“We’re trying to construct a dictionary,” says Van Raamsdonk, that allows physicists to translate descriptions of our complex universe into simpler terms.
If they succeed, they will have found the biggest jigsaw piece in the puzzle of a Grand Unified Theory-something that can describe all of the forces of our universe, at all scales from the atomic to the galactic.
That puzzle piece is, specifically, something that can describe gravity within the framework of quantum mechanics, which governs physics on small scales. Such a unified theory is needed to explain the extreme scenarios of a black hole or the first moments of the universe.
The catacylst for Van Raamsdonk’s theory was a 1998 paper by Juan Maldacena a theoretical astrophysicist at Princeton’s Institite for Advanced studies that proposed that to understand quantum gravity through string theory, you can look instead to the much more ordinary, well-described system of quantum mechanics called quantum field theory that concluded that it seems that all the information about our complex multi-dimensional world can be described using a simpler, lower-dimensional language-just as a 3D image is projected from the 2D screen of a hologram, or a 3D computer gaming world created from a 2D memory chip.
“After that, people wrote thousands of papers just testing whether that could be true,” says Van Raamsdonk.
“No one has actually proven it, but we’re as certain about it as about anything in physics,” he added.