This series covers all areas of research at Perimeter Institute, as well as those outside of PI's scope.
We are currently in the throes of a potentially huge paradigm shift in physics. Motivated by recent developments in string theory and the discovery of the so-called \'string landscape\', physicists are beginning to question the uniqueness of fundamental theories of physics and the methods by which such theories might be understsood and investigated. In this colloquium, I will give a non-technical introduction to the nature of this paradigm shift and how it developed. I will also discuss some of the questions to which it has led, and the nature of the controversies it has spawned.
According to general relativity, space-time ends at singularities and classical physics just stops. In particular, the big bang is regarded as The Beginning. However, general relativity is incomplete because it ignores quantum effects. Through simple models, I will illustrate how the quantum nature of space-time geometry resolves the big bang singularity. Quantum physics does not stop there. Indeed, quantum space-times can be vastly larger than what general relativity had us believe, with unforeseen physical effects in the deep Planck regime.
The discovery and understanding of superconductivity has provided important paradigms for physics, including spontaneous gauge symmetry breaking and the Anderson-Higgs mechanism. More recent discoveries in superconductivity have given us examples of doped Mott insulators, still an unsolved theoretical problem, as well as superconductors which spontaneously break time reversal symmetry and which support Majorana fermions and non-Abelian statistics. The latter are of potential interest to quantum computing.
We show that if a condensed matter system (a quantum qbit system) is in a string-net condensed state, then the low energy excitation in such a system can be gauge bosons (such as photons) and fermions (such as electrons). Such a system is actually the ether that we have been looking for 150 years. We will also discuss a quantum qbit system that may even give rise to emergent gravitons.
We review how renormalization, born in quantum field theory has evolved into a rather universal tool to analyze the change of physical laws under scaling. Recent developments in non commutative geometry with hopefully potential applications to the quantization of gravity will be discussed.
The boundary object is an ethnographic term that describes objects, processes, or words that cross between cultures or disciplines. Boundary objects are often the currency and the result of cross disciplinary practices. All manner of things, from software, to maps, to theories can provide a rich terrain for misunderstanding, tentative agreements or new insights. Case studies of cross-disciplinary art and science collaborations or design and engineering projects will provide examples.
The “clock ambiguity” is a general feature of standard formulations of quantum gravity, as well as a much wider class of theoretical frameworks. The clock ambiguity completely undermines any attempt at uniquely specifying laws of physics at the fundamental level. In this talk I explain in simple terms how the clock ambiguity arises. I then present a number of concrete results which suggest that a statistical approach to physical laws could allow sharp predictions to emerge despite the clock ambiguity.
Theoretical neuroscience, like theoretical physics, attempts to discover and quantify the basic principles governing the systems it studies. Currently, however, there are very few attempts at unification across the levels of organization found in the brain. In this talk, I will describe the biological mechanisms of interest to neuroscientists, and describe a quantitative method for constructing sophisticated models of these mechanisms.
Exactly half a century after Minkowski’s justly famous lecture, Dirac’s efforts to quantize gravity led him “to doubt how fundamental the four-dimensional requirement in physics is”. Dirac does not appear to have explored this doubt further, but I shall argue that it needs to be considered seriously. The fact is that Einstein and Minkowski fused space and time into a four-dimensional continuum but never directly posed the two most fundamental questions in dynamics: What is time? What is motion?
According to the second law of thermodynamics the entropy of a system cannot decrease by adiabatic state transformations. In quantum mechanics, the \'degree of entanglement\' of a state cannot increase under state transformations of a certain kind (local operations assisted by classical communication) In this talk I will explore the significance of the analogy between these two statements.