Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More fundamentalism

Which is more fundamental? Elementary particles or elastic solids?

In his book A Different Universe, Bob Laughlin considers the implications of the observation that quantities such as the Josephson constant and the von Klitzing resistance are known will incredible accuracy, the latter to one part in ten billion (pp.15-16):
``Paradoxically, the existence of these highly reproducible experiments leads us to think in two mutually incompatible ways about what is fundamental. One is that exactness reveals something about the primitive building blocks out of which our complicated, uncertain world is made…. The other is that exactness is a collective effect that comes into existence because of a principle of organization…. There is no way to reconcile these two ideas; they are exact opposites. Yet we use the fundamental to describe both.”
Laughlin points out:
“The fractional quantum Hall effect reveals that ostensibly indivisible quanta—in this case the electron charge e—can be broken into pieces through self-organization of phases. The fundamental things, in other words, are not necessarily fundamental.”
He further claims that in quantum field theory the vacuum state is not fundamental but is “an emergent phenomena characteristic of a phase of matter” (p.110-115).

Laughlin claims that if Einstein were alive today then he would,
“conclude that his beloved principle of relativitiy was not fundamental at all but emergent – a collective property of the matter constituting space-time that becomes increasingly exact at long length scales but fails at short ones.’’ (p. 126)

No comments:

Post a Comment