Think Big – Nima Arkani-Hamed

Source: Wired, Oct 2015

… pursuing one’s own ideas with unbridled enthusiasm, politely disregarding naysayers and tackling obstacles head-on.

Life was good in Canada; only one thing was jarring. At that time, “there was a ceiling to the level of bigness and ambition with which people thought about things,” Arkani-Hamed said. He was particularly struck by how proud many Canadians were of having built the robot arms of NASA’s space shuttles. During news coverage of launches, he recalled, “there would be all these close-ins on the arm, on the ‘Canada’ on the arm, and I’d be, like, the space shuttle is a bigger deal!”

As radical as it sounds, many physicists now think that the spatiotemporal dimensions we seem to move around in are not fundamental, but rather emerge from a deeper, truer description of reality. And in 2013, anunexpected discovery by Arkani-Hamed and his studentJaroslav Trnka offered a possible clue to what the underlying laws of nature might look like.

They uncovered a multifaceted geometric object whose volume encodes the outcomes of particle collisions—beastly numbers to calculate with traditional methods. The discovery suggested that the usual picture of particles interacting in space and time is obscuring something far simpler: the timeless logic of intersecting lines and planes. Although the “amplituhedron” (as Arkani-Hamed and Trnka dubbed their object) initially described a simplified version of particle physics, researchers are now working to extend its geometry to describe more realistic particle interactions and forces, including gravity.

He believes that the interchangeability of points and lines in the geometry of the amplituhedron may be the origin of a mysterious mathematical duality between particles and strings, the basic building blocks of nature in string theory. And particle interactions are just “the baby version of the problem,” he said. His ultimate goal is to describe the entire cosmological history of the universe as a mathematical object.

Ultimately, he said, anywhere from 10 to 500 years from now, the amplituhedron and these cosmological patterns will merge and become part of a single, spectacular mathematical structure that describes the entire past, present and future of everything “in some timeless, autonomous way.”


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