Mark Van Raamsdonk proposes a unification of quantum mechanics and gravity. Both quantum mechanics and gravity theories have been abundantly verified through experiment, yet the realities they describe seem utterly incompatible.
Van Raamsdonk’s approach to resolving this incompatibility is strange. ‘Entanglement’ is the key: the phenomenon that many physicists believe to be the ultimate in quantum weirdness. Entanglement lets the measurement of one particle instantaneously determine the state of a partner particle, no matter how far away it may be — even on the other side of the Milky Way.
Entanglement might be the basis of geometry, and thus of Einstein’s geometric theory of gravity. “Space-time,” he says, “is just a geometrical picture of how stuff in the quantum system is entangled.”
This idea is a long way from being proved, and is hardly a complete theory of quantum gravity. But independent studies have reached much the same conclusion, drawing intense interest from major theorists. A small industry of physicists is now working to expand the geometry–entanglement relationship, using all the modern tools developed for quantum computing and quantum information theory.
Abstract – Building up spacetime with quantum entanglement
In this essay, we argue that the emergence of classically connected spacetimes is intimately related to the quantum entanglement of degrees of freedom in a non-perturbative description of quantum gravity. Disentangling the degrees of freedom associated with two regions of spacetime results in these regions pulling apart and pinching off from each other in a way that can be quantified by standard measures of entanglement.
Professor Mark van Raamsdonk of the University of British Columbia gave the Stanford Physics and Applied Physics Colloquium in the video belwow.
The AdS/CFT correspondence from string theory provides a quantum theory of gravity in which spacetime and gravitational physics emerge from an ordinary non-gravitational system with many degrees of freedom. In this talk, I will explain how quantum entanglement between these degrees of freedom is crucial for the emergence of a classical spacetime, and describe progress in understanding how spacetime dynamics (gravitation) arises from the physics of quantum entanglement.
Abstract – Eternal black holes in anti-de Sitter
We propose a dual non-perturbative description for maximally extended Schwarzschild Anti-de-Sitter spacetimes. The description involves two copies of the conformal field theory associated to the AdS spacetime and an initial entangled state. In this context we also discuss a version of the information loss paradox and its resolution.
Gravity without gravity
Much of this work rests on a discovery announced in 1997 by physicist Juan Maldacena, now at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Maldacena’s research had led him to consider the relationship between two seemingly different model universes. One is a cosmos similar to our own. Although it neither expands nor contracts, it has three dimensions, is filled with quantum particles and obeys Einstein’s equations of gravity. Known as anti-de Sitter space (AdS), it is commonly referred to as the bulk. The other model is also filled with elementary particles, but it has one dimension fewer and doesn’t recognize gravity. Commonly known as the boundary, it is a mathematically defined membrane that lies an infinite distance from any given point in the bulk, yet completely encloses it, much like the 2D surface of a balloon enclosing a 3D volume of air. The boundary particles obey the equations of a quantum system known as conformal field theory (CFT).
Maldacena discovered that the boundary and the bulk are completely equivalent. Like the 2D circuitry of a computer chip that encodes the 3D imagery of a computer game, the relatively simple, gravity-free equations that prevail on the boundary contain the same information and describe the same physics as the more complex equations that rule the bulk.
“It’s kind of a miraculous thing,” says Van Raamsdonk. Suddenly, he says, Maldacena’s duality gave physicists a way to think about quantum gravity in the bulk without thinking about gravity at all: they just had to look at the equivalent quantum state on the boundary. And in the years since, so many have rushed to explore this idea that Maldacena’s paper is now one of the most highly cited articles in physics.
Among the enthusiasts was Van Raamsdonk, who started his sabbatical by pondering one of the central unsolved questions posed by Maldacena’s discovery: exactly how does a quantum field on the boundary produce gravity in the bulk? There had already been hints3 that the answer might involve some sort of relation between geometry and entanglement. But it was unclear how significant these hints were: all the earlier work on this idea had dealt with special cases, such as a bulk universe that contained a black hole. So Van Raamsdonk decided to settle the matter, and work out whether the relationship was true in general, or was just a mathematical oddity.
He first considered an empty bulk universe, which corresponded to a single quantum field on the boundary. This field, and the quantum relationships that tied various parts of it together, contained the only entanglement in the system. But now, Van Raamsdonk wondered, what would happen to the bulk universe if that boundary entanglement were removed?
He was able to answer that question using mathematical tools4 introduced in 2006 by Shinsei Ryu, now at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, and Tadashi Takanagi, now at the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics at Kyoto University in Japan. Their equations allowed him to model a slow and methodical reduction in the boundary field’s entanglement, and to watch the response in the bulk, where he saw space-time steadily elongating and pulling apart (see ‘The entanglement connection’). Ultimately, he found, reducing the entanglement to zero would break the space-time into disjointed chunks, like chewing gum stretched too far.
Quantum entanglement as geometric glue — this was the essence of Van Raamsdonk’s rejected paper and winning essay, and an idea that has increasingly resonated among physicists. No one has yet found a rigorous proof, so the idea still ranks as a conjecture. But many independent lines of reasoning support it.
In 2013, for example, Maldacena and Leonard Susskind of Stanford published a related conjecture that they dubbed ER = EPR, in honour of two landmark papers from 1935. ER, by Einstein and American-Israeli physicist Nathan Rosen, introduced what is now called a wormhole: a tunnel through space-time connecting two black holes. (No real particle could actually travel through such a wormhole, science-fiction films notwithstanding: that would require moving faster than light, which is impossible.) EPR, by Einstein, Rosen and American physicist Boris Podolsky, was the first paper to clearly articulate what is now called entanglement.
Maldacena and Susskind’s conjecture was that these two concepts are related by more than a common publication date. If any two particles are connected by entanglement, the physicists suggested, then they are effectively joined by a wormhole. And vice versa: the connection that physicists call a wormhole is equivalent to entanglement. They are different ways of describing the same underlying reality.
No one has a clear idea of what this underlying reality is. But physicists are increasingly convinced that it must exist. Maldacena, Susskind and others have been testing the ER = EPR hypothesis to see if it is mathematically consistent with everything else that is known about entanglement and wormholes — and so far, the answer is yes.
Other lines of support for the geometry–entanglement relationship have come from condensed-matter physics and quantum information theory: fields in which entanglement already plays a central part. This has allowed researchers from these disciplines to attack quantum gravity with a whole array of fresh concepts and mathematical tools
Tensor networks, for example, are a technique developed by condensed-matter physicists to track the quantum states of huge numbers of subatomic particles. Brian Swingle was using them in this way in 2007, when he was a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, calculating how groups of electrons interact in a solid material. He found that the most useful network for this purpose started by linking adjacent pairs of electrons, which are most likely to interact with each other, then linking larger and larger groups in a pattern that resembled the hierarchy of a family tree. But then, during a course in quantum field theory, Swingle learned about Maldacena’s bulk–boundary correspondence and noticed an intriguing pattern: the mapping between the bulk and the boundary showed exactly the same tree-like network.
Swingle wondered whether this resemblance might be more than just coincidence. And in 2012, he published8 calculations showing that it was: he had independently reached much the same conclusion as Van Raamsdonk, thereby adding strong support to the geometry–entanglement idea. “You can think of space as being built from entanglement in this very precise way using the tensors,” says Swingle, who is now at Stanford and has seen tensor networks become a frequently used tool to explore the geometry–entanglement correspondence.
Another prime example of cross-fertilization is the theory of quantum error-correcting codes, which physicists invented to aid the construction of quantum computers. These machines encode information not in bits but in ‘qubits’: quantum states, such as the up or down spin of an electron, that can take on values of 1 and 0 simultaneously. In principle, when the qubits interact and become entangled in the right way, such a device could perform calculations that an ordinary computer could not finish in the lifetime of the Universe. But in practice, the process can be incredibly fragile: the slightest disturbance from the outside world will disrupt the qubits’ delicate entanglement and destroy any possibility of quantum computation.
$2.5 million funding for researching the gravity–quantum information connection
The Simons Foundation, a philanthropic organization in New York City that announced in August that it would provide US$2.5 million per year for at least 4 years to help researchers to move forward on the gravity–quantum information connection. “Information theory provides a powerful way to structure our thinking about fundamental physics,” says Patrick Hayden, the Stanford physicist who is directing the programme. He adds that the Simons sponsorship will support 16 main researchers at 14 institutions worldwide, along with students, postdocs and a series of workshops and schools. Ultimately, one major goal is to build up a comprehensive dictionary for translating geometric concepts into quantum language, and vice versa. This will hopefully help physicists to find their way to the complete theory of quantum gravity.
SOURCES – Youtube, Nature