The Corner

‘Is the Universe a Hologram?’

Fascinating article over at the Huffington Post. Scientists have discovered numerical correspondences that suggest that certain black-hole phenomena can be reproduced from universes with fewer dimensions.

As someone who is sadly innumerate but nonetheless fascinated by such matters, I welcome all intimations of the fundamental strangeness of reality. The intellectual struggle over reductionist naturalism in most of the last two centuries has revolved around the question of whether the spiritual can be reduced to — explained away by – simpler material forces. In the quantum era, we have seen that even the material cannot be reduced to simple material forces. What we are left with is the scientist Haldane’s memorable intuition that the universe is “not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

The physicists are trying to stretch the boundaries of what we can suppose, and I say good for them. In the meantime, we can reflect on the ways that poets have tried to capture glimpses of the underlying truth. My own favorite: “. . . this insubstantial pageant faded, / Leave not a rack behind. / We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”

Whoever devised all this was a much more interesting fellow than the clockmaker imagined by the Newtonians, or the Yoyodyne engineer envisioned by the Intelligent Design advocates. So interesting, in fact, so uncanny, that one might even consider worshiping him. (But that’s a discussion for another day. Suffice it to say here that I recently figured out why I like guys like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould so much: They write glowing reviews of the author’s work, while not being personal friends of the author, and even questioning whether the author really exists. So there’s no clubby literary favoritism in their writings on the subject — just straight-up admiration for the work.)

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