<= 2001.02.20

2001.02.22 =>

jet lag, sans jet

So my internal clock is officially fucked. Near as I can tell, I'm set to one of those time zones in the Pacific between Tonga and Tokyo, where there aren't any landmasses. After workshop we went to this new restaurant called Mondo whose mission statement was a page-long tract about globalization (hence the name) and volume (hence giant meals and really high ceilings). Got home from that at 11:30 and fell asleep for precisely one hour, after which I was wide awake. I've been writing since then; it's 5 a.m. now. The same shit used to happen after I pulled all-nighters in college, but hopefully what I'm producing now will be more fun than the Joyce thesis.

This excerpt on the theory of a holographic universe is unreal. At first glance it looks like one of those crackpot tracts you find in weird corners of the Web, but it's based on valid methodology. Basically, in 1982, a team of French physicists led by Alain Aspect performed experiments confirming the existence of the quantum mechanical non-locality predicted in Bell's Theorem, which was an outgrowth of the EPR thought experiment. There are ways to "link" a pair of electrons so that measuring the spin of one electron not only alters that spin (which is inevitable by the uncertainty principle), but also instantly alters the spin of the other electron. This implies faster-than-light communication, and it's one of the things about quantum mechanics that got Einstein in a tizzy.

Physicist David Bohm, using the holographic model, offers the following analogy:

Imagine an aquarium containing a fish. Imagine also that you are unable to see the aquarium directly and your knowledge about it and what it contains comes from two television cameras, one directed at the aquarium's front and the other directed at its side. As you stare at the two television monitors, you might assume that the fish on each of the screens are separate entities. After all, because the cameras are set at different angles, each of the images will be slightly different. But as you continue to watch the two fish, you will eventually become aware that there is a certain relationship between them. When one turns, the other also makes a slightly different but corresponding turn; when one faces the front, the other always faces toward the side. If you remain unaware of the full scope of the situation, you might even conclude that the fish must be instantaneously communicating with one another, but this is clearly not the case. This, says Bohm, is precisely what is going on between the subatomic particles in Aspect's experiment.

The holographic idea was originally developed by Dutch physicist Gerard 't Hooft, who's now a Nobel laureate, and Stanford's Lenny Susskind demonstrated how you can see it as a logical extension of string theory. (Though note: Lenny can't draw and Gerard has a terrible personal page.) Harvard's Juan Maldacena has suggested things called "branes," which are n-dimensional surfaces flapping around in n+1-dimensional space; our universe would thus be a three-dimensional brane, holographically encoding the four dimensions of relativistic space.

There are problems with this. One is that nobody's sure how branes and strings relate: i.e., which is made of which, and in order to keep physicists happy something has to be fundamental. Another problem is that currently this is all just clever math; nobody's come up with a way to experimentally verify any of it, though this article suggests it might be possible with the Large Hadron Collider they're building at CERN. Another problem is that theoretical physicists are dorks. If the Maldacena article is to be believed, they invented this song, to the tune of "Macarena," at the Strings '98 conference:

You start with the brane and the brane is B.P.S.
Then you go near the brane and the space is A.D.S.
Who knows what it means? I don't, I confess
Ehhhh! Maldacena!

However, the holographic theory is plausible to me simply on an aesthetic level, for several reasons. It's one step further in the general scientific trend of the last century, which has consistently flouted notions of common sense and objectivity. Relativity got rid of absolute space and quantum mechanics demonstrated that the observer can't be separated from the observation. This new theory presents space-time itself as an illusory construct projected from a deeper reality that we're unable to access. This goes past what Einstein was willing to accept, but philosophically it's right in line with his famous pronouncement:

In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility or the meaning of such a comparison.

It's also right in line with the Hindu/Buddhist concept of Maya, the physical world as illusory. Cf. the Buddha's famous pronouncement that "The mind precedes all things, the mind dominates all things, the mind creates all things," illustrated by the parable of the blind men and the elephant, which I know you all have heard. Or this quite lovely example from Hindu literature, which I stole from not a thing:

Once Brahma told the sage Narada to take a dip in a nearby river. When he did so, Narada emerged from the water as a lovely woman of a good family. She was given in marriage by her father and, in time, she had many sons and grandsons. Ultimately a war broke out between her father and her husband, and in the course of the battle both were killed, along with many of her sons. Mourning, she mounted the funeral pyre that had been laid for her husband, and as she began to burn, engulfed in flames, she suddenly felt cool, as if she were in the water. And indeed she, as the sage Narada, was still in the water, taking that dip recommended by the Lord Brahma.

Okay, so have I talked for long enough? My point is really just that I'm very interested in mysticism right now, probably because of spending too much time alone, and it excites me to see possible scientific corroboration. That's all. In the meantime, it's now seven in the morning and our hero is going to sleep.


<= 2001.02.20

2001.02.22 =>

up (2001.02)

The Warm South
The Roof Rat Review