If space-time has defects, how could we find out?

By Sabine Hossenfelder

Whether space and time come in discrete chunks is one of the central questions of quantum gravity, the still missing unification of quantum theory with gravity. Discretization is a powerful method to tame infinities exactly like the ones that appear when we try to quantize gravity. It is thus not surprising that many approaches to quantum gravity rely on some discrete structure, may that be condensed matter analogies, triangulations, or approaches based on networks.


Sabine Hossenfelder

Many researchers in the field hope that besides taming the infinities that appear in the quantization of gravity, discretization will also prevent the formation of singularities that general relativity predicts, for example at the big bang and inside black holes.  If space-time was fundamentally made of finite-sized chunks, then the singularities would merely be mathematical artefacts, just like singularities in hydrodynamics are merely mathematical artefacts of using the fluid-approximation on distances when we should instead use atomic physics. Continue reading

Holography inside out: from 3D gravity to 2D statistical models

By Bianca Dittrich, Christophe Goeller, Etera R. Livine, and Aldo Riello

Despite many years of research, quantum gravity remains a challenge. One of the reasons is that the many tools developed for perturbative quantum field theory are, in general, not applicable to quantum gravity. On the other hand, non-perturbative approaches have a difficult time in finding and extracting computable observables. The foremost problem here is a lack of diffeomorphism-invariant observables.

The situation can be improved very much by considering space-time regions with boundaries. This is also physically motivated, since one would like to be able to describe the physics of a given bounded region in a quasi-local way, that is without requiring a detailed description of the rest of the space-time outside. The key point is that the boundary can be used as an anchor, allowing to define observables in relation to this boundary. Then we can consider different boundary conditions, which translates at the quantum level into a rich zoo of boundary wave-functions. These boundary states can correspond to semi-classical boundary geometries or superpositions of those. The states can also describe asymptotic flat boundaries, thus allowing us to compare with perturbative approaches. In this context, holography in quantum gravity aims to determine how much of the bulk geometry can be reconstructed from the data encoded in the boundary state.


The boundary wave function Ψ are described by  dual theories defined on the boundary of the solid torus. These 2D boundary theories, obtained by integrating over all the bulk degrees of freedom of the geometry, encode the full 3D quantum gravity partition function.

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Gravity and Unification

by Kirill Krasnov and Roberto Percacci

The geometric unification of gravity with the other interactions is not currently a popular subject. It is generally believed that a unified theory can only be constructed once a quantum theory of gravity is available. The purpose of this CQG+ contribution is to advocate that it may be fruitful and even necessary to reverse the logic: instead of “quantising in order to unify” it may be necessary to “unify in order to quantise”. If the latter perspective is correct, our current approaches to quantum gravity would be similar to trying to understand the quantum theory of electricity and magnetism separately before they were unified in Maxwell’s theory.

There are several arguments for such a change of priorities.

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Celebrating quantum gravity: the moon’s craters and conceptual revolutions

by Seth K. Asante, Bianca Dittrich, and Hal M. Haggard 

Fifty years ago this December the astronauts of the Apollo 8 mission were the first humans to ever see the far side of the moon. As they passed behind the moon they lost radio contact with mission control in Houston. They were completely isolated. Only recently have cockpit recordings of their reactions become public [1]. At first they couldn’t see the moon at all, but then the command module pilot James A. Lovell Jr. exclaims “Hey, I got the moon!”. William A. Anders, the lunar module pilot, asks excitedly “Is it below us?” and Lovell begins “Yes, and it’s—” when Anders interrupts him having spotted it. Deeply enthused the astronauts have dropped their technical patter and systems checks, which make up the main fabric of the recordings. Anders marvels “I have trouble telling the bumps from the holes.” In his excitement Anders completely loses his technical jargon. He can’t even recall the word ‘crater’. He is reacting to the moon. It is easy to feel his enthusiasm at this hidden wonder.


Hal Haggard, Seth Asante, and Bianca Dittrich form a triangle area, the main variable in their new study of discrete gravity [5]. If you squint the image is even a bit like The Dark Side of the Moon’s cover art. The picture is taken in front of artwork by Elizabeth McIntosh hanging in the main atrium of the Perimeter Institute.

Quantum gravity is a deep puzzle of modern physics. Like the far side of the moon, much of the full theory is still hidden from view. But, it seems to me that we too seldom celebrate the great accomplishments that thinking about this puzzle has yielded. Two grand anniversaries both connected to gravity are to be celebrated this year. It’s a perfect moment to feel again the excitement that these discoveries represent and to connect to the enthusiasm and sense of exploration that quantum gravity can inspire. Continue reading

Low Energy? Think Positive!

Scott Melville, winner of the Best Student Talk Prize at BritGrav, which was sponsored by CQG, discusses the research that he’s doing on quantum gravity at Imperial College London.

Image courtesy of Steve Cross

Scott Melville, speaking at Bright Club on 28th April 2018. Image courtesy of Steve Cross

The present state of quantum gravity is rather unsatisfying. While perturbation theory works well at low energies, at high energies quantum gravity becomes incalculable, and leaves us hungry for answers. As we approach the Planck scale, perturbations become strongly coupled and we quickly lose perturbative control of our theory. A UV complete theory of gravity, which remains unitary and sensible to arbitrarily high energies, is hard to cook up.

We need new physics, to swallow these Planck-sized problems. This new physics shouldn’t be too heavy, or too light; not too strongly coupled, or too perturbative. We don’t yet know exactly what it should be, but it needs to hit a sweet spot. My research develops tools, called positivity bounds, which can help us better understand how low energy observables are connected to this unknown new physics.

One thing is for certain: quantum gravity is hard – and working on it sure builds up an appetite. When I’m not worrying about the fundamental nature of the Universe: I’m in the kitchen. While I may not be the best chef in the world, I make up for an abysmal lack of skill with a towering surplus of enthusiasm. You can flip anything in a pan, if you flip hard enough.

When it comes to deciding what to have for dinner, I take things very seriously: it can’t be too salty, or too sweet; not too spicy, or too bland.

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Some features of the Cosmos in Loop Quantum Gravity

By Parampreet Singh, Louisiana State University, USA


CQG Editorial Board member, Param Singh, Guest Edited the Applications of loop quantum gravity to cosmology focus issue in 2016 and 2017

A successful union of Einstein’s general relativity and quantum theory is one of the most fundamental problems of theoretical physics. Though a final theory of quantum gravity is not yet available, its lessons and techniques can already be used to understand  quantization of various spacetimes. Of these, cosmological spacetimes are of special interest. They provide a simpler yet a non-trivial and a highly rich setting to explore detailed implications of quantum gravitational theories. Various conceptual and technical difficulties encountered in understanding quantum dynamics of spacetime in  quantum gravity can be bypassed in such a setting. Further, valuable lessons can be learned for the quantization of more general spacetimes.

In the last decade, progress in loop quantum gravity has provided avenues which allow us to reliably answer various interesting questions about the quantum dynamics of spacetime in the cosmological setting. Quantum gravitational dynamics of cosmological spacetimes obtained using techniques of  loop quantum gravity leads to a novel picture where singularities of Einstein’s theory of general relativity are overcome and a new window opens to test loop quantum gravity effects through astronomical observations.

The scope of the Focus Issue: Applications of loop quantum gravity to cosmology, published last year in CQG, is to provide a snapshot of some of the rigorous and novel results on this research frontier in the cosmological setting.

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Constructing Spacetimes

By Steven Carlip and Samuel Loomis

Imagine you are given a bucket of points and asked to assemble them into a spacetime. What kind of “glue” would you need?

In causal set theory, the only added ingredient is the set of causal relations, the knowledge of which points are to the past and future of which. In particular, suppose your points were taken at random from a real spacetime, at some typical length scale ℓ. Then on scales large compared to ℓ, the causal diamonds – the sets formed by intersecting the past of one point with the future of another – determine the topology; the causal relations determine the metric up to a scale factor; and the remaining scale factor is just a local volume, which can be obtained by counting points. As the slogan of Rafael Sorkin, the founder of the field, goes, “Order + Number = Geometry.”

Carlip photo

Samuel Loomis and Steven Carlip with their causal set.

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Bouncing a cosmic brew

From quantum gravity to early universe cosmology using group field theory condensates

By Marco de Cesare, Daniele Oriti, Andreas Pithis, and Mairi Sakellariadou 

“If you can look into the seeds of spacetime,
And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak then to me.”
– adapted quote from William Shakespeare’s, Macbeth

When we try to describe the earliest stages of the expansion of our Universe, the current picture of spacetime and its geometry as given by Einstein’s theory of General Relativity (GR) breaks down due to the extreme physical conditions faced at the Big Bang. More specifically, theorems by Hawking and Penrose imply that the cosmos emerged from a spacetime singularity. The existence of a cosmological singularity represents a main obstacle in obtaining a complete and consistent picture of cosmic evolution. However, there are reasons to believe that quantum gravitational effects taking place at the smallest scale could lead to a resolution of such singularities. This would have a huge impact for our understanding of gravity at a microscopic level, and for Cosmology of the very early Universe.

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Black and White Hole Twins Connected by Quantum Gravity

By Javier Olmedo, Sahil Saini and Parampreet Singh

Black holes are perhaps the most exotic objects in our Universe with very intriguing properties. The event horizon does not allow light and matter to escape, and hides the central singularity. As in the case of the big bang singularity, the central singularity is a strong curvature singularity where all in-falling objects are annihilated irrespective of their strength. Since singularities point out pathologies of general relativity, a more fundamental description obtained from quantum gravity must resolve the problem of singularities. Singularity resolution is also important for resolving many of the paradoxes and conundrums that plague the classical theory such as the cosmic censorship conjecture, black hole evaporation, black hole information loss paradox, etc.

Black holes have mirror versions too. Known as white holes, these are solutions of general relativity with the same spacetime metric.  If the black holes do not allow even the light to escape once it enters the horizon, thus nothing can enter the white hole horizon. Light and matter can only escape from the white hole. It has sometimes been speculated that black hole and white hole solutions can be connected, providing gateways between different universes or travelling within the same universe, but details have been sparse. The reason is due to the presence of the central singularity which does not allow a bridge between the black and white holes. Continue reading

Boundaries, Corners and Creases

 by Joseph Samuel.

Cricketing nations have a very good idea what a boundary is, it’s good for a cool four runs, without the bother of running! Corners are tense moments in a football (soccer to some) match when a well struck ball can curve into the goal. The crease is what a batsman lunges for when the wicket keeper ….. wait! this is not a sports column, but CQG+! Let’s back up and explain what our paper really is about.

In a path integral approach to quantum gravity, one has to divide up spacetime into pieces and focus on the action within each piece. In the elementary case of particle mechanics, this “skeletonisation” converts the action expressed as a Riemann integral into a discrete sum. A desirable property of the action is that it should be additive when we glue the pieces back together. This is achieved only when one properly takes into account the boundaries of the pieces.  The boundaries can be spacelike, timelike or null. Much work has focused on the first two cases. The Einstein–Hilbert Action principle for spacetime regions with null boundaries has only recently attracted attention (look up the Arxiv for papers by E. Poisson et al and Parattu et al; references would not be consistent with the chatty, informal style of  CQG+). These papers deal with the appropriate boundary terms that appear in all boundary signatures.

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