Economics inside the Matrix

                       “What is real? How do you define real?”

                                            – Morpheus, The Matrix

This week will be a quantum leap for Bengaluru , to which physicists from all over the world will gravitate. The prestigious Strings Conference 2015 will witness the presence of Nobel prize winners and young scientists to discuss the many principles of the string theory.

There are many underlying themes to the string theory. And while I am no physicist, it is impossible to remain unexcited and untouched by the many dimensions that strings unfold. Let me just share the story of the development of the string theory as I understand it.

Well, the general theory of relativity as given by Einstein managed to explain quite well how the forces of gravity hold objects at different distances. It did not only explain this, but there was verifiable evidence in front of our eyes, with predictions on movements of cosmic bodies coming true. There was yet another theory out there, the theory of quantum mechanics, which actually spoke about the tiny, tinier and the tiniest. It gives a mathematical identity to atoms and sub-atomic particles and explains their movement and behaviour mathematically.

However, there are certain situations where the world of the relativity theory and the world of quantum mechanics clash, and that too, magnificently. Unification of the two is impossible and it becomes difficult to predict behaviour patterns. What am I talking about? Black holes!

Well, at one extreme, a black hole is something so dense, that its gravity is terrifying. Any light that enters it is sucked into its core and cannot make its way out. That means that a black hole has gravity which is so colossal that it kind of collapses down to only one point: Singularity. Now, here is the issue. That means that black holes are incredibly dense and incredibly huge in their gravitational pull. But it also means that black holes are incredibly tiny and exist only in their singularity. So, should we use the general theory to explain it or the quantum theory?

You use both and you get different answers. It’s said that Einstein spent his last few years trying to unify the two. Now, there’s been this new theory on the horizon, which may presumably manage to unify both these theories to explain the universe properly: The theory of Everything, or simply the String theory.

The String theory essentially says that sub-atomic particles are made up of strings of energy that vibrate to give birth to different kinds of particles. But why do they vibrate?

Now, here, I quote the contribution of Juan Malcadena, the guy who’s pretty much shaken up the world by claiming that the universe is actually only a hologram!

Well, what we perceive around us is a 3-dimensional space. However, what Malcadena has done is to show that all 3 dimensional perceptions can be expressed mathematically as projections from a 2-dimensional space. So, there is an underlying 2D space that contains all the information to understand the 3D space in which we live. Get to the 2D space, and reality will unfold. The Matrix, anyone?

How does this tie up to string theory? Strings are holograms of events that are happening on that unknown 2D space. So, once we create the maths to collapse the string behaviour down to the 2D disc, there hopefully, should be light.

We are living in a giant hologram, and everything we see around us is a projection of a 2D surface. This is the bizarre theory put forward in 1997 by Juan Maldacena. Now researchers in Austria have, for the first time, been able to show how this strange holographic principle can work in a realistic model of our cosmos

When I read about ideas in pure, fundamental sciences, the social scientist in me gets a bit perturbed. Here I was, trying to explain movement of prices and growth in a world that is only a hologram! Asset price bubbles are like some super bubbles in what is already a bubble. Every economic equation I understood so far, every explanation of social phenomena, every movement in exchange rates, every notion of the poverty line, every hope of development boils down to one singularity: We exist. However, when the existence itself gets challenged, the economist is rendered jobless, better jobs data in the US be damned. My heart “strings” pull at my Neo identity when I am doing passionate work in a world full of the Andersons. Who am I? Only one more 3D projection of restlessness elsewhere in a 2D framework?

But, wait, maybe there is some relief from this torment around the corner, if only in its innocent humor. Economists are smart people. End of the day, wasn’t it Thomas Friedman who claimed that the World is Flat?



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