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Ripping it all up

Sometimes it takes time for an idea to come into its own.  One such is the idea is that reality largely consists of connections. In 2016 Scientific American described the emerging cosmological theory that "spacetime—is actually composed of tiny chunks of information".

According to the new view, spacetime, rather than being fundamental, might “emerge” via the interactions of such bits. What, exactly, are these bits made of and what kind of information do they contain? Scientists do not know. Yet intriguingly, “what matters are the relationships” between the bits more than the bits themselves, says ... Brian Swingle, a postdoc at Stanford University. “These collective relationships are the source of the richness. Here the crucial thing is not the constituents but the way they organize together.”

The key to this organization may be the strange phenomenon known as quantum entanglement—a weird kind of correlation that can exist between particles, wherein actions performed on one particle can affect the other even when a great distance separates them.

The obvious difficulty with this theory is the astronomical amount of information required to centrally coordinate an entangled system.  Describing the connections within a mere 100 atoms of gold would quickly fill the storage capacity of a hard drive the size of the whole visible universe. As a Wired article quoting Swingle said “if you take the entire visible universe and fill it up with our best storage material, the best hard drive money can buy, you could only store the state of about 300 spins.” Fortunately nature may have solved the problem by building reality from the bottom up.

The key to achieving this simplification is a principle called “locality.” Any given electron only interacts with its nearest neighboring electrons. Entangling each of many electrons with its neighbors produces a series of “nodes” in the network. Those nodes are the tensors, and entanglement links them together. All those interconnected nodes make up the network. A complex calculation thus becomes easier to visualize. Sometimes it even reduces to a much simpler counting problem.

By assembling components into progressively bigger assemblies an entire universe can eventually be built.  Mark Van Raamsdonk, a string theorist at the University of British Columbia "imagines entanglement creating space-time gradually ... individual particles ...  become entangled with each other. These entangled pairs then become entangled with other pairs. As more particles become entangled, the three-dimensional structure of space-time emerges."

Perhaps the change in zeitgeist led David Brooks to see in bottom-up creation a revolutiionary new sociological model.  In his recent NYT article The Localist Revolution Brooks says "we’ve tried liberalism and conservatism and now we’re trying populism. Maybe the next era of public life will be defined by a resurgence of localism."