05 December 2012

Causal Dynamical Triangulation

Causal Dynamical Triangulation

I've been reading up on Causal Dynamical Triangulation (CDT) (by Loll, Ambjoern, and Jurkiewicz). It's an attempted unified field theory related to Loop Quantum Gravity (LQG), which you may have read the Scientific American article on a few years back.
What it (like LQG) has to recommend it is that the structure of space emerges from the theory itself. Basically, it proposes a topological substrate (spin-foam) made of simplexes (lines, triangles, tetrahedrons, etc). Spatial curvature emerges from how those simplexes can join together.

Degeneration and the arrow of time

The big problem for CDT in its early form was that the space that emerged was not our space. What emerged was one of two degenerate forms. It either has infinite dimensions or just one. The topology went to one of two extremes of connectedness.
The key insight for CDT was that space emerges correctly if edges of simplexes can only be joined when their arrows of time are pointing in the same direction.

So time doesn't emerge?

But some like to see the "arrow of time" as emergent. The view is that it's not so much that states only mix (unmix) along the arrow of time. It's the other way around: "time" has an arrow of time because it has an unmixed state at one end (or point) and a mixed state at the other.
To say the say thing in a different way, the rule isn't that the arrow of time makes entropy increase, it's that when you have an entropy gradient along a time-like curve, you have an arrow of time.
The appeal is that we don't have to say that the time dimension has special rules such as making entropy increase in one direction. Also, both QM and relativity show us a time-symmetrical picture of fundamental interactions and emergent arrow-of-time doesn't mess that picture up.

Observables and CDT

So I immediately had to wonder, could the "only join edges if arrows of time are the same" behavior be emergent?
In quantum mechanics, you can only observe certain aspects of a wavefunction, called Observables. Given a superposition of a arrow-matched and arrow-mismatched CDT states, is it the case that only the arrow-matched state is observable? Ie that any self-adjoint operator must be only a function of arrow-matched states?
I frankly don't know CDT remotely well enough to say, but it doesn't sound promising and I have to suspect that Loll et al already looked at that.

A weaker variant

So I'm pessimistic of a theory where mismatched arrows are simply always cosmically censored.
But as far as my limited understanding CDT goes, with all due humility, there's room for them to be mostly censored. Like, arrow-mismatched components are strongly suppressed in all observables in cases where there's a strong arrow of time.

Degeneration: A feature, not a bug?

It occured to me that the degeneration I described earlier might be a feature and not a bug.
Suppose for a moment that CDT is true but that the "only join edges if arrows of time are the same" behavior is just emergent, not fundamental. What happens in the far future, the heat death of the universe, when entropy has basically maxxed out?
Space degenerates. It doesn't even resemble our space. It's either an infinite-dimensioned complete graph or a 1-dimensioned line.

The Boltzmann Brain paradox

What's good about that is that it may solve the Boltzmann Brain paradox. Which is this:
What's the likelihood that a brain (and mind) just like yours would arise from random quantum fluctuations in empty space? Say, in a section of interstellar space a million cubic miles in volume which we observe for one minute?
Very small. Very, very small. But it's not zero. Nor does it even approach zero as the universe ages and gets less dense, at least not if the cosmological constant is non-zero. The probability has a lower limit.
Well, multiplying an infinite span of time times that gives an infinite number of expected cases of Boltzmann Brains exactly like our own. The situation should be utterly dominated by those cases. But that's the opposite of what we see.

Degeneracy to the rescue

But if CDT and emergent time are true, the universe would have degenerated long before that time. Waving my hands a bit, I doubt that a Boltzmann Brain could exist even momentarily in that sort of space. Paradox solved.

Is that the Big Rip?

(The foregoing was speculative and hand-waving, but this will be far more so)
Having described that degeneration, I can't help noticing its resemblance to the Big Rip, the hypothesized future event when cosmological expansion dominates the universe and tears everything apart.
That makes me wonder if the accelerating expansion of space that we see could be explained along similar lines. Like, the emergent arrow-of-time-matching isn't quite 100% perfect, and when it "misses", space expands a little.
This would fit with the weaker variant proposed above.


For one thing, it's not clear how it could explain the missing 72.8% of the universe's mass as dark energy was hypothesized to.


Now my hands are tired from all the hand-waving I'm doing, so I'll stop.

Edit: dynamic -> dynamical

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