A 2-D projection contains all the details
needed to map a 3-D black hole. Some
physicists think space and time may
emerge via a similar correspondence.
Out of the fabric
built from more primordial ingredients,
so far unperceived.
Newton simply declared space and
time as absolute and constant, providing
a convenient arena for the operation of
his laws of motion and gravity. Einstein
saw, and showed, that space and time
actually shift shape or speed as events
unfold; mass and motion warp space and
alter the flow of time.
Coping with these inconveniences
required a merger, space and time
becoming spacetime. From that merger
emerged a bonus: a model for the evolution of the cosmos, from an initial speck
of matter and energy to a gigantic ballooning multigalactic network.
Nowadays, though, spacetime’s ability to accommodate nature’s phenomena
has begun to fade as physicists push their
probes to the limits of distance and duration. Below a certain very tiny distance,
the dimension of length can no longer
be explored, or even defined. Time faces
a similar limit when durations approach
the very brief.
Today’s leading theories for answering the greatest cosmic questions
suggest that neither time nor space
appear in reality’s ultimate recipe.
Somewhere between the stove and the
table, space and time emerge, cooked
up out of equations underlying an existence without rulers and clocks. At least
that is “the widespread current belief,”
says physicist Joe Polchinski of the Kavli
Institute for Theoretical Physics at the
University of California, Santa Barbara.
By Tom Siegfried s Illustration by Nicolle Rager Fuller
Of all the mysteries of life and the universe, none resist the sleuth- ing of science’s best private eyes
more obstinately than the ultimate
nature of space and time.
Every several centuries or so, pro-
found insights do occur, immortalizing
the names of the investigators who
achieved them: Euclid (who cataloged
the insights preceding him), Galileo,
Newton, Einstein. Yet each advance
left deeper questions unanswered. And
now the 21st century’s best brains still
cannot say for sure whether space and
time are fundamental building blocks
of natural existence, or are themselves
Space as society
To illustrate this, Fotini Markopoulou of
the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical
Physics in Waterloo, Canada, compares
space to society. Space, like society, has
features that can be described — geometry textbooks catalog space’s properties and their implications. But space
as reflected in geometry need not have
been present at the beginning. It could