someone.