Tag Archives: cosmic inflation

What Space Can Tell Us about Fundamental Physics

Back when LIGO announced its detection of gravitational waves, there was one question people kept asking me: “what does this say about quantum gravity?”

The answer, each time, was “nothing”. LIGO’s success told us nothing about quantum gravity, and very likely LIGO will never tell us anything about quantum gravity.

The sheer volume of questions made me think, though. Astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology fascinate people. They capture the public’s imagination in a way that makes them expect breakthroughs about fundamental questions. Especially now, with the LHC so far seeing nothing new since the Higgs, people are turning to space for answers.

Is that a fair expectation? Well, yes and no.

Most astrophysicists aren’t concerned with finding new fundamental laws of nature. They’re interested in big systems like stars and galaxies, where we know most of the basic rules but can’t possibly calculate all their consequences. Like most physicists, they’re doing the vital work of “physics of decimals”.

At the same time, there’s a decent chunk of astrophysics and cosmology that does matter for fundamental physics. Just not all of it. Here are some of the key areas where space has something important to say about the fundamental rules that govern our world:

 

1. Dark Matter:

Galaxies rotate at different speeds than their stars would alone. Clusters of galaxies bend light that passes by, and do so more than their visible mass would suggest. And when scientists try to model the evolution of the universe, from early images to its current form, the models require an additional piece: extra matter that cannot interact with light. All of this suggests that there is some extra “dark” matter in the universe, not described by our standard model of particle physics.

If we want to understand this dark matter, we need to know more about its properties, and much of that can be learned from astronomy. If it turns out dark matter isn’t really matter after all, if it can be explained by a modification of gravity or better calculations of gravity’s effects, then it still will have important implications for fundamental physics, and astronomical evidence will still be key to finding those implications.

2. Dark Energy (/Cosmological Constant/Inflation/…):

The universe is expanding, and its expansion appears to be accelerating. It also seems more smooth and uniform than expected, suggesting that it had a period of much greater acceleration early on. Both of these suggest some extra quantity: a changing acceleration, a “dark energy”, the sort of thing that can often be explained by a new scalar field like the Higgs.

Again, the specifics: how (and perhaps if) the universe is expanding now, what kinds of early expansion (if any) the shape of the universe suggests, these will almost certainly have implications for fundamental physics.

3. Limits on stable stuff:

Let’s say you have a new proposal for particle physics. You’ve predicted a new particle, but it can’t interact with anything else, or interacts so weakly we’d never detect it. If your new particle is stable, then you can still say something about it, because its mass would have an effect on the early universe. Too many such particles and they would throw off cosmologists’ models, ruling them out.

Alternatively, you might predict something that could be detected, but hasn’t, like a magnetic monopole. Then cosmologists can tell you how many such particles would have been produced in the early universe, and thus how likely we would be to detect them today. If you predict too many particles and we don’t see them, then that becomes evidence against your proposal.

4. “Cosmological Collider Physics”:

A few years back, Nima Arkani-Hamed and Juan Maldacena suggested that the early universe could be viewed as an extremely high energy particle collider. While this collider performed only one experiment, the results from that experiment are spread across the sky, and observed patterns in the early universe should tell us something about the particles produced by the cosmic collider.

People are still teasing out the implications of this idea, but it looks promising, and could mean we have a lot more to learn from examining the structure of the universe.

5. Big Weird Space Stuff:

If you suspect we live in a multiverse, you might want to look for signs of other universes brushing up against our own. If your model of the early universe predicts vast cosmic strings, maybe a gravitational wave detector like LIGO will be able to see them.

6. Unexpected weirdness:

In all likelihood, nothing visibly “quantum” happens at the event horizons of astrophysical black holes. If you think there’s something to see though, the Event Horizon Telescope might be able to see it. There’s a grab bag of other predictions like this: situations where we probably won’t see anything, but where at least one person thinks there’s a question worth asking.

 

I’ve probably left something out here, but this should give you a general idea. There is a lot that fundamental physics can learn from astronomy, from the overall structure and origins of the universe to unexplained phenomena like dark matter. But not everything in astronomy has these sorts of implications: for the most part, astronomy is interesting not because it tells us something about the fundamental laws of nature, but because it tells us how the vast space above us actually happens to work.

Who Needs Non-Empirical Confirmation?

I’ve figured out what was bugging me about Dawid’s workshop on non-empirical theory confirmation.

It’s not the concept itself that bothers me. While you might think of science as entirely based on observations of the real world, in practice we can’t test everything. Inevitably, we have to add in other sorts of evidence: judgments based on precedent, philosophical considerations, or sociological factors.

It’s Dawid’s examples that annoy me: string theory, inflation, and the multiverse. Misleading popularizations aside, none of these ideas involve non-empirical confirmation. In particular, string theory doesn’t need non-empirical confirmation, inflation doesn’t want it, and the multiverse, as of yet, doesn’t merit it.

In order for non-empirical confirmation to matter, it needs to affect how people do science. Public statements aren’t very relevant from a philosophy of science perspective; they ebb and flow based on how people promote themselves. Rather, we should care about what scientists assume in the course of their work. If people are basing new work on assumptions that haven’t been established experimentally, then we need to make sure their confidence isn’t misplaced.

String theory hasn’t been established experimentally…but it fails the other side of this test: almost no-one is assuming string theory is true.

I’ve talked before about theorists who study theories that aren’t true. String theory isn’t quite in that category, it’s still quite possible that it describes the real world. Nonetheless, for most string theorists, the distinction is irrelevant: string theory is a way to relate different quantum field theories together, and to formulate novel ones with interesting properties. That sort of research doesn’t rely on string theory being true, often it doesn’t directly involve strings at all. Rather, it relies on string theory’s mathematical abundance, its versatility and power as a lens to look at the world.

There are string theorists who are more directly interested in describing the world with string theory, though they’re a minority. They’re called String Phenomenologists. By itself, “phenomenologist” refers to particle physicists who try to propose theories that can be tested in the real world. “String phenomenology” is actually a bit misleading, since most string phenomenologists aren’t actually in the business of creating new testable theories. Rather, they try to reproduce some of the more common proposals of phenomenologists, like the MSSM, from within the framework of string theory. While string theory can reproduce many possible descriptions of the world (10^500 by some estimates), that doesn’t mean it covers every possible theory; making sure it can cover realistic options is an important, ongoing technical challenge. Beyond that, a minority within a minority of string phenomenologists actually try to make testable predictions, though often these are controversial.

None of these people need non-empirical confirmation. For the majority of string theorists, string theory doesn’t need to be “confirmed” at all. And for the minority who work on string phenomenology, empirical confirmation is still the order of the day, either directly from experiment or indirectly from the particle phenomenologists struggling to describe it.

What about inflation?

Cosmic inflation was proposed to solve an empirical problem, the surprising uniformity of the observed universe. Look through a few papers in the field, and you’ll notice that most are dedicated to finding empirical confirmation: they’re proposing observable effects on the cosmic microwave background, or on the distribution of large-scale structures in the universe. Cosmologists who study inflation aren’t claiming to be certain, and they aren’t rejecting experiment: overall, they don’t actually want non-empirical confirmation.

To be honest, though, I’m being a little unfair to Dawid here. The reason that string theory and inflation are in the name of his workshop aren’t because he thinks they independently use non-empirical confirmation. Rather, it’s because, if you view both as confirmed (and make a few other assumptions), then you’ve got a multiverse.

In this case, it’s again important to compare what people are doing in their actual work to what they’re saying in public. While a lot of people have made public claims about the existence of a multiverse, very few of them actually work on it. In fact, the two sets of people seem to be almost entirely disjoint.

People who make public statements about the multiverse tend to be older prominent physicists, often ones who’ve worked on supersymmetry as a solution to the naturalness problem. For them, the multiverse is essentially an excuse. Naturalness predicted new particles, we didn’t find new particles, so we need an excuse to have an “unnatural” universe, and for many people the multiverse is that excuse. As I’ve argued before, though, this excuse doesn’t have much of an impact on research. These people aren’t discouraged from coming up with new ideas because they believe in the multiverse, rather, they’re talking about the multiverse because they’re currently out of new ideas. Nima Arkani-Hamed is a pretty clear case of someone who has supported the multiverse in pieces like Particle Fever, but who also gets thoroughly excited about new ideas to rescue naturalness.

By contrast, there are many fewer people who actually work on the multiverse itself, and they’re usually less prominent. For the most part, they actually seem concerned with empirical confirmation, trying to hone tricks like anthropic reasoning to the point where they can actually make predictions about future experiments. It’s unclear whether this tiny group of people are on the right track…but what they’re doing definitely doesn’t seem like something that merits non-empirical confirmation, at least at this point.

It’s a shame that Dawid chose the focus he did for his workshop. Non-empirical theory confirmation is an interesting idea (albeit one almost certainly known to philosophy long before Dawid), and there are plenty of places in physics where it could use some examination. We seem to have come to our current interpretation of renormalization non-empirically, and while string theory itself doesn’t rely on non-empirical conformation many of its arguments with loop quantum gravity seem to rely on non-empirical considerations, in particular arguments about what is actually required for a proper theory of quantum gravity. But string theory, inflation, and the multiverse aren’t the examples he’s looking for.

A Tale of Two CMB Measurements

While trying to decide what to blog about this week, I happened to run across this article by Matthew Francis on Ars Technica.

Apparently, researchers have managed to use Planck‘s measurement of the Cosmic Microwave Background to indirectly measure a more obscure phenomenon, the Cosmic Neutrino Background.

The Cosmic Microwave Background, or CMB is often described as the light of the Big Bang, dimmed and spread to the present day. More precisely, it’s the light released from the first time the universe became transparent. When electrons and protons joined to form the first atoms, light no longer spent all its time being absorbed and released by electrical charges, and was free to travel in a mostly-neutral universe.

This means that the CMB is less like a view of the Big Bang, and more like a screen separating us from it. Light and charged particles from before the CMB was formed will never be observable to us, because they would have been absorbed by the early universe. If we want to see beyond this screen, we need something with no electric charge.

That’s where the Cosmic Neutrino Background comes in. Much as the CMB consists of light from the first time the universe became transparent, the CNB consists of neutrinos from the first time the universe was cool enough for them to travel freely. Since this happened a bit before the universe was transparent to light, the CNB gives information about an earlier stage in the universe’s history.

Unfortunately, neutrinos are very difficult to detect, the low-energy ones left over from the CNB even more so. Rather than detecting the CNB directly, it has to be observed through its indirect effects on the CMB, and that’s exactly what these researchers did.

Now does all of this sound just a little bit familiar?

Gravitational waves are also hard to detect, hard enough that we haven’t directly detected any yet. They’re also electrically neutral, so they can also give us information from behind the screen of the CMB, letting us learn about the very early universe. And when the team at BICEP2 purported to measure these primordial gravitational waves indirectly, by measuring the CMB, the press went crazy about it.

This time, though? That Ars Technica article is the most prominent I could find. There’s nothing in major news outlets at all.

I don’t think that this is just a case of people learning from past mistakes. I also don’t think that BICEP2’s results were just that much more interesting: they were making a claim about cosmic inflation rather than just buttressing the standard Big Bang model, but (outside of certain contrarians here at Perimeter) inflation is not actually all that controversial. It really looks like hype is the main difference here, and that’s kind of sad. The difference between a big (premature) announcement that got me to write four distinct posts and an article I almost didn’t notice is just one of how the authors chose to make their work known.

All Is Dust

Joke stolen from some fellow PI postdocs.

The BICEP2 and Planck experiment teams have released a joint analysis of their data, discovering what many had already suspected: that the evidence for primordial gravitational waves found by BICEP2 can be fully explained by interstellar dust.

For those who haven’t been following the story, BICEP2 is a telescope in Antarctica. Last March, they told the press they had found evidence of primordial gravitational waves, ripples in space-time caused by the exponential expansion of the universe shortly after the Big Bang. Soon after, though, doubts were raised. It appeared that the BICEP2 team hadn’t taken proper account of interstellar dust, and in particular had mis-used some data they scraped from a presentation by larger experiment Planck. After Planck released the correct version of their dust data, BICEP2’s predictions were even more evidently premature.

Now, the Planck team has exhaustively gone over their data and BICEP2’s, and done a full analysis. The result is a pretty thorough statement: everything BICEP2 observed can be explained by interstellar dust.

A few news outlets have been describing this as “ruling out inflation” or “ruling out gravitational waves”, both of which are misunderstandings. What Planck has ruled out are inflation (and gravitational waves caused by inflation) powerful enough to have been observed by BICEP2.

To an extent, this was something Planck had already predicted before BICEP2 made their announcement. BICEP2 announced a value for a parameter r, called the tensor-scalar ratio, of 0.2. This parameter r is a way to measure the strength of the gravitational waves (if you want to know what gravitational waves have to do with tensors, this post might help), and thus indirectly the strength of inflation in the early universe.

Trouble is, Planck had already released results arguing that r had to be below 0.11! So a lot of people were already rather skeptical.

With the new evidence, Planck’s bound is relaxed slightly. They now argue that r should be below 0.13, so BICEP2’s evidence was enough to introduce some fuzziness into their measurements when everything was analyzed together.

I’ve complained before about the bad aspects of BICEP2’s announcement, how releasing their data prematurely hurt the public’s trust in science and revealed the nasty side of competition for funding on massive projects. In this post, I’d like to talk a little about the positive side of the publicity around BICEP2.

Lots of theorists care about physics at very very high energies. The scale of string theory, or the Planck mass (no direct connection to the experiment, just the energy where one expects quantum gravity to be relevant), or the energy at which the fundamental forces might unify, are all much higher than any energy we can explore with a particle collider like the LHC. If you had gone out before BICEP2’s announcement and asked physicists whether we would ever see direct evidence for physics at these kinds of scales, they would have given you a resounding no. Maybe we could see indirect evidence, but any direct consequences would be essentially invisible.

All that changed with BICEP2. Their announcement of an r of 0.2 corresponds to very strong inflation, inflation of higher energy than the Planck mass!

Suddenly, there was hope that, even if we could never see such high-energy physics in a collider, we could see it out in the cosmos. This falls into a wider trend. Physicists have increasingly begun to look to the stars as the LHC continues to show nothing new. But the possibility that the cosmos could give us data that not only meets LHC energies, but surpasses them so dramatically, is something that very few people had realized.

The thing is, that hope is still alive and kicking. The new bound, restricting r to less than 0.13, still allows enormously powerful inflation. (If you’d like to work out the math yourself, equation (14) here relates the scale of inflation \Delta \phi to the Planck mass M_{\textrm{Pl}} and the parameter r.)

This isn’t just a “it hasn’t been ruled out yet” claim either. Cosmologists tell me that new experiments coming online in the next decade will have much more precision, and much better ability to take account of dust. These experiments should be sensitive to an r as low as 0.001!

With that kind of sensitivity, and the new mindset that BICEP2 introduced, we have a real chance of seeing evidence of Planck-scale physics within the next ten or twenty years. We just have to wait and see if the stars are right…

Love It or Hate It, Don’t Fear the Multiverse

“In an infinite universe, anything is possible.”

A nice maxim for science fiction, perhaps. But it probably doesn’t sound like productive science.

A growing number of high profile scientists and science popularizers have come out in favor of the idea that there may exist a “multiverse” of multiple universes, and that this might explain some of the unusual properties of our universe. If there are multiple universes, each with different physical laws, then we must exist in one of the universes with laws capable of supporting us, no matter how rare or unlikely such a universe is. This sort of argument is called anthropic reasoning.

(If you’re picky about definitions and don’t like the idea of more than one universe, think instead of a large universe with many different regions, each one separated from the others. There are some decent physics-based reasons to suppose we live in such a universe.)

Not to mention continuity reasons.

Why is anyone in favor of this idea? It all goes back to the Higgs.

The Higgs field interacts with other particles, giving them mass. What most people don’t mention is that the effect, in some sense, goes both ways. Because the Higgs interacts with other particles, the mass of the Higgs is also altered. This alteration is large, much larger than the observed mass of the Higgs. (In fact, in a sense it’s infinite!)

In order for the Higgs to have the mass we observe, then, something has to cancel out these large corrections. That cancellation can either be a coincidence, or there can be a reason for it.

The trouble is, we’re running out of good reasons. One of the best was supersymmetry, the idea that each particle has a partner with tightly related properties. But if supersymmetry was going to save the day, we probably would have detected some of those partners at the Large Hadron Collider by now. More generally, it can be argued that almost all possible “good reasons” require some new particle to be found at the LHC.

If there are no good reasons, then we’re stuck with a coincidence. (This is often referred to as the Naturalness Problem in particle physics.) And it’s this uncomfortable coincidence that has driven prominent physicists to the arms of the multiverse.

There’s a substantial backlash, though. Many people view the multiverse as a cop-out. Some believe it to be even more toxic than that: if there’s a near-infinite number of possible universes then in principle any unusual feature of our universe could be explained by anthropic reasoning, which sounds like it could lead to the end of physics as we know it.

You can disdain the multiverse as a cop-out, but, as I’ll argue here, you shouldn’t fear it. Those who think the multiverse will destroy physics are fundamentally misunderstanding the way physics research works.

The key thing to keep in mind is that almost nobody out there prefers the multiverse. When a prominent physicist supports the multiverse, that doesn’t mean they’re putting aside productive work on other solutions to the problem. In general, it means they don’t have other solutions to the problem. Supporting the multiverse isn’t going to stop them from having ideas they wouldn’t have had to begin with.

And indeed, many of these people are quite supportive of alternatives to the multiverse. I’ve seen Nima Arkani-Hamed talk about the multiverse, and he generally lists a number of other approaches (some quite esoteric!) that he has worked (and failed to make progress) on, and encourages the audience to look into them.

Physics isn’t a zero-sum game, nor is it ruled by a few prominent people. If a young person has a good idea about how to explain something without the multiverse, they’re going to have all the support and recognition that such an idea deserves.

What the multiverse adds is another track, another potentially worthwhile line of research. Surprising as it may seem, the multiverse doesn’t automatically answer every question. It might not even answer the question of the mass of the Higgs! All that the existence of a multiverse tells us is that we should exist somewhere where intelligent life could exist…but if intelligent life is more likely to exist in a universe very different from ours, then we’re back to square one. There’s a lot of research involved in figuring out just what the multiverse implies, research by people who wouldn’t have been working on this sort of problem if the idea of the multiverse hadn’t been proposed.

That’s the key take-away message here. The multiverse may be wrong, but just considering it isn’t going to destroy physics. Rather, it’s opened up new avenues of research, widening the community of those trying to solve the Naturalness Problem. It may well be a cop-out for individuals, but science as a whole doesn’t have cop-outs: there’s always room for someone with a good idea to sweep away the cobwebs and move things forward.

(Interstellar) Dust In The Wind…

The news has hit the blogosphere: the team behind the Planck satellite has released new dust measurements, and they seem to be a nail in the coffin of BICEP2’s observation of primordial gravitational waves.

Some background for those who haven’t been following the story:

BICEP2, a telescope in Antarctica, is set up to observe the Cosmic Microwave Background, light left over from the very early universe. Back in March, they announced that they had seen characteristic ripples in that light, ripples that they believed were caused by gravitational waves in the early universe. By comparing the size of these gravitational waves to their (quantum-small) size when they were created, they could make statements about the exponential expansion of the early universe (called inflation). This amounted to better (and more specific) evidence about inflation than anyone else had ever found, so naturally people were very excited about it.

However, doubt was rather quickly cast on these exciting results. Like all experimental science, BICEP2 needed to estimate the chance that their observations could be caused by something more mundane. In particular, interstellar dust can cause similar “ripples” to those they observed. They argued that dust would have contributed a much smaller effect, so their “ripples” must be the real deal…but to make this argument, they needed an estimate of how much dust they should have seen. They had several estimates, but one in particular was based on data “scraped” off of a slide from a talk by the Planck collaboration.

Unfortunately, it seems that the BICEP2 team misinterpreted this “scraped” data. Now, Planck have released the actual data, and it seems like dust could account for BICEP2’s entire signal.

I say “could” because more information is needed before we know for sure. The BICEP2 and Planck teams are working together now, trying to tease out whether BICEP2’s observations are entirely dust, or whether there might still be something left.

I know I’m not the only person who wishes that this sort of collaboration could have happened before BICEP2 announced their discovery to the world. If Planck had freely shared their early data with BICEP2, they would have had accurate dust estimates to begin with, and they wouldn’t have announced all of this prematurely.

Of course, expecting groups to freely share data when Nobel prizes and billion-dollar experiments are on the line is pretty absurdly naive. I just wish we lived in a world where none of this was at issue, where careers didn’t ride on “who got there first”.

I’ve got no idea how to bring about such a world, of course. Any suggestions?

Flexing the BICEP2 Results

The physicsverse has been abuzz this week with news of the BICEP2 experiment’s observations of B-mode polarization in the Cosmic Microwave Background.

There are lots of good sources on this, and it’s not really my field, so I’m just going to give a quick summary before talking about a few aspects I find interesting.

BICEP2 is a telescope in Antarctica that observes the Cosmic Microwave Background, light left over from the first time that the universe was clear enough for light to travel. (If you’re interested in a background on what we know about how the universe began, Of Particular Significance has an article here that should be fairly detailed, and I have a take on some more speculative aspects here.) Earlier experiments that observed the Cosmic Microwave Background discovered a surprising amount of uniformity. This led to the proposal of a concept called inflation: the idea that at some point the early universe expanded exponentially, smearing any non-uniformities across the sky and smoothing everything out. Since the rate the universe expands is a number, if that number is to vary it naturally should be a scalar field, which in this case is called the inflaton.

During inflation, distances themselves get stretched out. Think about inflation like enlarging an image. As you’ve probably noticed (maybe even in early posts on this blog), enlarging an image doesn’t always work out well. The resulting image is often pixelated or distorted. Some of the distortion comes from glitches in the program that enlarges the image, while some of it is just what happens when the pixels of the original image get enlarged to the point that you can see them.

Enlarging the Cosmic Microwave Background

Quantum fluctuations in the inflaton field itself are the glitches in the program, enlarging some areas more than others. The pattern they create in the Cosmic Microwave Background is called E-mode polarization, and several other experiments have been able to detect it.

Much weaker are the effect of the “pixels” of the original image. Since the original image is spacetime itself, the pixels are the quantum fluctuations of spacetime: quantum gravity waves. Inflation enlarged them to the point that they were visible on a large-distance scale, fundamental non-uniformity in the world blown up big enough to affect the distribution of light. The effect this had on light is detectably different: it’s called B-mode polarization, and this is the first experiment to detect it on the right scale for it to be caused by gravity waves.

Measuring this polarization, in particular how strong it is, tells us a lot about how inflation occurred. It’s enough to rule out several models, and lend support to several others. If the results are corroborated this will be real, useful evidence, the sort physicists love to get, and folks are happily crunching numbers on it all over the world.

All that said, this site is called four gravitons and a grad student, and I’m betting that some of you want to ask this grad student: is this evidence for gravitons, or for gravity waves?

Sort of.

We already had good indirect evidence for gravity waves: pairs of neutron stars release gravity waves as they orbit each other, which causes them to slow down. Since we’ve observed them slowing down at the right rates, we were already confident gravity waves exist. And if you’ve got gravity waves, gravitons follow as a natural consequence of quantum mechanics.

The data from BICEP2 is also indirect. The gravity waves “observed” by BICEP2 were present in the early universe. It is their effect on the light that would become the Cosmic Microwave Background that is being observed, not the gravity waves directly. We still have yet to directly detect gravity waves, with a gravity telescope like LIGO.

On the other hand, a “gravity telescope” isn’t exactly direct either. In order to detect gravity waves, LIGO and other gravity telescopes attempt to measure their effect on the distances between objects. How do they do that? By looking at interference patterns of light.

In both cases, we’re looking at light, present in the environment of a gravity wave, and examining its properties. Of course, in a gravity telescope the light is from a nearby environment under tight control, while the Cosmic Microwave Background is light from as far away and long ago as anything within the reach of science today. In both cases, though, it’s not nearly as simple as “observing” an effect. “Seeing” anything in high energy physics or astrophysics is always a matter of interpreting data based on science we already know.

Alright, that’s evidence for gravity waves. Does that mean evidence for gravitons?

I’ve seen a few people describe BICEP2’s results as evidence for quantum gravity/quantum gravity effects. I felt a little uncomfortable with that claim, so I asked Matt Strassler what he thought. I think his perspective on this is the right one. Quantum gravity is just what happens when gravity exists in a quantum world. As I’ve said on this site before, quantum gravity is easy. The hard part is making a theory of quantum gravity that has real predictive power, and that’s something these results don’t shed any light on at all.

That said, I’m a bit conflicted. They really are seeing a quantum effect in gravity, and as far as I’m aware this really is the first time such an effect has been observed. Gravity is so weak, and quantum gravity effects so small, that it takes inflation blowing them up across the sky for them to be visible. Now, I don’t think there was anyone out there who thought gravity didn’t have quantum fluctuations (or at least, anyone with a serious scientific case). But seeing into a new regime, even if it doesn’t tell us much…that’s important, isn’t it? (After writing this, I read Matt Strassler’s more recent post, where he has a paragraph professing similar sentiments).

On yet another hand, I’ve heard it asserted in another context that loop quantum gravity researchers don’t know how to get gravitons. I know nothing about the technical details of loop quantum gravity, so I don’t know if that actually has any relevance here…but it does amuse me.