For those of you trying to catch up on the latest theories about the conflict between quantum theory and the general theory of relativity, a new article from Scientific American should get you up to speed. Written by George Musser, it discusses a ‘new’ theory on the unification of physics from Russian physicists Mikhail Vasiliev and the late Efin Fradkin.
Most of you probably know that the theory of everything is something of a holy grail in physics. Such a theory would fully explain and link together all known physical phenomena, and predict the outcome of any experiment that could be carried out in principle. It’s kind of a big deal.
Unfortunately, even if we did come up with such a theory, no one would be able to understand it (and we certainly won’t be able to test it for years to come). That’s what Mr. Musser has to say anyway.
Musser has some interesting points:
The theory was put forward in the late 1980s by Russian physicists Mikhail Vasiliev and the late Efin Fradkin of the Lebedev Institute in Moscow, but is so mathematically complex and conceptually opaque that whenever someone brought it up, most theorists started talking about the weather, soccer, reality TV—anything but that theory. It became a subject of polite conversation only in the past couple of years, as math whizzes who take a peculiar pleasure in impossible problems dove in and showed that the theory is not impossible to grasp, merely almost impossible.
The basic gist of the theory is that while most people have held that there is a limited variation in the spin, or degree of rotational symmetry, that an electro-magnetic field and its corresponding particle can display, the Vasiliev theory hypostulates that in fact there is an infinite variation possible in the spin of these fields, something that until now was generally thought impossible. Perhaps it’s not impossible after all, but the complexity of the math involved is extremely difficult to comprehend.
Musser goes on to write:
To put it differently, Vasiliev theory is even more nonlinear than general relativity. Matter and spacetime geometry are so thoroughly entwined that it becomes impossible to tease them apart, and our usual picture of matter as residing in spacetime becomes completely untenable. In the primordial universe, where Vasiliev theory reigned, the universe was an amorphous blob. As the higher-spin symmetries broke—for instance, as the higher harmonics of quantum strings become too costly to set into motion—spacetime emerged in its entirety.
My one quibble with the piece is that Musser refers to it as a new theory. Perhaps for some it may be new, but those of us in the know can tell you that it has been around for almost 25 years. That doesn’t sound new to me.
In any case, I suggest all of you go read the article and report back here with what you think about it. It will give us a good starting point as we tease out the possibilities for our time machine.
That is all.