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Default Tearing the Fabric of Space

Table of Contents
.......The Elegant Universe
THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE, Brian Greene, 1999, 2003
```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
Chapter 11 - Tearing the Fabric of Space
Tearing the Fabric of Space
If you relentlessly stretch a rubber membrane, sooner or later it will tear. This simple fact has inspired numerous physicists over the years to ask whether the same might be true of the spatial fabric making up the universe. That is, can the fabric of space rip apart, or is this merely a misguided notion that arises from taking the rubber membrane analogy too seriously?

Einstein's general relativity says no, the fabric of space cannot tear. 1 The equations of general relativity are firmly rooted in Riemannian geometry and, as we noted in the preceding chapter, this is a framework that analyzes distortions in the distance relations between nearby locations in space. In order to speak meaningfully about these distance relations, the underlying mathematical formalism requires that the substrate of space is smooth—a term with a technical mathematical meaning, but whose everyday usage captures its essence: no creases, no punctures, no separate pieces "stuck" together, and no tears. Were the fabric of space to develop such irregularities, the equations of general relativity would break down, signaling some or other variety of cosmic catastrophe—a disastrous outcome that our apparently well-behaved universe avoids.

This has not kept imaginative theorists over the years from pondering the possibility that a new formulation of physics that goes beyond Einstein's classical theory and incorporates quantum physics might show that rips, tears, and mergers of the spatial fabric can occur. In fact, the realization that quantum physics leads to violent short-distance undulations led some to speculate that rips and tears might be a commonplace microscopic feature of the spatial fabric. The concept of wormholes (a notion with which any fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is familiar) makes use of such musings. The idea is simple: Imagine you're the CEO of a major corporation with headquarters on the ninetieth floor of one of New York City's World Trade Center towers. Through the vagaries of corporate history an arm of your company with which you need to have ever increasing contact is ensconced on the ninetieth floor of the other tower. As it is impractical to move either office, you come up with a natural suggestion: Build a bridge from one office to the other, connecting the two towers. This allows employees to move freely between the offices without having to go down and then up ninety floors.

A wormhole plays a similar role: It is a bridge or tunnel that provides a shortcut from one region of the universe to another. Using a two-dimensional model, imagine that a universe is shaped as in Figure 11.1. If your corporate headquarters are located near the lower circle in 11.1(a), you can get to your field office, located near the upper circle, only by traversing the entire U-shaped path, taking you from one end of the universe to another. But if the fabric of space can tear, developing punctures as in 11.1(b), and if these punctures can "grow" tentacles that merge together as in 11.1(c), a spatial bridge would connect the previously remote regions. This is a wormhole. You should note that the wormhole has some similarity to the World Trade Center bridge, but there is one essential difference: The World Trade Center bridge would traverse a region of [i]existing[i] space—the space between the two towers. On the contrary, the wormhole creates a new region of space, since the curved two-dimensional space in Figure 11.1(a) is all there is (in the setting of our two-dimensional analogy). Regions lying off of the membrane merely reflect the inadequacy of the illustration, which depicts the U-shaped universe as if it were an object within our higher-dimensional universe. The wormhole creates new space and therefore blazes new spatial territory.

Figure 11.1 (a) In a "U-shaped" universe, the only way to get from one end to the other is by traversing the whole cosmos. (b) The fabric of space tears, and two ends of a wormhole start to grow. (c) The two wormhole ends merge together, forming a new bridge—a shortcut—from one end of the universe to the other.
Do wormholes exist in the universe? No one knows. And if they do, it is far from clear whether they would take on only a microscopic form or if they could span vast regions of the universe (as in Deep Space Nine). But one essential element in assessing whether they are fact or fiction is determining whether or not the fabric of space can tear.

Black holes provide another compelling example in which the fabric of space is stretched to its limits. In Figure 3.7, we saw that the enormous gravitational field of a black hole results in such extreme curvature that the fabric of space appears to be pinched or punctured at the black hole's center. Unlike in the case of wormholes, there is strong experimental evidence supporting the existence of black holes, so the question of what really happens at their central point is one of science, not speculation. Once again, the equations of general relativity break down under such extreme conditions. Some physicists have suggested that there really is a puncture, but that we are protected from this cosmic "singularity" by the event horizon of the black hole, which prevents anything from escaping its gravitational grip. This reasoning led Roger Penrose of Oxford University to speculate on a "cosmic censorship hypothesis" that allows these kinds of spatial irregularities to occur only if they are deeply hidden from our view behind the shroud of an event horizon. On the other hand, prior to the discovery of string theory, some physicists surmised that a proper merger of quantum mechanics and general relativity would show that the apparent puncture of space is actually smoothed out—"sewn up," so to speak—by quantum considerations.

With the discovery of string theory and the harmonious merger of quantum mechanics and gravity, we are finally poised to study these issues. As yet, string theorists have not been able to answer them fully, but during the last few years closely related issues have been solved. In this chapter we discuss how string theory, for the first time, definitively shows that there are physical circumstances—differing from wormholes and black holes in certain ways—in which the fabric of space can tear. (Epsilon=One: The tearing of the "fabric of space" CANNOT be considered until the "fabric of space" can be defined, which requires an understanding of the locus of the Universe and why "dark" matter is created.)
Table of Contents
.......The Elegant Universe
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