The amplituhedron – a newly discovered geometrical object that enlivens the imagination. As a student in the area of theoretical particle physics, it has energised my curiousity in a very unique and notable way.
I am absolutely fascinated with this object, so much so that it has been a week with some sleepless nights. Fueled mostly by museli, vegetables and countless cups of tea, each day has merged into the next, interspersed with very few breaks. I suppose in general such study patterns are the norm of my existence. But in this present moment of day to day existence, if not donating time to unavoidable school related demands and on preparing for exams, much of my day is completely and totally consumed by the study of the amplituhedron and the physics related to it.
It is not that I have just discovered this geometrical object or just learned of its discovery. In fact, I originally came across it several months ago. But I was so busy with other things, my interest was more gentle. Over that time I dabbled in and out, thinking mostly of the broad consequences, particularly in relation to the idea of spacetime potentially being emergent.
More recently, I have listened to almost every lecture by Nima Arkani-Hamed that I could find on Youtube and elsewhere on the web. Correlating, too, with my reading of Penrose (I am interested in Twistor Theory), I have begun to dig into numerous papers, such as Arkani-Hamed and Jaroslav Trnka’s original 2013 paper introducing the amplituhedron, as well as their 2017 paper (with Hugh Thomas) on unwinding the amplituhedron in binary.
Admittedly, my twistor maths skills and my understanding of Grassmannians and of projective space are not yet at the level they need to be for me to truly understand and theoretically encircle the object and the physics in relation to it. Likewise, my understanding of planar N = 4 supersymmetric Yang–Mills theory is currently weak, and I am only starting to scratch the surface of the basics. This includes just how, or why, the amplituhedron represents a solution for Super Yang-Mills.
But I think my interest is such that I could see my masters being focused on the amplituhedron in some way. There is still time, and things could change. But the very broad ideas associated with Arkani-Hamed’s (et al.) work are just so exciting. Perhaps in the near future I’ll write more about what makes it so exciting. For me, it is much more than just the possibility of the idea of how we might be able to simplify our calculations of scattering amplitudes. Certainly, this is one of the popular advertisements for the theory and that is understandable. For anyone who has studied, likes to draw, or understands Fenyman diagrams as a common way to calculate scattering amplitudes in quantum field theory, it can be incredibly grueling and quite a grind. Things become so complicated, and the amount of diagrams increases so much with the increase in the amount of loops, that not only does it become difficult to make accurate calculations but, at least for me, it suggests something deeper is missing. Something is not quite right. But what?
It almost seems that with Fenyman diagrams, we’re picking up or obtaining a glimpse of something about nature – a fragment of a more total picture. Or, to borrow a line from David Skinner, it very much seems like we’re picking up pieces or looking at shards of a broken Ming vase.
Think of the scattering of gluons. Something so simple, such as two gluons colliding to produce four less energetic gluons – to calculate the amplitude in using the textbook approach by way of Feynman diagrams, this would involve 220 diagrams. We’re talking tens of thousands of terms – pages and pages!
In that the amplituhedron might simplify these calculations, this evokes in me a sense of curiosity that the suspicion of something being missing might be true. It is at least worth thinking about and pursuing, to whatever end. But it’s also the idea of the reformulation of the whole of QFT, and things like how one can arrive at the same equation for the loop amplitudes without spacetime, gauge symmetry, quantum mechanics and the use of the path integral. It is really just so very cool.
From the perspective of my current understanding, the geometry itself is rooted in energy-momentum space, with the amplitude being the volume of the amplituhedron. Again, quite amazing to think about. If I am right in my understanding, unitarity and locality are also not completely discarded, nor are they required; instead, they are seen as being emergent (along with spacetime and QM). Again, fascinating.
The ideas may be in their infancy, and there may be lots of speculative impulses, but the entire theory is incredibly intriguing nonetheless.
My plan of attack is first to continue working toward studying and more deeply understanding the mathematics of Twistor Theory, and then also Grassmanians and so on.
I’m sure more posts will be made along the way.