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Fermilab experiment will attempt to answer whether we actually live in "the Matrix"

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August 31, 2014

Scientists will attempt to discover if the universe is 'real' or a holographic 3-D illusio...

Scientists will attempt to discover if the universe is 'real' or a holographic 3-D illusion (Photo: Fermilab)

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In what may be one of the most mind-bogglingly surreal experiments ever floated, scientists at the US Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) will attempt to discover if the universe is "real" or merely a holographic 3-D illusion that we just think is real. Using high-powered lasers, the scientists intend to determine if space-time is a quantum system made up of countless tiny bits of information.

In explaining their theory, the scientists involved make much of the analogy that, if you stand near enough to a TV screen, you will be able to see the individual pixels that, as you move away, image resolves into a whole image with the individual pixels no longer distinguishable as separate points of light.

So, the scientists propose that if the characters displayed on a TV screen don't know that their apparent 3-D world exists only on a 2-D screen, we too could also be ignorant to the possibility that our 3-D space is also just an illusion. As such, the Fermilab scientists believe that the information about everything contained in our universe may somehow be embedded in tiny packets of information in two dimensions.

The scientists further premise that this information is contained in a "pixel size" container approximately 10 trillion, trillion times smaller than an atom, (a dimension of size that physicists call the Planck scale). At this sub-atomic scale, standard physics no longer holds much sway and quantum theory dictates the rules. As such, it is not possible – in accordance with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle – to know both the precise location and the exact speed of subatomic particles at the same time.

As a result, his phenomenon ensures that matter continues to jitter as quantum waves even when cooled to absolute zero. If the digitized space proposed by the researchers continues to vibrate even in its lowest energy state, they believe that their theory may be proved correct.

To attempt to test this premise, the Fermilab researchers have designed and built what they call a "Holometer" – or holographic interferometer – to see if the characteristic quantum jitter that exists in matter is also found in empty space.

"We want to find out whether space-time is a quantum system just like matter is," says Craig Hogan, developer of the holographic noise theory and a director at Fermilab. "If we see something, it will completely change ideas about space we’ve used for thousands of years."

Recently commissioned and now operating at full power, the Holometer uses a pair of interferometers (devices that superimpose one laser beam over another to look for anomalies in intensity or phase to test an external influence) located next to each other. Each interferometer directs a one-kilowatt laser beam at a beam splitter and then down two 40-m (130-ft) arms located at right-angles to one another.

The laser beams are then reflected and returned to the beam splitter and the two beams are recombined; if there is any motion detected, fluctuations in the brightness of the combined beam will result. Researchers will then analyze these fluctuations to see if the beam is being influenced by the jitter of space itself.

One major difficulty in such a test will be noise – "Holographic noise", the researchers call it – which they expect to be present at all frequencies. To mitigate this, the Holometer is testing at frequencies of many megahertz so that motions contained in normal matter are claimed not to be a problem. The dominant background noise of radio wave interference will be the most difficult to filter out, according to the team.

"If we find a noise we can’t get rid of, we might be detecting something fundamental about nature – a noise that is intrinsic to space-time," said Fermilab physicist Aaron Chou. "It’s an exciting moment for physics. A positive result will open a whole new avenue of questioning about how space works."

The Holometer team is made up of 21 scientists and students from Fermilab, MIT, the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan, with the experiment set to gather data over the coming year.

Source: Fermilab

About the Author
Colin Jeffrey Colin discovered technology at an early age, pulling apart clocks, radios, and the family TV. Despite his father's remonstrations that he never put anything back together, Colin went on to become an electronics engineer. Later he decided to get a degree in anthropology, and used that to do all manner of interesting things masquerading as work. Even later he took up sculpting, moved to the coast, and never learned to surf.   All articles by Colin Jeffrey
16 Comments

Hay can I use that holometer to watch my paint dry? Now that would be really exciting..

sugamari
31st August, 2014 @ 09:25 pm PDT

But if it's something like the matrix then some agents will change the results subtly and make it seem like your not in the "matrix". Thus somebody should prank them by showing up dressed like agents or neo or morpheus.

It sounds like they aren't testing if we are in a machine run matrix but instead looking at some fundamental aspects of space time fabric to me.

Ben Tumaru O'Brien
31st August, 2014 @ 10:25 pm PDT

So, if it proves that we really do live in a matrix, what can we do about it?

Mind you, it would go a long way towards explaining collateralised debt obligations and other derivatives so loved by the banking community.

Mel Tisdale
1st September, 2014 @ 03:47 am PDT

Perhaps They would start by explaining how they determined that characters on TV "know" they are real.

There U Are
1st September, 2014 @ 04:43 am PDT

Please tell me these geeks aren't using taxpayer money in any way to do this study!

edro3111
1st September, 2014 @ 08:36 am PDT

" If the digitized space proposed by the researchers continues to vibrate even in its lowest energy state, they believe that their theory may be proved correct."

How very little it takes in order for someone to "prove" something nowadays is an affront to actual science. The reality of the situation is that their findings may LEND SUPPORT to their theory. To be proven, the theory must hold up in ALL cases of scrutiny - not just the first one, the first time someone comes up with an idea to test a theory.

The results of their experimentation may LEND SUPPORT to their theory. Or the results may SEEM to lend support, but are actually the result of something completely different which seem to lend support.

If I look ahead at a road on a hot day, I can plainly see the shimmer of water out in front of me and say this is (in the 2014 context of) "PROOF" the road ahead is wet. And if I had no concept of how heat rising can give an illusion of water on pavement, I pat myself on the back for being so intelligent with my proof.

And, as seems typical nowadays with "scientists," when I get to that point of the road and see how bone dry it is, I then start working on another theory and experiment to prove it was wet until I got there, how the water could instantaneously vanish, and how I was right to begin with.

No... DON'T stop the experimentation in this direction - but keep the results in context of what they really are. You might miss something unexpected by assuming the results are proof of what you were looking to prove.

Lbrewer42
1st September, 2014 @ 08:59 am PDT

The writer of this article titled it VERY poorly. I've heard before of the theory that the universe may just be a holograph, but that is completely different than "the matrix"

The universe could be proven 100% beyond doubt to be 3D just as we perceive it, and whether or not we live in "the matrix" is an entirely different theory that may or may not be true, completely independent of whether or not the universe is 3D or a 2D holograph.

As far as "the matrix" goes, search Wikipedia for "simulated reality" and the specific section on that page "simulation argument"

KushSmoka420
1st September, 2014 @ 09:31 am PDT

This could prove to be an interesting experiment, depending upon the results.

Dennis W Wright
1st September, 2014 @ 09:50 am PDT

And next no doubt the will design an experiment to prove the moon really is made of cream cheese...

Stuart Wilf Wilshaw
1st September, 2014 @ 12:18 pm PDT

watch out! if you move just one 'planck-particle' a little, you might affect the entire time continueum!

redjeff53
1st September, 2014 @ 12:29 pm PDT

@KushSmoka420

If it isn't the matrix - where we believe everything we see to be real because a computer program tells us it is so - then what is it?

If our universe is a 3D representation created by 2D information that makes us believe something is real that isn't, what difference does it make?

Call it "The Matrix" or "Oz" or "Cloud Cuckoo Land" - all of it is a perception of what is real driven by something else...you're just arguing semantics

Snert
1st September, 2014 @ 08:25 pm PDT

Not "The Matrix", but more "13th Floor" :-)

Aloysius
1st September, 2014 @ 10:40 pm PDT

There is a methodological error. The authors of the experiment want to see "noise pixels" of space and time. But this is possible only under the condition that the pixel is also space. In which the light can be moved. But this contradicts the definition of "pixel space". It is impossible to study the structure of the world by means of the structure of the world.

Gent
2nd September, 2014 @ 03:43 am PDT

@Snert

Its more than semantics, its 2 completely different things.

the matrix has nothing do with dimensions, (2D vs. 3D) it has to do with whether or not the world we believe we live in is actual reality. REGARDLESS of it's 2D or 3D. Is our "reality" real, or, like in the movie "the matrix" are we really laying somewhere in a pool of slime, with our brains hooked up to super advanced virtual reality. Or are we just not physical at all, are we AI computer programs who believe we are real flesh and blood? That is "the matrix" and the corresponding theory.

the holographic universe theory, whether correct or not, 2D or 3D, doesn't have anything to do with a simulated reality aka "the matrix" only that the 3rd dimension is perceived but not actually there.

The bottom line is, no matter what you want to call these theories and whether they're correct or not, they are 2 different independent things.

KushSmoka420
2nd September, 2014 @ 03:49 am PDT

@ Lbrewer42

" If the digitized space proposed by the researchers continues to vibrate even in its lowest energy state, they believe that their theory may be proved correct."

"MAY"

they did not say that this IS proof

From the way I read the quote your statement

"The reality of the situation is that their findings may LEND SUPPORT to their theory." is basically what they are suggesting

Captain Danger
2nd September, 2014 @ 09:13 am PDT

Is it real, or is it Memorex? Is it real, or is it Matrix? Is the universe real, or is it just an illusion? These are questions that have plagued mankind for several centuries as we try to put our lives in the seemingly chaotic order of (this) universe. We want to put purpose to disorder, and place our lives in some meaningful role in the time/space continuum. The universe is real and our place in the universe is only what we make it. The universe seems to vast and never-ending, what role could we as mere mortals play in the mural of life? If the universe is a VR replica of reality, like that of the Matrix, Synchronicity, or Lawn Mower Man, then we would be living outside of the real world; for in the Matrix the people who lived in the Matrix were trapped in the VR generated by the machines as Ever Ready Batteries that supplied the power that ran Machine City. In the Matrix the universe was always real, they just lived outside in a computer generated dream world. Maybe the Matrix and we are just resting our heads on a Surrealistic Pillow

Kristianna Thomas
2nd September, 2014 @ 12:46 pm PDT
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