THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING?
Illya Jongeneel. May 17, 2018
Still a matter of debate, but it seems that we are close to the so-called theory of everything, the all-encompassing theory. Quantum information can be the last missing piece of the puzzle. An explanation is comprehensive. George van Hal has given a good summary of the latest state of science in the NRC. But first of all that piece of quantum science connected with it: the Non-locality.
If two quantum objects – for example, electrons – have been involved in an interaction at a time, they are part of the same quantum system. For example, two photons in a crystal barium borate each have indeterminate properties, but the sum of those properties is certain. They are in a ‘quantum entanglement’ .
A common wave function then applies to these quantum objects. While this wave function develops over time, the objects in question remain connected in an inseparable connection.
When the objects concerned are then completely separated, so that they can’t influence each other (at least not in a traceable manner), then it appears that a measurement of the one object still consistently represents a state that is exactly opposite (and complementary) to the situation of the other object at the exact same time. This is true even if the particles have become many light years apart. It thus seems as if the measurement of the first object has an immediate and simultaneous effect on the condition of the second – regardless of the distance or isolation between the two.
These types of effects are called the non-local effects in the QM (non-locality). Literally speaking, this non-locality implies that speeds greater than light are possible, and that is in conflict with relativity theory. Albert Einstein called this phenomenon with some skepticism: “spooky action at a distance” (Einstein, 1947).
Another consequence of non-locality is that effects, depending on the relative perception position, can precede their consequences, which is contrary to the elementary laws of causality.
However, another possibility is conceivable. Suppose that the particles involved no longer have any interaction or ‘communication’ with each other after their separation. What remains valid is that they remain each other’s complement. Maybe they have a parallel development anyway. It is therefore conceivable that the quantum particles involved take along on their journey through space and time all the information that is necessary to show the ‘right’ characteristics at the ‘right’ time that still fits in the parallel development prescribed by the wave function.
In other words, the particles retain so much information about their original situation that they can always meet the ‘program’ of the wave function, including all its possibilities. The problem is that this would require an absurdly large information capacity.
The whole mystery of quantum physics can be due to the limited comprehension powers of our human brains:
“In the theory of quantum mechanics we are beyond the reach of the visual visualization”
The latter is an underestimation. Although our comprehension is limited, we are indeed able to reason through where classical science theories give up. More and more prominent physicists are intrigued by the seemingly impossible results of theories stemming from quantum mechanics. The latest developments in science are well summarized in an article by George van Hal in NRC.nl of 20 January 2017.
The whole universe is information.
A growing group of physicists thinks that information is the fundamental building block of the universe, that the universe is made of information. You can measure and track that information, but nobody knows what information actually is.
‘Nobody knows exactly what to imagine with information,’ says theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde of the University of Amsterdam. “We only know very well how to count it.”
For example, in recent years, physicists have demonstrated a puzzling link between information and energy, so that information has tangible consequences in our physical world. This insight began with the ideas of the German-American physicist Rolf Landauer, who in 1996 described how you always need physical systems for information storage and information transfer. For example a USB stick or hard drive for storage ; or the printed letters on this page for transfer. Information must therefore also obey our physical laws of nature, was his conclusion.
Landauer then applied the laws of heat theory, thermodynamics, to information. He deduced in a publication in the profesional journal Physics Letters A that the destruction of information always costs energy. This will release a little heat when you erase your hard drive. Not because of some mechanical effect where one part of the disc rubs over the other part, but because discarding information has fundamental, physical consequences. Information has, in other words, consequences in the real world.
Theorists like Verlinde go even a step further by stating that information is the fundamental building block of our entire reality, from tangible to elusive. Most physicists are therefore convinced that a better understanding of information can prove the seed from which a new physics revolution grows. A bold thought, because the true nature of information is still shrouded in mystery.
Anyone trying to give an exact definition becomes irrevocably entangled in the limited explanatory power of our human vocabulary. Even mathematics, the language that physicists prefer to use to capture their ideas, offers no solution. “Nobody has the precise mathematical structure of information on a microscopic level,” says physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf, director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. “Not even Erik Verlinde.”
That is striking. Especially when you consider that in everyday life everyone has an instinctive understanding of what we mean by the word information. For example, the newspaper is packed with information. We then call this information ‘the news’, a term that fits reasonably well with what you can think of with your common sense as an information definition. Information is something that you did not know, or something that you can learn.
But in physics you need a more exact definition. In the middle of the last century, the American mathematician Claude Shannon made a first attempt. He described the simplest information storage system, a system that can be located in two separate – equally probable – states, such as ‘on’ and ‘off’. The information in such a system is called a bit: a zero or a one. In April last year Lucas Celéri of the federal university of Goiás in Brazil even showed that the Landauer principle remains intact in a system that obeys the enigmatic laws of quantum physics. An important fact because it is precisely the quantum version of information that plays the most important role in modern physics.
Celéri withdrew information from a three-particle system in his experiment. A process in which heat was generated time after time. He succeeded, in other words, in translating information from a quantum system in his laboratory into energy.
Yet Celéri does not know exactly what that information is. “We have no way to define the nature of information,” he says. “I can tell you how to calculate the amount of information in a system, but not what it is.”
In spite of this, quantum information in modern physics is playing an increasingly important role. Whoever lets go of the elusive properties of quantum physics on classical bits, takes the step to the qubit: an information carrier that can not only be zero or one, but also zero and one at the same time, something that physicists call superposition. Qubits also have the peculiar quality that they want to intertwine with each other. Whoever performs a measurement on the one qubit, also learns something about the other person. How far apart these qubits are physically.
Entangled information can be the basis of universe
Quantum information may even play a decisive role in the universe. Because quantum information can stick together and cling to chains of entangled zeroes and ones, that information remains connected in a ghostly manner, even over dizzying cosmic distances. That magisterial tissue of intertwined information can be the basis for the whole universe. “From the classic image of information you did not get far in describing the universe,” says Beenakker. “You really need to be entangled.” One of the people who makes up for this is Verlinde. With his ideas he adheres to the long-standing view in modern theoretical physics that space and time, greats that people like Einstein used to capture the slippery characteristics of reality, are not fundamental. Underneath is a deeper layer. “The first ideas about what we can describe this deeper layer with already exist,” says Dijkgraaf.
He refers to research into the mysterious properties of black holes, from which physicists have drawn a number of remarkable conclusions in recent years. When an object falls into a black hole, two things probably happen. First of all, that black hole is consuming the object, in which all information about that object seems irrevocably lost. At the same time, the horizon, the border beyond which you can no longer escape the overwhelming attraction of the black hole, is a little bit bigger. For every bit of information that you throw into a black hole, the surface of its horizon grows with a square planck length, the length that physicists suspect is the smallest possible length in the cosmos.
Every bit of information that disappears into a black hole must be retrievable
This means that every bit that disappears into a black hole can be found on the surface afterwards. Although that information is ‘illegible’ to us in a practical sense, it is not really lost. Anyone who accurately understands the machinery of black holes can reconstruct the information in theory.
That is another indication that something is going on with information. If information can make a black hole grow, it also has physical influence on a cosmic scale. Thanks to an analogy between the information captured on the horizon of a black hole and the entire cosmos, theorists, including Nobel laureate Gerard ’t Hooft, even developed the so-called holographic principle. This principle states that reality is a kind of hologram, the result of the dance of zeroes and ones on an invisible horizon around the universe.
For a complete understanding of how reality works, such theories are insufficient, according to Dijkgraaf. “We must also be able to explain how lines, points, and space and time arise from that information,” he says. “And how that then leads to the relativity theory of Einstein.”
What is missing again is an understanding of what information is exactly. What is a bit, and how can you throw one into a black hole? How does a bit know that it must form a particle one time and another time a piece of empty space?
These are questions that bubble up irrevocably when you try to form an image of such exotic ideas about the role of information in the universe.
Information is not a thing, but the building block of a thing
Frustratingly, answers to those questions also appear to be missing on this cosmic canvas. “You can indeed ask yourself: what is this information?”, Says Verlinde. Anyone who reverts to the information definition of Shannon may think of a system that encodes a single bit of information. For a qubit this can be an electron, for example, that tolls one way for a zero and the other for a one. Is that electron a bit of information?
“No”, says Verlinde. “The idea is that the electron itself is also built up from quantum information. You should not present that information as a thing. It is precisely that from which all things arise”, he says. In this way he joins a famous statement by the American theoretical physicist John Wheeler, who stated in the seventies that in the universe it is a matter of It from bit. In other words: a physical thing (an ‘it’) always consists of bits, of information.
An interesting thought, although nobody can tell you how to get from ‘bit’ to ‘it’. According to Verlinde, this does not mean that information can not play a role in the physical description of reality, but that there is a point where you are forced to dig deeper. “Ultimately, we want to know exactly where matter comes from,” he says.
The string theory is out, information is the new fashion
That question physicists so far brought to string theory, a theory that replaced the image of small particles as fundamental building blocks by the image of a reality consisting of vibrating strings and sheets. “And now we are discovering quantum information as the next station,” says Verlinde.
If that’s the terminus, nobody knows. For a better understanding, the description of intertwined information must merge with the mathematics of string theory. Verlinde: “Then we can understand how string theory, and the description of the matter that goes with it, emerges from that information language.” Only then do we know how chains of entangled bits know that they sometimes have to be a particle and sometimes a piece of empty space.
In addition, a better understanding of entangled information is the starting point, says Beenakker. “You can say that the 19th century was the age of energy. In the 20th century, entanglement was mainly something philosophical. And now, in the 21st century, entanglement turns out to be something you can really do something with. It underlies a very large part of reality. “
For the time being, no one knows whether the true nature of information will reveal itself in smart machines in the lab, or in the depths of our cosmos. But whoever really understands information will take the first step towards a next physics revolution. Because, says Beenakker, one thing is really certain: “The ultimate theory of space and time is not geometric, but based on information.”
The final trajectory towards the all-encompassing theory.
So much for the latest insights. We are almost there now. What is lacking is a synthesis of these latest developments in science in a summarizing all-encompassing but simple thesis.
An unsolvable opposition seemed – and seems – to be that between Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum theory. It is precisely this apparent contradiction that may bring us to the all-encompassing theory. Therefore a side-step through the question: What’s a black hole? For physicists, this question is very relevant. They hope to find an answer to the greatest riddles in physics within this cosmic wolverine. Issues such as: what are the most fundamental building blocks of reality? And: is it possible to summarise everything we know about the world in one theory? They are now seducingly close to that ultimate goal. In the universe, processes take place in which black holes are created. This happens, for example, when heavy stars die. The violence that accompanies this, compresses the core of the former star so hard that it collapses under its own gravity. A cosmic cascade in which everything is compressed into a single point. A black hole is a point in space from which you can never escape again. In 1915 the German physicist Karl Schwarzschild was the first to show, with the help of -Einstein’s general theory of relativity, that you could make objects so heavy that even light can no longer escape their gravity. Because of their insanely large mass, such objects eventually combine to form a single literal point: a place without a dimension, a sphere with a zero diameter. That bizarre point was later called a singularity by physicists.
Black holes are extreme. It is completely impossible to describe them with our current physics’, says astronomer Heino Falcke. This is due to a notorious problem in physics: her two most important theories – Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Quantum Theory – don’t want to work together in any way. When physicists want to stick both together, things go wrong. Their formulas then suddenly give ridiculous answers. The gaze of many physicists is therefore firmly focused on black holes. The assumed singularities inside these holes can only be described with a combination of both theories. Black holes probably give insight into how quantum theory and relativity merge into one another.
And it is precisely this apparent incompatibility of the two theories that may form the basis for the comprehensive theory. It is plausible that both conflicting theories at the same time are complementary and connected – as if they were in a quantum entanglement – valid. And that this is the core of the comprehensive theory for everything.
Although still open to improvement and criticism than now the basis for the all-encompassing theory in the form of a thesis.
The fundamental building block of everything is the entanglement of connected complementary contradictions.
Processes are brought about by the interaction of the entangled complementary opposites that are active or inactive in opposite directions.
In our universe, the primary complementary opposition is matter/non-matter, where non-matter is probably represented by Quantum information.
Space is filled with matter and at the same time with immaterial Quantum information. This Quantum information is entangled with and therefore in constant interaction with matter. After all, it is the connected contradiction of that. Quantum information is therefore also the connection between all matter.
The immaterial Quantum information could therefore be called God; or whatever is given to it for what is but is not.