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What is wrong with gravity

  1. Nov 26, 2013 #1
    I am curious to know what the troubles are with unifying gravity and quantum theory.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 26, 2013 #2


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    A trivial search on Google turns up this:

    Quantum gravity is the effort in theoretical physics to create a theory that includes both general relativity and the standard model of particle physics. Currently, these two theories describe different scales of nature and attempts to explore the scale where they overlap yield results that don't quite make sense, like the force of gravity (or curvature of spacetime) becoming infinite. (After all, physicists never see real infinities in nature, nor do they want to!)
  4. Nov 26, 2013 #3


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    Quantum gravity is a key element in creating a superunified theory [unify gravity with the other fundamental forces of nature]. The other forces submit to quantum treatments that produce well behaved calculations that match observations with great precision. Physicist desperately desire to do this with gravity. It has, however, thus far has resisted all efforts at renormalization, which is necessary to avoid infinities from emerging in the calculations. Physicists are allergic to infinities, as Phinds noted.
  5. Nov 26, 2013 #4


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    We do have a quantum theory of gravity that works at low energies, and matches observations. The problem is at high energies, near the Planck scale.

    The gauge/gravity duality is conjectured to be a complete theory of quantum gravity at all energies. It does not however seem to describe our universe. It is hoped that studying it will help us generalize appropriately.
  6. Nov 26, 2013 #5
    Given the modern, effective field theory approach to renormalization, renormalizability is not necessary at all.

    All you have to give up is the hope to obtain a theory which is valid for all distances. Instead, you have to accept that the theory is valid only for distances larger than a yet unknown critical distance.

    So, all one has to give up is an utopian illusion. Because we are anyway unable to probe whatever theory for arbitrary small distances. So we cannot be sure, anyway, that there is no critical distance where the theory becomes invalid.

    Moreover, given that general relativity contains infinities already in its classical version, it makes not much sense to hope that some quantum gravity based on GR will be free of infinities.
  7. Dec 8, 2013 #6


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    I don't agree. It is true that there is no known way towards a perturbative renormalization of gravity. But there are hints that gravity can be renormalized non-perturbatively. This would correspond to the existence of a non-Gaussian fixpoint and asymptotic safety (instead of a Gaussian fixpoint at G=0 and asymptotic freedom).
  8. Dec 8, 2013 #7

    A. Neumaier

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    Difficulties in quantizing gravity

    Difficulties in quantizing gravity:

    (i) (mathematical) No consistent interaction relativistic quantum
    field theory is known in 4 dimensions.

    (ii) (theoretical) The accepted ways to avoid divergences in
    expressions for scattering amplitudes that work in simpler theories
    all fail because of the lack of renormalizability. See, e.g.,
    the references in Section 2.2 of
    http://relativity.livingreviews.org/Articles/lrr-2002-5/ [Broken]

    (iii) (theoretical) The theories for which a (perturbatively)
    finite scattering theory is available have not been related
    quantitatively to the established theories.
    A convincing classical limit (to general relativity),
    nonrelativistic limit (to a multiparticle Schroedinger equation with
    Newtonian interaction), and low energy limit (at currently accessible
    energies no new particles apart from the graviton) would be needed.

    (iv) (conceptual) The three limits pose severe constraints on possible
    quantum gravity theories, and it requires much imagination to come up
    with a conceptual basis in which these limit make sense and are

    (v) (experimental) Quantum effects in gravity are so weak that no
    experiments sensitive to quantum effects are in reach in the near
    future, and the data from astronomy that may cast light on quantum
    gravity are scarce. (Quantum gravity is not demanded by unexplained
    data but only by the quest for consistency with particle physics.)

    (Much more information can be found in the chapter on quantum gravity of my theoretical physics FAQ.)
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  9. Dec 8, 2013 #8

    A. Neumaier

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    This is not really true.
    http://arxiv.org/pdf/1306.1058.pdf gives a fairly rigorous perturbative renormalization of gravity (as an effective theory).
  10. Dec 8, 2013 #9


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    Page 5 has an intriguing reference to "Convenient Calculus" as presented in AMS Survey 53, the book by Kriegl and Michor.
    ABSTRACT. The aim of this book is to lay foundations of differential calculus in infinite dimensions and to discuss those applications in infinite dimensional differential geometry and global analysis which do not involve Sobolev completions and fixed point theory. The approach is very simple: A mapping is called smooth if it maps smooth curves to smooth curves. All other properties are proved results and not assumptions: Like chain rule, existence and linearity of derivatives, powerful smooth uniformly boundedness theorems are available. Up to Frechet spaces this notion of smoothness coincides with all known reasonable concepts. In the same spirit calculus of holo- morphic mappings (including Hartogs' theorem and holomorphic uniform boundedness theorems) and calculus of real analytic mappings are developed. Existence of smooth partitions of unity, the foundations of manifold theory in infinite dimensions, the relation between tangent vectors and derivations, and differential forms are discussed thoroughly. Special emphasis is given to the notion of regular infinite dimensional Lie groups. Many applications of this theory are included: manifolds of smooth mappings, groups of diffeomorphisms, geodesies on spaces of Riemannian metrics, direct limit manifolds, perturbation theory of operators, and differentiability questions of infinite dimensional representations.

    This link has the abstract, the TOC, and references.
    Is there an on-line copy of the book itself?
    I'd like to get out of making a special trip to the library just to look it over.
  11. Dec 8, 2013 #10


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    This article by Brunetti Fredenhagen Rejzner is interesting enough we should have the abstract to look at together:

    Quantum gravity from the point of view of locally covariant quantum field theory
    Romeo Brunetti, Klaus Fredenhagen, Katarzyna Rejzner
    (Submitted on 5 Jun 2013)
    We construct perturbative quantum gravity in a generally covariant way. In particular our construction is background independent. It is based on the locally covariant approach to quantum field theory and the renormalized Batalin-Vilkovisky formalism. We do not touch the problem of nonrenormalizability and interpret the theory as an effective theory at large length scales.
    51 pages, in this version: proof of the background independence corrected

    This is new to me--I am just taking a first look. As a superficial first reaction, one thing like immediately about Brunetti Fredenhagen Rejzner is the frank down-to-earth style of their introduction section. It makes me think there is after all NOTHING wrong with gravity. (Statements about geometry are operationally meaningless below a certain length scale but we already heard about that from Loop gravity people and others--it is a familiar idea and accepted by many, if not all.)
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2013
  12. Dec 8, 2013 #11


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    The introduction of Brunetti Fredenhagen Rejzner gives a clear perspective on Quantum Gravity which I haven't heard much about lately. It's worth quoting in part.

    ==excerpts from introduction http://arxiv.org/pdf/1306.1058v3.pdf ==
    The incorporation of gravity into quantum theory is one of the great challenges of physics. The last decades were dominated by attempts to reach this goal by rather radical new concepts, the best known being string theory and loop quantum gravity. A more conservative approach via quantum field theory was originally considered to be hopeless because of severe conceptual and technical problems. In the meantime it became clear that also the other attempts meet enormous problems, and it might be worthwhile to reconsider the quantum field theoretical approach. Actually, there are indications that the obstacles in this approach are less heavy than originally expected.

    One of these obstacles is perturbative non-renormalisability [66, 73] which actually means that the counter terms arising in higher order of perturbation theory cannot be taken into account by readjusting the parameters in the Lagrangian. Nevertheless, theories with this property can be considered as effective theories with the property that only finitely many parameters have to be considered below a fixed energy scale [76]. Moreover, it may be that the theory is actually asymptotically safe in the sense that there is an ultraviolet fixed point of the renormalisation group flow with only finitely many relevant directions [75]. Results supporting this perspective have been obtained by Reuter et al. [64, 65].

    Another obstacle is the incorporation of the principle of general covariance. Quantum field theory is traditionally based on the symmetry group of Minkowski space, the Poincaré group. In particular, the concept of particles with the associated notions of a vacuum (absence of particles) and scattering states heavily relies on Poincaré symmetry. Quantum field theory on curved spacetime which might be considered as an intermediate step towards quantum gravity already has no distinguished particle interpretation. In fact, one of the most spectacular results of quantum field theory on curved space times is Hawking’s prediction of black hole evaporation [43], a result which may be understood as a consequence of different particle interpretations in different regions of spacetime. (For a field theoretical derivation of the Hawking effect see [32].)

    Quantum field theory on curved spacetime is nowadays well understood. This success is based on a consequent use of appropriate concepts. First of all, one has to base the theory on the principles of algebraic quantum field theory since there does not exist a distinguished Hilbert space of states. In particular, all structures are formulated in terms of local quantities. Global properties of spacetime do not enter the construction of the algebra of observables. They become relevant in the analysis of the space of states whose interpretation up to now is less well understood. It is at this point where the concept of particles becomes important if the spacetime under consideration has asymptotic regions similar to Minkowski space. Renormalization can be done without invoking any regularization by the methods of causal perturbation theory [28]. Originally these methods made use of properties of a Fock space representation, but could be generalized to a formalism based on algebraic structures on a space of functionals of classical field configurations where the problem of singularities can be treated by methods of microlocal analysis [13, 11, 45]. The lack of isometries in the generic case could be a problem for a comparison of renormalisation conditions at different points of spacetime. But this problem could be overcome by requiring local covariance, a principle, which relates theories at different spacetimes. The arising theory is already generally covariant and includes all typical quantum field theoretical models with the exception of supersymmetric theories (since supersymmetry implies the existence of a large group of isometries (Poincaré group or Anti de Sitter group)). See [14, 16] for more details.

    It is the aim of this paper to extend this approach to gravity. But here there seems to be a conceptual obstacle. As discussed above, a successful treatment of quantum field theory on generic spacetimes requires the use of local observables, but unfortunately there are no diffeomorphism invariant localized functionals of the dynamical degrees of freedom (the metric in pure gravity). The way out is to replace the requirement of invariance by covariance which amounts to consider partial observables in the sense of [67, 22, 70].

    Because of its huge group of symmetries the quantization of gravity is plagued by problems known from gauge theories, and a construction seems to require the introduction of redundant quantities which at the end have to be removed. In perturbation theory the Batalin-Vilkovisky (BV) approach [3, 4] has turned out to be the most systematic method, generalizing the BRST approach [5, 6, 72]. In the BV approach one constructs at the end the algebra of observables as a cohomology of a certain differential…
  13. Dec 8, 2013 #12
    Carlo Rovelli has some thoughts on unifying GR and QM:
    He seems to feel there are major conceptual problems in our way......

    Unfinished revolution


    Introductive chapter of a book on Quantum Gravity, edited by Daniele Oriti,
    to appear with Cambridge University Press

    Carlo Rovelli
    Centre de Physique Th´eorique de Luminy_, case 907, F-13288 Marseille, EU
    February 3, 2008

    A few excerpts:

  14. Dec 8, 2013 #13
    Can someone help me understand the distinction between this statement and the fact that the Standard Model with QFT is still [presumably] in flat [Minkowski] space?

    Isn't the OP question ".. troubles ....with unifying gravity and quantum theory.."

    equivalent to asking
    "..trouble with unifying GR and the Standard Model..."
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2013
  15. Dec 8, 2013 #14


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    "Quantum field theory on curved spacetime" is QFT on classical spacetime. "Unifying QFT / SM and gravity" means quantizing gravity.

    I think there are rather general reasons why quantum field theory on classical spacetime is incomplete.
  16. Dec 8, 2013 #15


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    Naty, Tom answered your question. I will just add a few words expanding on what he said.
    QFT on curved spacetime (that Brunetti et al say is nowadays well-understood) is not QG because the matter does not react back on the geometry. You start with a FIXED curved spacetime geometry and you put matter fields on it and run the fields on this fixed curved environment. But the fields are not affecting the geometry the way that GR says they must!

    That could be one of the "general reasons" that Tom has in mind for why QFT on curved spacetime isn't an adequate picture of reality. Plus there's the shortcoming that the geometry is described classically, the curved spacetime shape itself should be a quantum field interacting with the other quantum fields.
  17. Dec 8, 2013 #16


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    The simplest reason is the following: suppose there is a spherically symmetric J=0 quantum state (e.g. a neutral pion) decaying into other particles. Suppose there is a spherically symmetric detector array. When preparing the experiment, spacetime is spherically symmetric, too. When the detector registeres the particles from the decay their quantum state "jumps" (*) to a state which is no longer spherically symmetric. Therefore the (induced) gravitational field must "jump" as well. But this "jump" is inconsistent with GR.

    The conclusion is that both quantum fields and spacetime have to be described using a compatible formalism which is not "QFT + classical spacetime".

    (*) "jump" means any process like collapse, decoherence, ...
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2013
  18. Dec 8, 2013 #17
    Marcus, Tom,

    thanks for the last two posts.....very helpful...

    Checking back in my notes I found these apparently INCORRECT quotes from prior discussions in these forums.... and that is what led me astray:

    I did not record the sources but state them here in case others read them elsewhere in these forums.

    " QFT is a synthesis of special relativity with quantum mechanics. Continuous QFT yields quantum particles and forces of the standard model of particle physics.

    Quantum Field Theory is developed on flat Minkowski space with no gravity in the SM. It predicts an embarrassingly huge vacuum energy which we do not observe. "

    Instead, I should be thinking about the Standard Model as QFT on a fixed classical curved spacetime geometry. So we need consistent quantized field descriptions....

    Which raises the question why some in these forums insist spacetime is continuous rather than discrete, but we have been through that several times......
  19. Dec 9, 2013 #18

    A. Neumaier

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    By the way, both Kriegl and Michor are like me from the University of Vienna, Austria. Just a few floors away from my office.
  20. Dec 9, 2013 #19


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    This is not very convincing. Why should the quantum state (wave function) affect gravity? Imagine a Bohmian type formulation. The particle has a definite position and momentum, and any number of other properties, at any given time and they determine the geometry of spacetime, not the guiding wave. The wave only tells the particle how to move but does not appear in any way in the equations that relate matter an geometry (Einstein's equations or whatever modification is needed). Also you explicitly use time, not that there is anything wrong with that, but can you formulate the scenario only in terms of the spacetime manifold in a coordinate free way?

    What Marcus said in post #15, is much more convincing, at least to me.
  21. Dec 9, 2013 #20


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    I agree that you may be right in a dBB theory.

    But except for that all other QM interpretations deal with states / wave functions only. In addition I have never seen any dBB-like theory to apply for general covariant QFT which requires fields / quantum fields. The Einstein equations formally G[geometry] = T[energy-momentum density] and I do not see how to formulate the r.h.s. in terms of particles instead of fields.
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