|Ed Witten (from Quanta magazine)|
Peter Woit's recent post points towards an interview of Witten by Natalie Wolchover of Quanta magazine. Here is some of what Witten had to say:
"I tend to think that there isn’t a precise quantum description of space-time — except in the types of situations where we know that there is, such as in AdS space. I tend to think, otherwise, things are a little bit murkier than an exact quantum description. But I can’t say anything useful.By synchronicity, I'm currently reading this (which I have also reviewed):
The other night I was reading an old essay by the 20th-century Princeton physicist John Wheeler. He was a visionary, certainly. If you take what he says literally, it’s hopelessly vague. And therefore, if I had read this essay when it came out 30 years ago, which I may have done, I would have rejected it as being so vague that you couldn’t work on it, even if he was on the right track."
which is a biographical account of the tangled lives of John Wheeler and Richard Feynman. Wheeler was the visionary, the 'big picture' guy, while Feynman was the 'let's get down to the basics and do the calculations' artisan-theorist.
Somehow the whole was greater than the parts: birds and frogs.
"I tend to assume that space-time and everything in it are in some sense emergent. By the way, you’ll certainly find that that’s what Wheeler expected in his essay. As you’ll read, he thought the continuum was wrong in both physics and math. He did not think one’s microscopic description of space-time should use a continuum of any kind — neither a continuum of space nor a continuum of time, nor even a continuum of real numbers.The whole interview is Witten playing the role of Feynman to the shade of Wheeler.
On the space and time, I’m sympathetic to that. On the real numbers, I’ve got to plead ignorance or agnosticism."
Other posts on emergent spacetime: and here's Wheeler's essay (pdf) which Witten referenced - it is infuriatingly vague, written in Wheeler's characteristic mangled-syntax english.