Gravitation in terms of observables: breathing new life into a bold proposal of Mandelstam

By Rodolfo Gambini and Jorge Pullin


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Rodolfo Gambini and Jorge Pullin have been collaborating for 27 years

In the 1960’s Stanley Mandelstam set out to reformulate gravity and gauge theories in terms of observable quantities. The quantities he chose are curves, but specified intrinsically. The simplest way of understanding what does “specified intrinsically” means is to think how the trajectory of a car is specified by a GPS unit. The unit will give commands “turn right”, “advance a certain amount”, “turn left”. In this context “right” and “left” are not with respect to an external coordinate system, but with respect to your car. The list of commands would remain the same whatever external coordinate system one chooses (in the case of a car it could be a road marked in kilometres or miles, for instance). The resulting theories are therefore automatically invariant under coordinate transformations (invariant under diffeomorphisms). They can therefore constitute a point of departure for the quantization of gravity radically different from other ones. For instance, they¬†would share in common with loop quantum gravity that both are loop-based approaches. However, in loop quantum gravity one has to implement the symmetry of the theory under diffeomorphisms. Intrinsically defined loops, on the other hand, are space-time diffeomorphism invariant, therefore such a symmetry is already implemented. It is well known that in loop quantum gravity diffeomorphism invariance is key in selecting in almost unique way the inner product of the theory and therefore on determining the theory’s Hilbert space. Intrinsically defined loops are likely to be endowed with a very different inner product and Hilbert space structure. In fact, since the loops in the Mandelstam approach are space-time ones it lends itself naturally to an algebraic space-time covariant form of quantization. Continue reading