It’s strange to think that not too long ago, the idea that time is an illusion wasn’t taken seriously by the scientific community. Now it’s a widely held belief, especially among physicists. Time may indeed be nothing more than a mental construct; a mere perception. But what if other aspects of our reality are equally illusory. What if something as fundamental “space” is also the product of our perceptions? What if what we see and feel in our everyday lives, or even what we can see under a microscope, is only scratching the surface?
Well, if you’re asking those questions, you may be in good company with some of the world’s leading physicists. Many of them think that our universe may not be the three-dimensional space our eyes make it out to be.
Some physicists actually believe that the universe we live in might be a hologram.
The idea isn’t that the universe is some sort of fake simulation out of The Matrix, but rather that even though we appear to live in a three-dimensional universe, it might only have two dimensions. It’s called the holographic principle.
The thinking goes like this: Some distant two-dimensional surface contains all the data needed to fully describe our world — and much like in a hologram, this data is projected to appear in three dimensions. Like the characters on a TV screen, we live on a flat surface that happens to look like it has depth.
It might sound absurd. But if when physicists assume it’s true in their calculations, all sorts of big physics problems — such as the nature of black holes and the reconciling of gravity and quantum mechanics — become much simpler to solve. In short, the laws of physics seem to make more sense when written in two dimensions than in three.
“It’s not considered some wild speculation among most theoretical physicists,” says Leonard Susskind, the Stanford physicist who first formally defined the idea decades ago. “It’s become a working, everyday tool to solve problems in physics.”
Of course, there isn’t really any proof of this. The idea seems to explain some of the weird stuff we see in our universe, but there isn’t any tangible evidence. Most scientists can’t even agree on the best method for proving it. However, that’s not stopping them from trying anyway.
At the moment, there’s no universally agreed-upon test that would provide firm evidence for the idea. Still, some physicists believe that the holographic principle predicts there’s a limit to how much information spacetime can contain, because our seemingly 3D spacetime is encoded by limited amounts of 2D information. As Fermilab’s Craig Hogan recently put it to Motherboard, “The basic effect is that reality has a limited amount of information, like a Netflix movie when Comcast is not giving you enough bandwidth. So things are a little blurry and jittery.”
Hogan and others are using an instrument called a Holomoter to look for this sort of blurriness. It relies on powerful lasers to see whether — at super-small, submicroscopic levels — there’s a fundamental limit in the amount of information present in spacetime itself. If there is, they say, it could be evidence that we’re living in a hologram.
Pretty wild eh? If the theory is proven, it will have some pretty heavy implications for the nature of reality. How would we reconcile the fact that perhaps, nothing we’re seeing is real? Nothing would change for us in our everyday lives. We’re still seeing and feeling the world in the same way we always have, but in the back of our minds we would always know that we’re taking our perceptions for granted.
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Contributed by Joshua Krause of The Daily Sheeple.
Joshua Krause is a reporter, writer and researcher at The Daily Sheeple. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and is a freelance writer and author. You can follow Joshua’s reports at Facebook or on his personal Twitter. Joshua’s website is Strange Danger .