Update 12/4/15: Craig Hogan's initial results are out. He has found no evidence that the universe is a hologram, but says it still might be: "We need to look longer and run more sensitively," Hogan told me.
Operating with cutting-edge technology out of a trailer in rural Illinois, government researchers started today on a set of experiments that they say will help them determine whether or not you and me and everything that exists are living in a two-dimensional holographic universe.
It sounds completely off-the-walls insane, but the incongruities between Albert Einstein's theory of relativity and some of Max Planck's discoveries about the nature of matter can only be explained if we're living in a Matrix-style holographic illusion, according to Craig Hogan, director of the Department of Energy's Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics.
"For thousands of years, we have assumed that space is made of points and lines," he told me. "Maybe that is not right—it might be made of waves, the way that matter and energy are."
reality has a limited amount of information, like a Netflix movie when Comcast is not giving you enough bandwidth. So things are a little blurry and jittery
In other words, space, and the universe, might not be entirely definite—locations of things might not be completely definite and might be transmitted in quantum bits that vary ever so slightly. He likens it to the idea of "pixels" in a photo. From afar, you see one picture, but if you zoom in far enough, you see tiny points that make up the larger whole.
One of the Holometer's components. Image: Fermilab
Space, and everything that exists, might be the same, he theorizes. In other words, if you zoom in far enough on matter, on space, to a far-beyond subatomic level, you might see that existence is similarly blurry, and always moving slightly.
It's heady stuff. In a paper explaining the theory (embedded below), he writes that "some properties of space and time that seem fundamental, including localization [where things are], may actually emerge only as a macroscopic approximation from the flow of information in a quantum system."
If so, that would mean that the "real world is the ultimate 4-dimensional video display." In the paper, he says his team's hypothesis is that space and time are created from tiny bits of information that vary and that the relationship between space and time are created using information processing.
This trailer is where the Holometer lives. Image: Fermilab
So, that's the theory. Now how the hell do you go about testing it?
Now operating at full power, the Holometer uses a pair of interferometers placed close to one another. Each one sends a one-kilowatt laser beam (the equivalent of 200,000 laser pointers) at a beam splitter and down two perpendicular 40-meter arms. The light is then reflected back to the beam splitter where the two beams recombine, creating fluctuations in brightness if there is motion. Researchers analyze these fluctuations in the returning light to see if the beam splitter is moving in a certain way—being carried along on a jitter of space itself.
So, if the team detects movement, it's possible that the movement is being caused by space not being a completely set thing, in which case, we could be living in the Matrix.
The holometer. Image: Fermilab
Hogan told me that, if we are indeed living in a hologram, "the basic effect is that reality has a limited amount of information, like a Netflix movie when Comcast is not giving you enough bandwidth. So things are a little blurry and jittery. Nothing ever just stands still, but is always moving a tiny bit."
Hogan says the team will have initial findings within a year, but that's all they are sure of right now. "We don't know what we will find," he said.
The full paper is embedded below: