“Paleontologists infer the existence of dinosaurs to give a rational accounting of strange patterns of bones. We look at patterns in space today, and we infer a cosmological history in order to explain them,” said Nima Arkani-Hamed, a physicist and cosmologist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, who looks at the hidden patterns exposed by the fundamental symmetries of the universe and suggests a new mathematical framework for explaining them.
“Huge clue to the nature of the ultimate truth.”
“The miraculous shape-shifting property of the laws is the single most amazing thing I know about them. It must be a huge clue to the nature of the ultimate truth,” one of the leading physicists of his generation toldNatalie Walchover at The New Yorker in 2018 about the discovery that the amplitudes of certain particle collisions are encoded in the volume of a gem-like geometric object, which they named the amplituhedron, that makes reference to neither space nor time, raising metaphysical questions about the meaning of physics and the nature of reality.
Leads to some grander structure
Since their creation of the amplituhedron, this new geometric formulation of particle-scattering amplitudes, Arkani-Hamed and colleague Jaroslav Trnka, founding member of the Center for Quantum Mechanics and Physics, have been hoping that it will lead away from our spacetime-bound conception of the cosmos to some grander structure that embraces the discovery that gravity shapes the universe on both large and quantum scales.
Arkani-Hamed’s research has shown how the extreme weakness of gravity, relative to other forces of nature, might be explained by the existence of extra dimensions of space. He sees the ultimate goal of physics as figuring out the mathematical question from which all the answers flow.
Searching for the question to which the universe is the answer
“The ascension to the tenth level of intellectual heaven,” he told Walchover, “would be if we find the question to which the universe is the answer, and the nature of that question in and of itself explains why it was possible to describe it in so many different ways.”
It’s as though physics has been turned inside out, observes Walchover. “It now appears that the answers already surround us. It’s the question we don’t know.”
“We’re not building a machine that calculates answers,” says Arkani-Hamed. “Instead, we’re discovering questions. Nature’s shape-shifting laws seem to be the answer to an unknown mathematical question.”
Somehow, the answer to the question of the amplituhedron’s volume describes the behavior of particles, writes Walchover. “And that answer, in turn, can be rewritten in terms of space and time”.
Avi Shporer, Research Scientist, MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. A Google Scholar, Avi was formerly a NASA Sagan Fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). His motto, not surprisingly, is a quote from Carl Sagan: “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”