“What if it’s all just a hologram?” I ask.
“That’s ridiculous,” she says as she walks away from me.
The controversial notion that our experience of reality is nothing more than a hologram pierced my brain when Brian Greene suggested it in the NOVA series, The Fabric of the Cosmos, back in 2012. And I guess the idea stuck with me because it just popped up in a dream I had.
Brian Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University in New York City, and when he explains physics on a TV show like NOVA I take it seriously. So I started doing some research to get the backstory on holograms.
In an interview by WIRED magazine, Greene explained that the idea that reality may be akin to a hologram is based on a wonderfully weird collection of ideas and theoretical studies developed over the last 30 years that go under the heading of the “holographic principle.”
What started as an attempt to understand the quantum properties of black holes soon turned into a scientific debate over the fundamental laws of physics as scientists wondered; “what happens to the information that an object contains when it falls into a black hole”?
And this led physicists to come up with the idea that when an object falls into a black hole, a copy of all of its information content gets “smeared out” on the surface or the horizon of the black hole. Flattened out in a sense—like a series of 0′s and 1′s, the way information is stored in a typical computer. And that idea, he said, would suggest that a three-dimensional object inside the black hole could be described by information on a two-dimensional surface that surrounds the black hole.
According to Greene, the reason this is interesting is because the space inside a black hole is governed by the same laws as space outside a black hole, or space anywhere for that matter. The point being, if a 3-D object inside a black hole can be described by 2-D information on a surface that surrounds it, then that lesson could be generalized to include you and me and everything else we consider reality.
“Now, this starts to sound like a hologram,” said Greene. “A hologram is a thin 2-D piece of plastic which, when illuminated correctly, yields a realistic three-dimensional image. The idea is we may be that three-dimensional image of this more fundamental information on the 2-D surface that surrounds us.”
In a related article, Our Universe May Be a Giant Hologram, Greene used an analogy to help explain: “If this line of reasoning is correct, then there are physical processes taking place on some distant surface that, much as a puppeteer pulls strings, are fully linked to the processes taking place in my fingers, arms, and brain as I type these words at my desk. Our experiences here, and that distant reality there, would form the most interlocked of parallel worlds. Phenomena in the two—I’ll call them Holographic Parallel Universes—would be so fully joined that their respective evolutions would be as connected as me and my shadow.”
Greene admits that the holographic principle and some of the ideas explored in The Fabric of the Cosmos represent some of the strangest features of modern science, but he also claims they are well-grounded in mathematical research and observational data.
“Now, let me just point out, this is a hard idea even for physicists who work on it every day to fully grasp,” said Greene. “We’re still trying to really dot the i’s and cross the t’s and understand in detail what this would mean. But there are many who now take this idea very seriously, that we may be a kind of holographic projection.”
I think it’s even harder for the general public to grasp. And if it’s true, I can’t help but wonder, who, or what is behind the projector?
Night and Day is an online journal that contrasts my dreams with my daytime activities. I refer to these posts as episodes because I only recall my dreams sporadically, and because they are at best loosely connected to my days.