BBC Horizon: What is Reality? (and will the holometer see it?)

Last time I commented on a BBC Horizon program it was quite popular so perhaps people will be interested in the latest one entitled “What is Reality?” which aired in the UK this week.

I thought the title did not sound promising but it turned out to be a whistle stop tour through a number of interesting current ideas in theoretical and experimental physics. It started with Jacobo Konisberg talking about the discovery of the Top quark at Fermilab. Frank Wilceck then featured to explain some particle physics theory at his country shack using bits of fruit. Anton Zeilinger showed us the double slit experiment and then Seth Lloyd showed us the worlds most powerful quantum computer, which is not very powerful. Lloyd has some interesting ideas about the universe being like a quantum computer which I encorporated into my FQXi essay, but somehow I dosed off at that point in the program so I will need to watch it again :)

Lenny Susskind then made an appearance to tell us about how he had discovered the holographic principle after passing an interesting hologram in the corridor. The holgraphic principle was illustated by projecting an image of Lenny onto himself. Max Tegmark then drew some of his favourite equations onto a window and told us that reality is maths before he himself dissolved into equations.

The most interesting part of the program was a feature about an experiment to construct a holometer at Fermilab described by one of the project leaders Craig Hogan. The holometer is a laser inteferometer inspired by the noise produced at the gravitational wave detectors such as LIGO. It is hoped that if the holographic principle is correct this experiment will detect its effects. Some sceptisicm might be fair dues, but it has to be worth trying. There is info about the holometer here.

I can find the program on Youtube but I wont link because I don’t know if it is an official version that will stay, or whether it is available everywhere or just limited to the UK.


7 Responses to BBC Horizon: What is Reality? (and will the holometer see it?)

  1. Mark Thomas says:

    Not really off topic but a mathematical breakthrough concerning a finite algebraic computation of partition numbers using fractals and Ramanujan’s 5, 7, 11 has been made by Ken Ono et al. Here is the Emory’ website for a summary http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/

    Here are the papers, http://www.aimath.org/news/partition/folsom-kent-ono.pdf

    http://www.aimath.org/news/partition/brunier-ono.pdf

    • Lawrence B. Crowell says:

      I am not much on number theory, say beyond Chinese Remainder theorem, so I can’t comment on the AIM paper. The blog site gives me an idea of what this is.

      This gets into something I proposed some years ago. There is a curious pattern that emerges for prime numbers when written as

      p_j = |x_j +/- y_j|^2

      which appears as a complex series of repeating patterns with a rotational symmetry of π/2 and lines of reflection symmetry about π/4. These numbers go by the title of Gauss primes or some moniker. There is a repeating pattern of clustered points. I proposed that this was something like a fractal. However, I was corrected by saying the use of the term fractal was inappropriate, as fractals refer to structures which have infinitesimal structure.

      • Mark Thomas says:

        It would be cool to associate a finite build of quasicrystals (especially one dimensional type) with the periodic infinitude of fractals (near primes).

      • Lawrence B. Crowell says:

        Quasi-crystals, that might do it. The Gauss primes form a rather interesting pattern that can be seen in

        Along the nπ/4 directions there are these interesting recurrent patterns, where as one looks further out they become more rococo. This does have a quasi-crystal sort of appearance. Off axis the pattern becomes more random appearing. Each one of these points defines the zero of the Riemann ς-function.

        Phil’s observation about “24” is interesting. In fact the Dedekind η-function appears in this gemish as well. The η-function occurs in density of states calculations of strings. There are aspects of the paper I am not familiar with, so gaps appear pretty quickly in my understanding of this.

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      Finding a formula for the partition function is a real breakthrough.

      Notice how the number 24 comes into the formulas and is related to modular forms. This tells us that these results are also related to physics.

      • Mark Thomas says:

        This is going to be a new example of finding a gold coin of ‘number theory’ which leads to greater riches.

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