In Prometheus, Michael Fassbender’s David, an android, finds a magnificent hologram of the universe called the Orrery. This holographic map revealed how star systems and their planets work together. Some scientists think similar holograms might contain comprehensive explanations of how our universe works, too.
“Imagine that everything you see, feel, and hear in three dimensions (and your perception of time) in fact emanates from a flat two-dimensional field,” study author Kostas Skenderis of the University of Southhampton explains in a statement. “The idea is similar to that of ordinary holograms where a three-dimensional image is encoded in a two-dimensional surface, such as in the hologram on a credit card. However, this time, the entire universe is encoded.”
In other words, they’re suggesting that everything we perceive about the universe — height, width, depth, and time, included — is actually contained in a flat surface in which information is contained on the boundaries. That information is what makes us perceive reality in three dimensions.
This holographic explanation of the universe assumes a slightly different definition of “hologram” than the holograms in Prometheus or the staticky holographic messages sent in Star Wars. Those are technological innovations, whereas the “holographic universe” described in the research has more to do with how spatial dimensions work in space. That is, the universe we know isn’t being cast from a great projector in the sky — but according to an analysis of cosmological data, it has behaved as though it does.
Skenderis and his team tested out the holographic principle by taking data about cosmic irregularities in the relative aftermath of the Big Bang and applying that information to holographic models. Doing so, they write, resulted in “substantial evidence” for the holographic explanation of the universe because the models were able to predict the early-universe anomalies.
The research is controversial: In December 2015, a team of theoretical physicists came to the opposite conclusion, stating that their experiments disproved the holographic theory. But the scientists behind this new research are hopeful their research will shine a light on how the universe operates.
“Einstein’s theory of general relativity explains almost everything large scale in the universe very well, but starts to unravel when examining its origins and mechanisms at a quantum level,” says Skenderis. “Scientists have working for decades to combine Einstein’s theory of gravity and quantum theory. Some believe the concept of a holographic universe has the potential to reconcile the two.”