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The Holographic Principle

The holographic principle is the theory that our three-dimensional reality is a projection of information stored on a distant, two-dimensional surface. Much like the emblem on your credit card, the two-dimensional surface holds all the information you need to describe a three-dimensional object. In our case, this three-dimensional object is our universe.

universe hologram

Does our universe exist inside a hologram?

This theory raises a number of questions, the most important being, where is the two-dimensional surface containing all the information that describes it? What “illuminates” that surface? Is this surface more or less real than our universe? The answer may lie in the universe’s ultimate information-storage devices, black holes.

Three qualities distinguish what a black hole is: mass, electric charge, and angular momentum. Every black hole essentially looks the same. No matter what is inside of them, they all “look” alike. This is a strange quality that gives black holes something that physicist call, maximum entropy. No matter how you arrange the components, contents, and information stored within a black hole, they all will have a similar physical appearance.

Entropy is described as a measure of the amount of information it would take to describe a system completely. The entropy of all normal ordinary objects such as sand, buckets, and people is proportional to their volume. For instance, if you double the volume of a helium balloon, its entropy will increase by a factor of eight. However, in the 1970’s Steven Hawking and Jacob Bekenstein discovered that the entropy of a black hole obeys a totally different scaling rule. Black holes are also proportional to its two-dimensional surface area, an invisible boundary called the event horizon.

“Therefore, while the actual entropy of an ordinary object—say, a hamburger—scales with its volume, the maximum entropy that could theoretically be contained in the space occupied by the hamburger depends not on the volume of the hamburger but on the size of its surface area. Physics prevents the entropy of the hamburger from ever exceeding that maximum: If one somehow tried to pack so much entropy into the hamburger that it reached that limit, the hamburger would collapse into a black hole.” via

The conclusion of all these findings is that all the information it takes to describe a three-dimensional object can be expressed in tw0 dimensions. Physicists believe that the deepest description of our universe and its parts must be crafted in two dimensions, not three.

the holographic principle diagram

The holographic principle comes from the idea that a parallel set of physical laws, operating in fewer dimensions, might be able to fully describe our universe. The problem is proving this idea mathematically. Physicists began to use a “toy” universe that is much simpler than the universe we live in. This “toy” universe had three spatial dimensions, plus time, but no gravity. Our everyday universe has four spatial dimensions and one time dimension, along with gravity and curved into the shape of a saddle. The experimental “toy” universe made work easier for theorists, they could now choose to express the problem in the mathematics of the five-dimensional, gravitating universe, or they could opt for the four-dimensional, gravity-free version.

This does not add up to “proof” that we are living in a hologram. It merely contributes to a body of circumstantial evidence suggesting that the laws of physics may in fact be written in fewer dimensions than we experience.  We still need to ask the question,Where is the surface on which our universe is inscribed?

What illuminates this surface?

Is one version of the universe more “real” than the other?

These questions remain unresolved, but if the holographic principle is correct, we may have to embrace the idea that our universe is a “cosmic phantom.” A cosmic phantom meaning that the real “action” is happening somewhere else. This somewhere else is a boundary we have not yet begun to map. As physicists dig deeper and deeper into the very nature behind our universe, we may be able to one day answer  these questions. For now, we have to assume that this existence is “real” and not some sort of holographic projection transcribed from an alternate source.

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