physics

Particles for Peace: Iranian, Israeli, Turkish, and Arab Physicists Lay Plans for a Joint Particle Accelerator

In the ’50s, CERN united postwar Europe. Can SESAME do the same for the Middle East?

SANTA BARBARA—Physics has always been one of the most globalized of professions. Physicists think of themselves as supranational, rising above national and cultural concerns. They may not always live up to this ideal, but at least they try. I got a glimpse of this as a college student in 1987 when I spent my spring […]

Where Do Space and Time Come From? New Theory Offers Answers, If Only Physicists Can Figure It Out

Vasiliev theory might extend string-theoretic ideas to new settings. But dang, is it hard.

SANTA BARBARA—”Maybe we’re just too dumb,” Nobel laureate physicist David Gross mused in a lecture at Caltech two weeks ago. When someone of his level wonders whether the unification of physics will always be beyond mortal minds, it gets you worried. (He went on to explain why he doesn’t think we are too dumb, though.) […]

The Emperor, Darth Vader and the Ultimate Ultimate Theory of Physics

This physics theory is like Darth Vader: you think it’s the ultimate power, until you meet the Emperor.

PASADENA—The theory is so obscure there’s not a Wikipedia page about it yet. It might be impossible to formulate mathematically. One theoretical physicist calls it the Emperor Palpatine of theories, even more powerful and inscrutable than the Darth Vader theory that he and others have been studying intensively. And yet it has a purity and […]

Could Simple Experiments Reveal the Quantum Nature of Spacetime?

Gravity might muck with the quantum by distorting the uncertainty principle and introducing ambiguities in sequences of cause and effect.

Conventional wisdom has it that putting the words “quantum gravity” and “experiment” in the same sentence is like bringing matter into contact with antimatter. All you get is a big explosion; the two just don’t go together. The distinctively quantum features of gravity only show up in extreme settings such as the belly of a […]

George and John's Excellent Adventures in Quantum Entanglement [Video]

A metaphorical version of John Bell’s famous entanglement.

Simply put, bottomlessly deep: that is the definition of a great discovery in science. From the principle of relativity to evolution by natural selection, the concepts that govern our world are actually not that hard to state. What they mean and what they imply—well, that’s another matter. And so it is with quantum entanglement. One […]

What the World Looks Like, If You Move Backward in Time [Video]

A remarkable film project.

Oops, I said my last post on the recent Foundational Questions Institute conference would be my final one, but I can’t resist just one more. At the conference, Gavin Crooks at Lawrence Berkeley Labs, who studies molecular machines and gave a great talk on how life balances time asymmetry with thermodynamic efficiency, showed this brilliant short […]

Quantum Cheshire Cat: Even Weirder Than Schrödinger's

A box can contain all the properties of a particle, even though no particle is there.

COPENHAGEN—Just when you thought you’d heard every quantum mystery that was possible, out pops another one. Jeff Tollaksen mentioned it in passing during his talk at the recent Foundation Questions Institute conference. Probably Tollaksen assumed we’d all heard it before. After all, his graduate advisor, Yakir Aharonov—who has made an illustrious career of poking the […]

Free Will and Quantum Clones: How Your Choices Today Affect the Universe at its Origin

Just when you thought the debates over free will couldn’t get any weirder.

COPENHAGEN—The late philosopher Robert Nozick, talking about the deep question of why there is something rather than nothing, quipped: “Someone who proposes a non-strange answer shows he didn’t understand the question.” So, when Scott Aaronson began a talk three weeks ago by saying it would be “the looniest talk I’ve ever given,” it was a […]

Is Reality Digital or Analog?

Announcing the third Foundational Questions Institute essay contest.

The Foundational Questions Institute announced this week its latest essay contest, “Is Reality Digital or Analog?”, and if it’s anything like the past two contests, we’re in for a real treat: the contest should draw entrants from some of the deepest thinkers of our time. This time around, Scientific American has joined the institute as […]

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