Are we all just living in a holographic universe? Maybe

Since the 1990s, some physicists have suggested our reality is like a 3D projection of a two-dimensional universe. Now one team says it has evidence to support the wild idea.

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3 min read

Researchers say they've found the first evidence that we're all just living in something like a huge hologram the size of the universe.

Don't worry. This doesn't mean you're plugged into the Matrix and nothing is real. Here's how Professor Kostas Skenderis at the University of Southampton explains it:

"Imagine that everything you see, feel and hear in three dimensions (and your perception of time) in fact emanates from a flat two-dimensional field," he says in a news release Monday. "The idea is similar to that of ordinary holograms where a three-dimensional image is encoded in a two-dimensional surface, such as in the hologram on a credit card. However, this time, the entire universe is encoded!"

Enlarge Image

A sketch of the timeline of the holographic universe. Still confusing.

Paul McFadden/University of Southampton

Skenderis and an international team of physicists found evidence of the holographic universe within irregularities in the cosmic microwave background, sometimes referred to as the "afterglow" of the Big Bang. Their findings were published Friday in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The idea of a holographic universe first came about in the 1990s. Physicist Leonard Susskind, one of the originators of the "holographic principle," says the concept means you may simultaneously exist both here and on the edge of the universe where the two-dimensional version of you is being projected into this 3D version of reality.

Yeah, it's confusing and far from proven or even fully understood at this point. But the theory could help bridge the gap between Einstein's ideas about gravity and quantum physics, which aren't totally compatible. In other words, the math that underlies how we understand the biggest things in the universe like galaxies and black holes doesn't add up when combined with our understanding of the tiniest things, like subatomic particles.

"Scientists have been working for decades to combine Einstein's theory of gravity and quantum theory. Some believe the concept of a holographic universe has the potential to reconcile the two," says Skenderis.

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If the reality we live in really is just a 3D projection of the 2D version at the edge of the space and time, it could also drastically change our understanding of how the universe got started.

"We are proposing using this holographic universe, which is a very different model of the Big Bang than the popularly accepted one that relies on gravity and inflation," lead author Niayesh Afshordi, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Waterloo and Perimeter Institute, said in a statement. He's referring to the idea that the universe expanded at an almost unthinkable rate in the moments after it burst into existence nearly 14 billion years ago.

"Each of these models makes distinct predictions that we can test as we refine our data and improve our theoretical understanding -- all within the next five years."

Other experiments are already under way to test the idea of a holographic universe like the "holometer" at Fermilab in Chicago that has been gathering data for a few years now.

Afshordi says the data his team has published will be refined and their conclusions tested within the next five years.

There's no word on whether those tests will include attempting to determine if the holographic universe is also part of a massive computer simulation.

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