At NYC sci fest, asking 'What if we're holograms?'

May 30, 2010 By SAMANTHA GROSS , Associated Press Writer
Brian Greene, a string theorist known for bringing his complex field of science to the masses, and Tracy Day, his wife and organizing partner behind World Science Festival, pose in Times Square, New York, Wednesday May 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

(AP) -- Brian Greene works in a world where scientific reasoning rules all and imagination leads to the most unlikely truths. Greene and other "string theorists" are exploring a possible scenario in which people and the world around us are actually a 3-D holographic projection of two-dimensional data that exists outside the accessible universe.

It's a concept so mindbending for those who don't understand the complex math behind it that many might decide it's best left to the academics. But Greene wants to build public excitement about science, even as the U.S. loses ground in some areas - and intends to bring even the most complex ideas to the masses at this week's World Science Festival, which starts June 2.

"The idea is to ... find the compelling narrative and stories that allow these programs to really feel like an experience and not a lesson," says Greene, wearing a leather jacket that practically exudes old-school, rock-star cool. It's an appropriate look for a man who has brought the possible inner workings of the universe to scores of non-geniuses through his book "The Elegant Universe" and the PBS specials by the same name.

The physicist founded the festival in 2008 with his wife, Tracy Day. In a way, they say, it's an extension of his work translating into layman's terms the fundamentals of - the idea that the universe and its most fundamental forces could be best explained if everything around us were made up of minuscule, vibrating strings.

Greene is not the only scientist working to show Americans the relevance of the field, and hoping to make it cooler for U.S. youth. Despite the recent murmurings about the era of "geek chic," many teenagers still largely see science as a dorky pursuit, says Michio Kaku, a presenter at the festival and another string theorist who's built a career bringing his science to the public.

The numbers in the National Science Board's yearly examination of science and engineering indicators paint a mixed picture for American students. The number of high schoolers passing Advanced Placement exams in science quadrupled from 1990 to 2008; but between 2000 and 2006 the U.S. fell from seventh to 13th place in science literacy among 15-year-olds who took an international test.

Greene worries the U.S. is seeing a dissipation of its leadership in his field and others. When Columbia University, where Greene is a professor, received a grant earmarked for American postdoctoral fellows, Greene says his department had a hard time finding Americans to fill the spots.

At the same time, NASA has been directed to stop launching astronauts into orbit around the Earth and instead have them ride Russian rockets to and from the International Space Station. And Greene and other still keenly feel the loss of a large-scale project canceled in 1993 that could have launched exciting discoveries similar to those being made now at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.

"If the superconducting super collider had been built in Waxahachie, Texas, and the world was coming here to undertake the most powerful collisions of particles that we've ever been able to achieve, recreating conditions since the Big Bang in Texas as opposed to Geneva, would that be better for America? Yeah, I think it would be," says Greene.

The Large Hadron Collider, which was partially funded by the U.S., has already made history sending proton beams crashing into each other at unheard of speeds. And research is speeding ahead elsewhere as well. China is far outpacing the U.S. in the growth of research and development spending, even though the U.S. is the clear worldwide leader - responsible for one-third of the $1.1 trillion spent worldwide in 2007.

Perhaps if Americans understood why science is vital, interesting and profitable, they would have pressured the government to finance the project here, Greene says.

It is what the festival is, in part, seeking to accomplish now. The event hopes to make science as much a part of our cultural scene as dance or music. In one event, choreographer Karole Armitage has created a dance piece illustrating concepts from contemporary physics.

Topics to be addressed in panel discussions include the plausibility of the science of "Star Trek." And in an event simulcast from Norway, the $1 million Kavli prizes will be awarded in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience.

The festival's opening night gala, which will honor British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, includes the premiere of "Icarus at the Edge of Time," an orchestral work by Philip Glass based on Greene's children's book about a journey to a black hole.

Since authoring the tale, Greene has turned his focus to a book for adults on the possible ways that multiple universes might manifest themselves.

One of the more popular science-fiction scenarios - an alternate universe in which people are transformed to similar but evil or subtly different versions of themselves - is but a remote possibility, he says. Instead, it's more likely that multiple universes exist alongside each other like bubbles in a bubble bath. The extremely fast expansion of the universe in our distant past, combined with elements of string theory, suggest this as a possibility, Greene said.

It is almost as difficult to wrap one's head around as the possibility that we are all holograms projected over a distance, unable to detect the illusory nature of our 3-D world - another topic covered by a festival panel.

Greene's attempt to explain where our consciousness might reside, if we are indeed simply projections, is intriguing and perhaps less than comforting:

"It's there, too," he says. "Consciousness is nothing but the physical processes taking place in the brain. ... Consciousness is just another interaction of particles."

Explore further: Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

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1 / 5 (1) May 30, 2010
When you take into account how we perceive depth, I think it's harder to think the universe is 3D.
5 / 5 (3) May 30, 2010
When you take into account how we perceive depth, I think it's harder to think the universe is 3D.

It isn't. It's 4d, possibly more.
2.5 / 5 (2) May 30, 2010
Yes, I know, but I'm talking about our perception, not the maths that currently work. At any instant in time, we only see a 2D projection of the universe. The brain infers the 3rd spatial dimension by superimposing two such projections over a tiny fraction of a second, appealing to memory and generally doing time-dependent artifices.

You can't really see, or measure depth without moving somehow. Makes me wonder if the 3rd spatial dimension and time could somehow be contracted into a single axis. There are all those pesky inverse square laws, however...
1 / 5 (2) May 30, 2010
Personally, I consider a holographic theory as a modern analogy of epicycle theory. Nobody understands it, so it appears mysterious enough, it just fits some aspects of experiments. But we should realize, from perspective of observer of ripples at the water surface his 2D world would appear as a 2D projection of 1D circle outside of scope of the surface ripples. This analogy demonstrates, what the holographic theory is really about - it's a product of dispersive phenomena.

Therefore I don't value holographic theory a much, but it still leads to some insight, which aren't apparent for proponents of general relativity, for example such model requires superluminal speed of gravitational waves for being able to work. And such conclusion has a good meaning even in aether theory, which considers space-time as a foamy analogy of 2D water surface and gravitational waves as a waves spreading through bubbles of this foam like fast sound waves spreading through underwater.
3 / 5 (2) May 30, 2010
Yes, I know, but I'm talking about our perception, not the maths that currently work. At any instant in time, we only see a 2D projection of the universe. The brain infers the 3rd spatial dimension by superimposing two such projections over a tiny fraction of a second, appealing to memory and generally doing time-dependent artifices.

You can't really see, or measure depth without moving somehow. Makes me wonder if the 3rd spatial dimension and time could somehow be contracted into a single axis. There are all those pesky inverse square laws, however...

What do you mean?

Depth perception doesn't require movement, it requires multiple aspect viewing, that's it.

Want to test this, put your car keys on your desk in front of you, look at them, don't move.

Can you tell how far they are away from you?
2 / 5 (4) May 30, 2010
Try to imagine, you're covered by foam at some soap foam party and you keeping source of light shining behind your back. You will be still able to localize the source of light inside of foam, but due the dispersion of light whole volume of foam around you would glow too. The light bulb would shine from all possible directions inside of such environment. We can compare this situation to the observation of distant light sources and dispersed portion of CMB radiation in free space behind them.

http://images.clu...oad/Foam 8.jpg

This example demonstrates, even trivial real life model can lead into nontrivial observational experience. The concept of quantum foam forming the vacuum is quite old one, it was proposed by J.A.Wheeler before fifty years. Nevertheless, it was never used at the conceptual level.
not rated yet May 30, 2010
multiple aspect viewing

What do you mean by this? I doubt you're talking about binocular vision, since that's easily refuted by doing your proposed experiment with one eye closed.

Also, just because I'm holding very still doesn't mean I'm not "moving", or the objects around me, in the very general sense. Perfect stillness is 0 K, and there's all sorts of kooky stuff happening when you get near that.
4 / 5 (4) May 30, 2010
we should realize, from perspective of observer of ripples at the water surface
waves spreading through bubbles of this foam
Alizee's newest account.
not rated yet May 30, 2010
Holograms are not solid except on Star Trek. It is contrary to rational thinking to postulate that solid objects can be created by light. If, instead, we postulate that the hologramic projection is itself solid, then we have the problem of determining how a solid projection can admit change since such change would require the hologram to collide with its prior configuration.

Fantasy is often fun but seldom instructive.
1 / 5 (5) May 30, 2010
..the event hopes to make science as much a part of our cultural scene as dance or music..
Science has no chance to achieve it without simple, yet illustrative models of reality. While I can understand the motivations of holographic theory well, I'm afraid, it's not such a model.

Mainstream science does one substantial mistake: it's trying to explain simple & real artifacts & observations by abstract and complex concepts, thus violating the causality arrow. These concepts aren't completely wrong, they're just ad-hoced. You'll need some simpler theory or model to understand them in their full depth.

Without it science will change into modern spiritualism and its music will transform into shamans dances. Anyway, for many spiritually motivated people thinking in abstract concepts such approach could be enough - they simply don't want to understand things at their immediate intuitive level. Such people tend to religious way of thinking more often, then we are willing to admit.
5 / 5 (3) May 30, 2010

Despite of all of it, holographic principle is not a completely wrong way for description of reality - it's just an ad-hoced product of freaky, highly mathematical minds, not experienced in thinking about real concepts. The mathematicians will always develop just another variant of epicycles.

Joe, I keep seeing posts like this pop up. The last one was about the conceptual simplicity of room temperature superconductors. Now it's about the obvious stupidity behind the hologrophic boundary interactions model. It's amazing, with all of this talent, why aren't you over at Columbia schooling Brian Greene?

Your mind is so adept at delineating the truth behind some of the most debated and poorly understood concepts in physics, that it would be humanity's loss not to have your armchair contributions in premier research centers.
1 / 5 (5) May 30, 2010
BWT holographic principle was used in recent Verlinde's derivation of gravity as an entropic force, where he used Bekenstein's estimate for the change of the entropy for an object moving away from the holographic screen (dS / dx = 2 pi M). A similar relation is valid for entropic derivation of surface tension force of density gradient in the role of gravity field.

Although prof. Verlinde was string theorist, he switched into camp of LQG proponents with this derivation. It's not so surprising in this context, because spin network model of vacuum fits the concept of foamy vacuum better - whereas string theory simply considers vacuum as a deformed space-time. It's particle oriented, while LQG is vacuum field oriented theory.

not rated yet May 30, 2010
String theory isn't really "particle" oriented, beyond that it creates a framework for explaining the different spin states. Yes, it is based around discrete values, these strings, if that's what you mean by particles, but 99% of string theory is based around the organization of spatial dimensions aka Calibi-Yau manifolds. So it's a geometric theory not a particle theory. In this way, it doesn't sound like LQG is conceptually far removed from string theory, although the mathematics might be very different, I don't know them.

One thing I learned from one of Greene's books, is that if you choose the correct Calibi-Yau manifold, a lot of the mathematics between competing theories looks very similar.
not rated yet May 30, 2010
By the way, this might be relevant:


I'm not sure about DeWitt, but John Wheeler was the leading man on many of the breakthroughs in string theory that made it the leading contender as a unification theory. Also, does LQG even try to be a unified theory? It seems that LQG is an attempt to quantize gravity at the planck scale, and is not yet successful. If it does succeed, then I assume it will be incorporated into the standard model?

How well does string theory account for gravity?
not rated yet May 30, 2010
We're all asleep in the same dream..
4.5 / 5 (2) May 30, 2010
string theory doesn't assume anything about intrinsic structure of space-time....string theory becomes only expensive random number generator, leading into fuzzy landscape of 10 E+500 solutions.

What you wrote is nonsense. First of all, many of the particles in the Standard model are predicted from gaps in energy from observed particles. There is also nothing in the Standard Model to account for why spins differ or why particles take on certain magnitudes. It just "is". String theory strives to be predictive from the correct 1st order assumption, which is essentially the right Calibi-Yau manifold. It's garnered so much interest because it's been successful at doing this.

String theory does not necessitate Lorentz symmetry violation.

Also, there are not 10^500 correct geometries. Wheeler & others demonstrated in the 80's & 90's that the majority are perspectives of the same geometry.
1 / 5 (3) May 30, 2010
Wheeler & others demonstrated in the 80's & 90's that the majority are perspectives of the same geometry
I know about it. IMO this number correspond the number of particle states observable inside of our Universe. With some 10E+23 particles inside of our brain we simply cannot see more particles in our Universe. Which roughly correspond the number 10^{23x23} of observable particle permutations = 10^500 solutions of string theory.

In this way, the size of observable Universe correspond the size our own brain - we cannot see more from it, until we merge our brains into some form of collective intelligence.
not rated yet May 30, 2010
Holograms are not solid except on Star Trek. It is contrary to rational thinking to postulate that solid objects can be created by light.

I think he was using the term "hologram" in a vague sense, and not merely in the classic sense of "pure light behaving as a solid".

For example, in the old 2d text-based video games you used a 1dimensional array with offsets to simulate a 2 dimensional universe projected onto the screen. Much as PHP rips the one dimensional string that is the text of this post and formats it into a 2 dimensional paragraph on the web page as viewed in your browser.
not rated yet May 30, 2010
So in this way, a universe might be only 2 dimensional while having the appearance of being 3 dimensional.

Or it might be 3 dimensional while having the appearance of being 4 dimensional.

Now traditionally, in the text-based games, you have some accumulators outside the single-dimensional array, but there is no good reason that you wouldn't be able to just assign the first several positions in the array as temporary accumulators to do work on other data, thus using only one array....which is in fact how computers work anyway at the machine code level...Thus the 3d environment for any rendering, model, or game on a computer is in fact performed in a massive 1 dimensional virtual array....

From this perspective, "limits" such as the speed of light or the gravitational constant may actually be "artifacts" of the "hardware" in the background.

Now to be honest, I don't actually believe any of this, I'm just trying to explain what I THINK he was getting at...
4 / 5 (2) May 30, 2010
]Of course not... Without fixed postulate list every theory could predict virtually everything. Do you know, what the falsifiability of scientific theory means?

Joe, you might not have a clear understanding of what string theory may offer.

It has one essential postulate, aka that you have fundamental strings of a certain tension vibrating in multi-dimensional space. You do have to set specific values for the string and manifold, but after that all the values you derive should naturally arise.

In contrast, the Standard Model is bound by that fixed postulate list you so love, and unsurprisingly its predictive power is limited. The energy values for the particles in the Standard Model are basically arrived at through experiment. In its history SM has had to accrue a long list of postulates because it has no underlying principle.

There is a vast chasm between being unverifiable and having vast predictive power. You want the latter. I wonder if you understand the difference.
1 / 5 (3) May 30, 2010
..there is a vast chasm between being unverifiable and having vast predictive power.
You probably meant "between being verifiable and having vast predictive power", or your message has no meaning for me due its triviality. Of course here is a difference between unverifiable theories and those with predictions, because just these predictions are enabling to verify a theory.

But for me string theory (ST) contradict itself, because you cannot prove existence of extra-dimensions without violation of Lorentz symmetry (LS) postulate of special relativity. Because string theory is SR compliant, it means, it's always assuming, LS isn't broken and after then extra-dimensions will be never detectable.

The wide landscape of ST's solution is just a consequence of this problem - I didn't derived/invented this stuff, I'm only explaining it. It means, for being able to derive something specific by using of ST we should reformulate ST first - or it will remain a fringe, inconsistent theory.
5 / 5 (1) May 30, 2010
I had a long reply written up, then I ran across your blog Zephir, and I lost my desire to continue.

Anyways, suffice to say that the issue with Lorentz invariance violation is there, there have been attempts around it, and it's way beyond me to self-righteous critiques on the issue.

LQG is also being taken seriously, and it is interesting, I'm reading a book by Ravellia on it now.
1 / 5 (3) May 30, 2010
With compare to it, string theorists are looking for extra-dimensions obstinately, but they're always arranging experiments in such way, the Lorentz symmetry remains maintained. Under such circumstances have absolutely no chance to prove their theory, though.

As one example of such detection of extra-dimensions could serve the attempt to measure the violation of inverse square law for gravity with torsion pendulum.


Unsurprisingly, these experiments were always negative, because these physicists carefully excluded all forces, which could violate Lorentz symmetry (Casimir force, various dipole forces) - i.e. just these forces, which they were expected to measure..;-)

This example just illustrates, whole pile of math behind ST is useless, until it's not based on robust logical connections, because math is always based on predicate logic. If such logic is fallacious, no math will ever save you.
1 / 5 (3) May 30, 2010
..I lost my desire to continue..
You've actually no chance in it, because I based my model from scratch on logical connections only - so I can be always perfectly sure by its intrinsic consistency.

Whereas mainstream physics is using various postulates rather blindly, because it doesn't understand their internal connections. Assumptions like mass/energy conservation, extra-dimensions, equivalence principle or Lorentz symmetry are all nice and supported by various experiments - but they're mutually dependent and often borrowed from inconsistent observational perspectives.

If we don't realize it, we can never compose logically robust physical model of reality. Simply because we're just guessing, how such reality could/should behave in ideal case.

Well, and the holographic principle is based on the same ad-hoced guess. Is it consistent with Lorentz symmetry, for example? If not, then it shouldn' be used in connection with special relativity or SR based theory, like string theory
5 / 5 (2) May 31, 2010
Whenever we see someone who uses several accounts (Alizee, ZeroX, broglia, senator, JoeDuff, ...) then we know he is a charlatan. No matter what he writes, he can't be taken serious.
5 / 5 (1) May 31, 2010
'What if we're holograms?'
We don't know what we are. Because we don't know reality.
We only have models of reality. If one of these models works with holograms and shows good results by predicting phenomena which can't be predicted otherwise, then it's a good model.
But it is not reality. Nobody knows reality.
We are dealing with science - not with philosophy.
4 / 5 (2) May 31, 2010
String theory did not overwhelm quantum physics by the year 2000, as many string theorists of the 80s believed. In fact, after telling us that the math was too complicated for our pretty little heads, it is still only about as successful as phlogiston theory is today...but it keeps the psuodo-intellectual religionists off the streets...(See above comments as examples)
5 / 5 (1) May 31, 2010
it is still only about as successful as phlogiston theory is today
You obviously don't care for beauty. ST may not (yet) be as successful as the two incompatibel standard models but it is a sleeping beauty waiting to be kissed awake. Which never could be said of the phlogiston hypothesis.
5 / 5 (3) May 31, 2010
..but it keeps the pseudo-intellectual religionists off the streets...
I personally doubt it.
Of course - you are flooding the streets with your accounts.
1 / 5 (3) May 31, 2010
Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin compared string theory to "a 50-year-old woman wearing way too much lipstick", instead. My feeling of beauty & elegance in physical theories is based on their ability to explain as large spectrum of phenomena as possible with as low number of postulates as possible in unambiguous way. Such theory therefore shouldn't be too spreading in its formalism. What impress me on particle models is just their ability to model wide range of phenomena by the very same paradigm. I don't want to learn new mathematical methods just for being able to solve some new phenomena.

The stance of formal mathematicians is exactly the opposite, because these guys are suffering by feeling, their abstract models have no practical usage. The string theory is attractive for them, because it can serve as a flexible sandbox for their mental games. I can understand it, as I like to program various simulations just for curiosity, what will happen. I just don't want to call it a physics.
1 / 5 (1) May 31, 2010
When he mentions consciousness in this article, the realm of that remains a total mystery from a physical standpoint. One question I have is how can String Theory ever attempt to explain what is the intention behind particles to organize themselves in such a way as to create a mind, a consciousness, with ideas, dreams, imagination, and viewpoints? Then with enough focused attention, to study S.T. long enough to make the conclusion that we're not really here or there, only holographic projections that simulate a 3D universe and rendering everything illusory ultimately.
It seems we are on a never-ending journey to make sense of all that 'matters' in a simpler way. Isn't that the ultimate goal of physics - the realization of simplicity? Actually I think physicists are very non-secular beings on a quest to meet their creator, too.
not rated yet May 31, 2010
Chrisp, questions on the tendency to organize confuse me as well. Why does energy condense into matter? Without falling to the anthropic principle, why are the rules set in such a way that inanimate matter wants to organize into self-assessing, conscious structures? It seems like the most preposterous joke that this happens.

S.t, or some other approach which formulates a background independent quantum theory compatible with g.relativity, doesn't seem to be able to approach such questions.

Furthermore, I don't think that any reductionist theory will be able to. It seems like the mathematics behind a 100 trillion cell system, with each cell possessing both independent decision making capacity along with a vast inter-dependent social network, will have great uncertainty. Merged with the possibility that these cells interact and process information over some kind of sum over history approach (chlorophyll...and maybe neurons? if neurons than certainly other cells with monoamine receptors)
1 / 5 (2) May 31, 2010
I think I'd be starting to question string/quantum theory itself! Maybe Einstein was on the right lines after all!
not rated yet Jun 06, 2010
His explanation of consciousness isn't "intriguing"--it's trivially obvious.

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