Wednesday, August 11, 2010

42!

It's the answer to life, the universe, and everything! * Ok, well, maybe not life, and maybe not everything either, but very possibly the universe... And that is a VERY BIG DEAL. What am I talking about? Very possibly a Unified Field Theory that marries Quantum Theory with General Relativity. Up until now, the two theories contradicted each other on the quantum scale. Quantum theory demanded that space-time be a fixed, flat, space for quantum mechanical objects to interact upon. Like a table for marbles to roll about on. If the table were tilted or not flat, the marbles would roll unpredictably. But General Relativity demanded that space-time be distorted by the masses arrayed upon it, like a sheet of rubber. And at the scales involved, those distortions were so huge that Quantum mechanics did not work and gave nonsensical answers, even in the context of Quantum mechanics which often does not make sense to the uninitiated anyway.

Enter Petr Horava, who was playing around with graphene, in a scene reminiscent of Sheldon's problem in "The Big Bang Theory". Graphene is a two dimensional sheet of carbon atoms in a hexagonal array, which is what the the walls of a buckytube are made of. He was thinking about how the motions of electrons along the chickenwire shaped lattice changed based on temperature. Above a certain temperature the electrons moved relatively slowly and did not require General Relativity to describe their motion, but below a certain temperature the electrons sped up to the speed of light and required General Relativity to describe their motions. This triggered a thought. What if space-time is not a single unified entity but is instead an emergent function, like that of superconductivity? What if space and time were in fact separate values that expanded and contracted at slightly different rates? By breaking the Lorentz Symmetry that marries the two together, Horava found that a lot of things that were impossible to describe through General Relativity or Quantum Mechanics, or required the addition of additional forces (dark matter) and energies that were far larger than could be observed (dark energy which GR requires to be 1200 times stronger than has been observed), suddenly fell out of the equations very simply. He also found that time could be given a preferred direction which GR did not allow. While this would seem to crush any hope of time travel, it does however seem to explain the way the universe works much much better than any other current theory. And it describes gravity on quantum mechanical scales that the current theory cannot.

Is this the "Theory of Everything" Physicists have been searching for? Can't say at this point, but it is certainly a good candidate for it.

* gratuitous Douglas Adams reference.

4 Comments:

Anonymous David Jennings said...

Stuff like this is why I watched Gunsmoke as a child.

August 11, 2010 10:03 AM  
Blogger Rorschach said...

Meaning....what exactly? Are you having a hard time wrapping your head around this and wishing for a simpler time maybe?

August 11, 2010 10:15 AM  
Anonymous David Jennings said...

I would have a hard time wrapping my head around that in any time period.

August 11, 2010 10:56 AM  
Blogger Cory said...

This would also require the re-write of almost every Star Trek episode since most plots relied on either time travel, or an issue with the space/time continuum.

Has this been cleared with Will Shatner?

August 11, 2010 12:42 PM  

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