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Space Science

Controversial Experiment Sees No Evidence That the Universe Is a Hologram (sciencemag.org) 157

sciencehabit writes in with bad news for Holographic Universe fans. From Sciencemag: "It's a classic underdog story: Working in a disused tunnel with a couple of lasers and a few mirrors, a plucky band of physicists dreamed up a way to test one of the wildest ideas in theoretical physics--a notion from the nearly inscrutable realm of "string theory" that our universe may be like an enormous hologram. However, science doesn't indulge sentimental favorites. After years of probing the fabric of spacetime for a signal of the "holographic principle," researchers at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois have come up empty, as they will report tomorrow at the lab.
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Controversial Experiment Sees No Evidence That the Universe Is a Hologram

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    • Occam's Razor and all that.

      • by Spacelord ( 27899 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @09:12AM (#51056119)

        Occam's razor is not science. It's just a quick gut feeling rule to separate what's probable from what's improbable.

        According to Occam's razor, quantum physics would be pretty improbable too.

        • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
          But according to quantum physics, improbable things can still happen.
          • by gweihir ( 88907 )

            Not only according to Quantum Mechanics. There are millions of people that play the lottery. And you know what, some even win! It is still a gross waste of money to do so, but countless people that do not understand probabilities do not realize that.

            • Actually, from a risk standpoint, it's a good investment.

              Every time you spend $12 at Taco Bell, that's a gross waste of money. The time expended to drive to Taco Bell just to eat bad food is higher than the time expended to prepare your own food. I live a 5 minute walk from a McDonalds, and I can prepare an Egg McMuffin at home in under 10 minutes using better food, for cheaper. Even if I drive, it's still 4-5 minutes there, 4-5 minutes back, and anywhere from 3-10 minutes in the drive thru, depending

              • by gweihir ( 88907 )

                There seems to be something wrong with your brain.

                • Schizoid personality disorder. I don't develop affection for people.

                  That does give me a lot of time to think about everything else, though. No relationships, lots of economics. You find out a lot [wordpress.com] of interesting things [wordpress.com] when you read the financial and economic history of society [wordpress.com].

                  • by gweihir ( 88907 )

                    Not talking about that. Your logic is broken and your statistics as well.

                    • Risk is about probabilities and outcomes, not statistics. It's about saying, "Hmm, there's a 1 in 10,000 rate of contraction of HIV if I have sex with an HIV+ person, and about 0.2% of the world population has HIV; there's approximately 0 chance I'll contract HIV by unprotected sex. HIV would be life-destroying, so I should use a condom." The raw statistics say using condoms is a waste of time and money; we have birth control and abortion. The risk analysis says otherwise.

                      My logic is fine. Your unde

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          Occam's razor is not science. It's just a quick gut feeling rule to separate what's probable from what's improbable.

          What Occam's Razor says it that we should not introduce complexities where none are necessary. It does not deal with probabilities, only complexity vs simplicity.

          You can use Occam's Razor as an aid to guess relative probabilities when data is incomplete, but once you've done that Occam's Razor no longer comes into play. It won't say that the least probable should be discarded. Eliminating improbables is more in Christiaan Huygens' realm than Willem of Ockham's.

        • According to Occam's razor, quantum physics would be pretty improbable too.

          Not really. There aren't any theories other than quantum mechanics which explain observable phenomena like the double slit experiment, photoelectric effect and the success of the technique in predicting all sorts of other things.

        • You apparently do know what Occam's razor means...
        • "Occam's razor is not science." Neither is absence of evidence.

        • Occam's razor is not science.

          No, Occam's razor is a theorem in Bayesian model fitting. Here's a pretty good introduction. [toronto.edu]

      • How do you define simplicity when we don't really know how something works at all? Is a holographic universe simpler or more complex than some other alternative?

        • by gweihir ( 88907 )

          Simplicity is not definable. It is a judgment call, i.e. it requires an intelligent and wise person to make the determination. Most people do not qualify as either. (Yes, that is a judgment call as well...)

          • I suppose that's the point I was making. The grandparent quoted Occam's Razor - but I don't think it really applies when you don't really know what the other available possibilities are.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        While Occam's Razor is decidedly a good scientific principle, it cannot be used to prove anything. It is most useful for formulating hypotheses and prioritizing competing research directions.

  • I always thought those Holodeck episodes on Star Trek really sucked.

    But on the other hand, when I look at the world today . . . a cheesy Holodeck episode would be a welcome change from this reality . . .

    • Have you ever called out "computer, end program", just to see if the (simulated) universe would disappear?
      • Yeah, I tried that. But this creepy little guy with huge ears showed up, and informed me that I was booked for life, and there was no way out of the contract . . .

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04, 2015 @08:40AM (#51055995)

    ...tested their reality with cartoon equipment but failed to prove they were ink.

  • by Junta ( 36770 )

    It doesn't seem like something that could be really tested. If it's all a simulation where we are not supposed to be aware we are a simulation, then it stands to reason any test that we do will fail to dig up something or else be readily explained by something else. I suppose it could be shown to be a simple explanation if they said 'overclock this region of space' and weird things happened (though even then, someone could say it's God having fun in real reality rather than an admin having fun with simula

    • by Jamu ( 852752 )
      Hologram, not simulation.
      • by dinfinity ( 2300094 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @09:32AM (#51056183)

        Yes, if I understand it correctly, the idea is that a holographic universe has a 2-dimensional (spatial) substrate and has a vastly lower potential information content than one with a 3-dimensional substrate, which means that a 3-dimensional projection of a 2-dimensional substrate (which is what our universe would be if the holographic principle holds) has to 'cut corners' in some way.

        I have to say that I'm not sure if we are advanced enough to detect such cutting of corners. In fact, given that we are still pretty much stuck on our home planet and trying to solve a number of issues trivial on a universal scale, I think we are not advanced enough.

      • Explain the difference.
      • You're just sore because you don't want to admit you're probably just part of the really detailed graphics for Sid Meier's Civilization 781: Dawn of the Space Age. If the pimply faced teenager in his mother's basement were to zoom in on you right at this instant, he'd see a thought bubble over your head saying, "haha, this guy is crazy".

    • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Friday December 04, 2015 @09:21AM (#51056139) Homepage Journal

      The original problem, IIRC, started with a Polish gravity wave experiment where they found noise signal below 10^-27 or so, when they shouldn't have seen one before the Plank length. It just so happened to be at the resolution no simulation would need to exceed and the detected noise matches up with a predicted signal from the Holographic model.

      We'll see what they actuality report, but to your point, think in terms of hidden line removal rather than overclocking.

    • Interesting. As in, anything that proved the existence of God would also prove that he is not God.

      So, 'if' they were able to prove the holographic theory, wouldn't that also prove that the universe doesn't exist?

      Ouch...

      • Don't worry. If they prove that the Universe is a hologram then it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more and inexplicable. In fact, some think that this has already happened.

    • if they said 'overclock this region of space' and weird things happened

      Just think if the alien nerds hotswapped their graphics card. Compare our graphics cards now with those of 10 years ago. Now think of where they'll be in 13 billion years. I'm guessing at least 4k @ 120fps with everything turned on, minimum.

    • ...a simulation where we are not supposed to be aware we are a simulation...

      You are reading too much into the words 'holographic', I think. As far as I can guess, the word is used as a metaphor for a model that is somewhat like how we understand holograms to work; there is nothing in the theories that implies the existence of somebody or something running something like computer program. However, all proper theories make predictions that can, at least in principle, be tested and falsified.

      Whether God, if such a thing exists, would play silly games just to piss around with its crea

      • "Whether God, if such a thing exists, would play silly games just to piss around with its creation seems far-fetched."

        Of course not - I'm sure god would NEVER play around with his simulation, yanking our chains just to see what we'll do. That doesn't sound plausible at all..

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          Come to think of it, where I a god (it turns out that I am not), I'd be poking buttons to screw with people all the time. I've played some of those SIM type of games. No, you don't want me to be a god. Man, you don't even want me left in a room with a world-destroyer button that says, "DO NOT PUSH!" And that's just one button!

          Either way, isn't pretty much the entire Bible predicated on God fucking with people? Aren't pretty much all of man's gods quite expressly fucking with us?

    • This was Gödel's problem/insight.
    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
      The holographic principle isn't about whether or not we are in a simulation.
  • It's a time cube. Everyone knows that.
    • It's a time cube. Everyone knows that.

      No, everyone would know that, but they're educated stupid. To quote from the current edition of timecube.com: "This a major lie has so much evil feed from it's wrong."

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        Since the early days of the hyperlink, I've clicked them all - for the most part. Well, not all, but a whole ton of 'em. I've clicked on links to goatse, Rick Astley, and XKCD comics that I'd seen dozens of times already. Yet, I saw a description for this timecube site in a web forum some years ago. It was then that I opted to not click on it - a *very* rare thing for me. Yet, I've still never seen that site.

        It's kind of like how I now know who the Kardashians (spelling) are but I don't know if I've ever ac

    • Time is not a cube. It's more like a... sort of a ball.... of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey... stuff.

  • by pr0t0 ( 216378 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @09:16AM (#51056123)

    Working in a disused tunnel with a couple of lasers and a few mirrors, a plucky band of physicists dreamed up a way to...

    Do I have to recount all the sci-fi horror movies that started off exactly like this? We're lucky they didn't open a door to another dimension and allow an ancient demigod to come through to devour our world. If Ian Ziering or Dean Cain had been anywhere near that tunnel at the time, we'd all be in deep kimchi right now.

  • Except we don't know the "command" yet to discover the hypervisor running the show. Each VM, one universe. :)
    • by Anonymous Coward

      And the crazy thing is, I found this old server sitting on the shelf of my great great great great grandfathers starship. It's been turned off for millions of years. I just now turned it on and started poking around moments laters to find you posting this. You have no idea of how much time elapsed do you??! Of course not, you could never have known. Fascinating! I wonder what it's like to be in your VM. Or maybe I'm in a VM too, all VM-ing all the way down!!

      This Elipislian Vogon fungus weed is very potent s

  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @09:42AM (#51056225) Homepage Journal

    About 75% of the non-troll comments I've seen here think that this is about the theory we're all in the Matrix, or some variant.

    That's not what Holographic Theory is about. Now, I'm not a physicist and I suck at explaining things anyway, so I don't want to get too far into it, but essentially the holographic theory is that there are fewer "real" dimensions than is apparent (like a hologram is a flat sheet of paper that appears to be 3D.)

    The name is based upon the behavior of paper holograms - like the one on your credit card. Holograms themselves are able to appear 3D by using natural interference patterns and resonance to ensure that, looked at from different angles, they transmit different images. Well, that's kinda the direction you need to go in to understand the Holographic Universe theory, rather than attempts to build 3D images in space to make a virtual universe look real (as in "Holodeck")

    The point is that the universe is (d)D, but looks (d)D because of the way information is encoded. Or something. A genuine physicist can probably explain it more accurately (I'm 100% sure I've made at least one error above) and clearly than I can though. So... uh, does Phil Plait or Neil Degrasse Tyson read Slashdot?

    • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @09:55AM (#51056289) Homepage Journal

      The point is that the universe is (d)D, but looks (d)D because of the way information is encoded. Or something. A genuine physicist can probably explain it more accurately (I'm 100% sure I've made at least one error above) and clearly than I can though

      Uh, correction...

      The point is that the universe is (d-1)D, but looks (d)D because of the way information is encoded. Or something. A genuine physicist can probably explain it more accurately (I'm 100% sure I've made at least two errors above) and clearly than I can though

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Holographic theory in a nutshell: The amount of information contained in a black hole increases with the surface area of the event horizon, rather than with the volume as you might naively expect in a 3d universe.

        Not a physicist but have stayed at a holiday inn express in the past. (in my frame of ref)

      • by delt0r ( 999393 )
        This is correct. A nd universe is encoded, or can be "encoded" ie all information on a (n-1)d surface. So all the information that can be contained in a volume is proportional to the surface containing that volume.
      • by wwalker ( 159341 )

        Uh, correction...

        The point is that the universe is (d-1)D, but looks (d)D because of the way information is encoded. Or something. A genuine physicist can probably explain it more accurately (I'm 100% sure I've made at least two errors above) and clearly than I can though

        Source code must be a hologram too: since every bug you find is second-to-last.

    • ...essentially the holographic theory is that there are fewer "real" dimensions than is apparent (like a hologram is a flat sheet of paper that appears to be 3D. The point is that the universe is (d-1)D, but looks (d)D because of the way information is encoded.

      Right, because string theory, completely untestable as it seems to be, is basically a make-work program for theoretical physicists. By the time Dr. 't Hooft rolled around, all the other string theorists had already staked out the claims that the universe has some number of dimensions greater than three. So he went the other way with it.

      There's nothing a string theorist hates more than a falsifiable assertion, so if it turns out 't Hooft mucked up and accidentally formulated one, he's likely to be complete

    • About 75% of the non-troll comments I've seen here think that this is about the theory we're all in the Matrix, or some variant.

      That's not what Holographic Theory is about. Now, I'm not a physicist and I suck at explaining things anyway, so I don't want to get too far into it, but essentially the holographic theory is that there are fewer "real" dimensions than is apparent (like a hologram is a flat sheet of paper that appears to be 3D.)

      The name is based upon the behavior of paper holograms - like the one o

    • by doug141 ( 863552 )

      So... uh, does Phil Plait or Neil Degrasse Tyson read Slashdot?

      Try the book "Spooky Action at a Distance." It challenges the idea that 4D spacetime is fundamental, because of observations of entanglement. It discusses both the holographic universe theory, and also geometrogenesis under quantum graphity. http://guidetoreality.blogspot... [blogspot.com]

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      From my understanding, a hologram is like a 2D array in a programming language.
      array2D[x,y] is typically translated into something like array1D[x + ROW_SIZE * y], which work the same as long as x never exceed ROW_SIZE. To test if the universe works the same way is just a matter of knowing if there is a finite ROW_SIZE constant, which translates into fuzziness in the physical world.
      Using a computer analogy doesn't mean we live in a computer simulation, it is just a way to appeal to the minds of programmers.

    • I'm not a physicist either. I first remember reading about this in a Scientific Amercian Article years and years ago.

      I think the notion came from studying black holes and the entropy associated with them. (See the wikipedia article on black holes under the section on 'entropy and black holes'.) Entropy is related to information, and the amount of information that can be contained in a volume of space increases as the surface area increases rather than as the volume increases. If you double the diameter o

    • Hawking and his competitors argue whether information is lost when matter-energy falls into a black hole. Is information converstion a universal law? A proposed solution is that a copy of anything crossing the event horizon is perserved when something crosses it. The surface area of an event horizon is exactly large enough in Planck units to preserve all the information inside a black hole. Then you can propse some semi-mystical mumbo-jumbo that beacause two regions ofbinformation are idetical, they in fact
  • by rocket rancher ( 447670 ) <themovingfinger@gmail.com> on Friday December 04, 2015 @10:01AM (#51056329)

    Remember the Michelson-Morley experiments? [wikipedia.org] From the pov of empirical adequacy, those negative results actually were confirmations of a more correct theory [wikipedia.org] that was still eighteen years away. The classical, Newtonian paradigm, useful though it was (and still is, at non-relativistic velocities) needed to be tweaked to accommodate new evidence -- in the MM case, the lack of confirmatory results. When you use a model to ask a question about the universe, you have to be willing to change your model when the answer you get doesn't fit anywhere in your model. That is science. Anything else is religion, i.e., you ignore the answer or discredit the question, [wikipedia.org] which is what the scientistific priesthood did to MM after they failed to find evidence of the "luminiferous aether." which was the dominant relig^H^H^H^H^H paradigm of the day.

    So put the pitchforks and torches away, at least until science can come up with an altered holographic model to explain these results.

    • Right. Aether theory was falsifiable. Big difference. These physicists are at least trying to do a test while some of the String theorists even bitch about it. The String theorists have had decades to come up with a decent test and failed. String theory is indistinguishable from 'turtles all the way down' at this point. Oh, except it's not. Turtles all the way down is at least falsifiable.

  • The universe is not a hologram.

    It's an ostomy bag

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If so, then it should be impossible to precisely define a 3D position, at least on very small scales of 10-35 meters.

    Hogan figured he could spot the effect using L-shaped optical devices known as interferometers, in which laser light is used to measure the relative length of a device's two arms to within a fraction of an atom's width. If it were impossible to exactly define position, then "holographic noise" should cause the output of an interferometer to jiggle at a frequency of millions of cycles per second, he argued.

    What if the position we observe IS exact but there is a corresponding parallel universe (in a multiverse) for each phase of the hypothesized oscillation (well, there would be an infinite spectrum of these, corresponding to divisions of a circle). This would interestingly imply a polar opposite universe from this one, and relationships between each based on their phase difference might be observed.

    Disclaimer, I'm no more of an actual physicist than Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      I don't think everything has an opposite. What's the opposite of orange - the color and the fruit? What's the opposite of humans?

  • by tarpitcod ( 822436 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @10:41AM (#51056553)

    String theory is no different from Astrology at this point, except Astrology is falsifiable because I can go and ask a bunch of Astrologers for a horoscope and actually compare them and say "Hey they all predict different things, this theory sucks!", or "WOW they all predicted the same thing and it happened!"

    The excuse that "It's complicated and weird" is ok for a few minutes, but not a good excuse and an utter failure when decades have passed. Relativity had plenty of weird predictions, but we could (and did) test them. Quantum mechanics has piles of very weird predictions which we not only tested, we actually use them daily in all kinds of devices all around us.

    So MASSIVE KUDO's to these physicists for having the temerity to try and test the damn thing. Even if their experiment produced a null result, it may well lead them to an experiment that wont.

    Science is falsifiable. Anyone who sells you a theory, no matter how beautiful, that is un-falsifiable (by design), and can't produce any way to prove or disprove their theory is at best the equivalent of a well meaning Astrologist.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Most people are stupid and do not recognize the importance and validity of negative results. Unfortunately, scientific publishing has adopted that unscientific attitude and today things get tried over and over again because nobody managed to publish that they do not work.

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        It's not true. There are lots of published negative results. They're even fairly easy to publish, because they're so novel. What doesn't get published, I think correctly, are inconclusive results.

        A negative result is "such and such hypothesis/theory/previous result predicts that we should see a signal of this magnitude. Our experiment measures the signal to be X within a margin of error Y. This result is has a very low probability P if such and such hypothesis is true."

        An inconclusive result is "my p-v

    • You left out the thing that belongs to a kudo, whatever the heck that is.

  • Since when has Fermilab fallen into disuse? It doesn't have an accelerator as powerful as the LHC at CERN, but it's still very active in experimentation, and still draws from expert talent to design and conduct those experiments. It's not like any recent physics grad can just walk up to Fermilab and get a job, and I guarantee that the experimentalists noted in the summary were already well-established in their field.

    • by EvilSS ( 557649 )

      Since when has Fermilab fallen into disuse? It doesn't have an accelerator as powerful as the LHC at CERN, but it's still very active in experimentation, and still draws from expert talent to design and conduct those experiments. It's not like any recent physics grad can just walk up to Fermilab and get a job, and I guarantee that the experimentalists noted in the summary were already well-established in their field.

      Wasn't their accelerator shut down in 2011?

  • This is not the evidence you're looking for! You can go about your business! Move along!

  • This explains why the boys at Fermilab lost funding for their toys a few years ago...
  • by Art3x ( 973401 ) on Friday December 04, 2015 @11:50AM (#51057017)

    To me, the Holographic Principle is just another way to understand dimensions.

    As I understand it, it says that you could encode everything in a room on its walls, ceiling, and floor. The position of every particle could be etched by a pair of points --- say, one on the ceiling and one on a wall. Is there anything in a room that could not be fully covered on its walls?

    From there you imagine unfolding the room into a sheet. Now the room is two dimensions, but as long as you keep track of the folds, you can reconstruct the three-dimensional space. And you imagine some point that was moving in the room is now a pair of points, some distance apart, on this 2-D sheet. The three-dimensionality arises from these two points somehow being synchronized, entangled.

    Actually from there you can go to one dimension, as any good programmer should know. For if you have a screen, it can be unfolded again. A screen is just a stream of data, with line breaks.

  • However, science doesn't indulge sentimental favorites.

    Oh really. These people had an unlikely hypothesis and a low cost way to test it. That sounds perfectly alright to me. Or is science supposed to only test low risk hypothesis that are bound to be confirmed? If you look at science as an investment game you sure can have good investors and bad investors, but you can have people sensibly investing in high chance/low gain tests as well as in low chance/high gain tests.

    Of course most people think science sho

    • Actually physics now seems more like current banking schemes where we have a depression but nobody wants to call it that. So they call it the "Great Recession", fiddle the statistics, don't count all the people under-employed and just kind of say 'Things are great!'.

      We prop up the physics community with stuff like CERN and ITER - mega projects too big to fail. Sort of like the big banks and GM and other stuff.

      Early 20th century physics was way more like the old economy with boom and bust cycles.

      • Well, I'm not confident enough to state it that way but your metaphor gets a valid point across. I recall Freeman Dyson , who's always been wary of mega projects, pointing out that if you look at nobel prizes in physics, then one third went to the high energy things, another third to more precise measurement and another third to I forgot what. So he suggested we don't put all our money in the high energy tools but spread it around more. He wasn't saying the high energy experiments were too big too fail I th

        • Dyson has said lots of interesting things and it's worth listening to him IMHO. I'm in the camp that believes the more strongly you believe something in science, the closer it is to dogma, the more you should be willing to throw a little money to the heretics who say you are all completely wrong. Assuming they have a testable theory.

          It's a small investment for a possibly huge pay-off. For example - if someone said - "I've found a fairly cheap test based on some of stuff like what Petr Beckmann said that

          • Well, I'd prefer the argument to be about what is legitimate science and general budgetting than about specifics. Beckmann, really? Ok then, it does drive the point home. But I would not go as far as saying science should have to invest in what they consider stupid choices. More that those who want to invest in what others consider stupid choices are not doing bad science. And the other thing is spreading the effort amongst choices that are not considered stupid/

  • I never understood this phrase. If there is absence of evidence then you don't need evidence of absence. After all, if you have no evidence, then you have nothing and why should I even need to produce evidence of absence?

    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      We have no evidence at all that cows suffer damage by passive smoking. Nobody's ever done that experiment.

      We can infer. We can guess. But we have no evidence at all.

      So is "absence of that evidence" in itself evidence that cows actually don't suffer damage from passive smoking?

      There's no evidence. So we have nothing, right?

      Of course, it's easy to go and obtain evidence.
      But in the same way that you can't make an absolute positive from no evidence, you can't make an absolute negative either. The answer is

  • So I guess Tupac retains the claim to #1 hologram now that the Universe has been debunked.

  • Anyone else read that as "not a hooligan"?

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