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The Physicist’s Bet That Space-Time Is Not Quantum

The Contradicting Theories

In the world of physics, there are two prominent theories that seem to contradict each other. On one hand, we have general relativity, which states that gravity arises from the warping of space-time, visualized as a stretchy sheet. On the other hand, there is quantum theory, which explains the subatomic realm and suggests that all matter and energy come in discrete chunks. The challenge lies in reconciling these two theories because the mathematical frameworks of quantum theory and general relativity do not align smoothly.

A Peculiar Bet

JONATHAN OPPENHEIM, a quantum physicist at University College London, has a peculiar interest in making bets. However, his bets are not your typical wagers on horse racing or casino games. Oppenheim likes to make bets on the fundamental nature of reality, and his latest bet revolves around the nature of space-time itself.

The prevailing belief among most physicists is that the solution lies in “quantizing” gravity, or finding a way to describe space-time using tiny quanta, similar to how the other fundamental forces are described. This has been the focus of research for almost a century. However, Oppenheim questions this assumption and made an audacious 5000:1 bet that space-time is not fundamentally quantum.

An Audacious Bet

The Science Spotlight had the chance to catch up with Oppenheim to understand the reasoning behind his contrarian view, how experiments might resolve this question, and why physicists are drawn to making such bets.

Joshua Howgego: Can we say that the majority of physicists believe that space-time is fundamentally quantum?

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