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Zenith Grant Awardee

Anthony Short

University of Bristol

Project Title

Emergent Relativity

Project Summary

Most people consider that only the state of the universe at the present moment is real, and that it changes with time. However, it is difficult to reconcile this view with Einstein\'s relativity, which says that different observers disagree about what constitutes the present. This has led many theoretical physicists to think of reality as a static \'box\' containing all of space and time, so that all the events in the entire history and future of the universe (and the ‘present moments’ of all observers) co-exist. This project will highlight and explore some issues raised by this space-time box approach – in particular concerning the complexity of reality in this model, and its explanation of causality (why the future can be predicted from the present). In light of these issues, and inspired by recent results showing that relativity emerges naturally for quantum particles in discrete space and time (as if on a chessboard with a digital clock), we will investigate whether the original time-evolving view could be the most natural after all.

Technical Abstract

Special relativity lies at the heart of modern physics, and has inspired a fundamental shift in our picture of reality, from a spatial state evolving in time to a static block universe. This conceptual shift raises some profound issues, particularly concerning causality and complexity, which this proposal seeks to highlight and address. In light of these issues, we will consider whether relativity could emerge naturally without requiring such a large conceptual shift. If reality consists of a state evolving via physical laws, causality follows naturally. However, in the block universe picture, causality appears to be a surprising property in need of further explanation. The block universe also seems a very complex object to exist without some mechanism for its construction, whereas in the evolving state picture both the initial state and physical laws could be simple, and complexity only generated dynamically (indeed, this could also explain the thermodynamic arrow of time). Recent work on quantum particles in discrete space and time has shown that relativistic symmetries can emerge naturally even given a preferred reference frame. We will investigate whether these results can be generalised to provide an alternative argument for relativity which does not require abandoning the evolving state picture.

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