Dec 24, 2023

Holograms Might Save Physics

Posted by in categories: holograms, mathematics, mobile phones, quantum physics, satellites

Even though the guts of General Relativity are obtusely mathematical, and for decades was relegated to math departments rather than proper physics, you get to experience the technological gift of relativity every time you navigate to your favorite restaurant. GPS, the global positioning system, consists of a network of orbiting satellites constantly beaming out precise timing data. Your phone compares those signals to figure out where you are on the Earth. But there is a difference in spacetime between the surface of the Earth and the orbit of the satellites. Without taking general relativity into account, your navigation would simply be incorrect, and you’d be late for dinner.

As revolutions go, general relativity is a big one. And as unifications go, it’s a warning. To make this union happen Einstein had to radically, permanently alter not just our conceptions of gravity as a force acting through space and time, but our conceptions of space and time itself. It took no less than a complete overhaul of our entire philosophical understanding of the relation between space and time to bridge the gap.

And as Einstein would find in the ensuing decades, all the way to the time of his death, that bringing other forces like electromagnetism into the same unified fold would be all but impossible. Electromagnetism, and the other forces, cannot be conceptualized in the same way. Instead we have to use quantum probabilities to make predictions, and when we apply the same technique to gravity we just get infinities.

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