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Quantum Geometry

Quantum Geometry

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QUANTUM GEOMETRY AND ITSAPPLICATIONS
Abhay Ashtekar
1
and Jerzy Lewandowski
2
1. Institute for Gravitational Physics and GeometryPhysics Department, Penn State, University Park, PA 16802-63002. Instytut Fizyki Teoretycznej,Uniwersytet Warszawski, ul. Ho˙za 69, 00-681 Warszawa, PolandNovember 17, 2005
Related Articles
Loop quantum gravity, Quantum dynamics in loop quantum gravity, quantum cos-mology, black hole mechanics, quantum field theory in curved space-times, spin foams,canonical approach.
1 Introduction
In general relativity the gravitational field is encoded in the Riemannian geometryof space-time. Much of the conceptual compactness and mathematical elegance of the theory can be traced back to this central idea. The encoding is also directlyresponsible for the most dramatic ramifications of the theory: the big-bang, blackholes and gravitational waves. However, it also leads one to the conclusion thatspace-time itself must end and physics must come to a halt at the big-bang andinside black holes, where the gravitational field becomes singular. But this reasoningignores quantum physics entirely. When the curvature becomes large, of the orderof 1
/
2Pl
=
c
3
/G
, quantum effects dominate and predictions of general relativitycan no longer be trusted. In this ‘Planck regime’, one must use an appropriatesynthesis of general relativity and quantum physics, i.e., a quantum gravity theory.The predictions of this theory are likely to be quite different from those of generalrelativity. In the real, quantum world, evolution may be completely non-singular.Physics may not come to a halt and quantum theory could extend classical space-time.1
 
There are a number of different approaches to quantum gravity. One naturalavenue is to retain the interplay between gravity and geometry but now use
quantum 
Riemannian geometry in place of the standard, classical one. This is the key ideaunderlying loop quantum gravity. There are several calculations which indicate thatthe well-known failure of the standard perturbative approach to quantum gravity maybe primarily due to its basic assumption that space-time can be modelled as a smoothcontinuum at
all 
scales. In loop quantum gravity, one adopts a non-perturbativeapproach. There is no smooth metric in the background. Geometry is not onlydynamical but quantum mechanical from ‘birth’. Its fundamental excitations turnout to be 1-dimensional and polymer-like. The smooth continuum is only a coarsegrained approximation. While a fully satisfactory quantum gravity theory still awaitsus (in any approach), detailed investigations have been carried out to completionin simplified models —called mini and midi-superspaces. They show that quantumspace-time does not end at singularities. Rather, quantum geometry serves as a‘bridge’ to another large classical space-time.This summary will focus on structural issues from a mathematical physics per-spective. Complementary perspectives and further details can be found in articles onloop quantum gravity, canonical formalism, quantum cosmology, black hole thermo-dynamics and spin foams.
2 Basic Framework
The starting point is a Hamiltonian formulation of general relativity based on spinconnections (Ashtekar, 1987). Here, the phase space
Γ
consists of canonically conju-gate pairs (
A,
P
), where
A
is a connection on a 3-manifold
and
P
a 2-form, bothof which take values in the Lie-algebra su(2). Since
Γ
can also be thought of asthe phase space of the SU(2) Yang-Mills theory, in this approach there is a unifiedkinematic framework for general relativity which describes gravity and gauge theorieswhich describe the other three basic forces of Nature. The connection
A
enables oneto parallel transport chiral spinors (such as the left handed fermions of the standardelectro-weak model) along curves in
. Its curvature is directly related to the elec-tric and magnetic parts of the space-time
Riemann tensor 
. The dual
of 
P
playsa double role.
1
Being the momentum canonically conjugate to
A
, it is analogous tothe Yang-Mills electric field. But (apart from a constant) it is also an orthonormaltriad (with density weight 1) on
and therefore determines the positive definite(‘spatial’) 3-metric, and hence the Riemannian geometry of 
. This dual role of 
isa reflection of the fact that now SU(2) is the (double cover of the) group of rotationsof the orthonormal spatial triads on
itself rather than of rotations in an ‘internal’space associated with
.To pass to quantum theory, one first constructs an algebra of ‘elementary’ func-
1
The dual is defined via
 
P
ω
=
 
ω
for any 1-form
ω
on
.
2
 
tions on
Γ
(analogous to the phase space functions
x
and
p
in the case of a particle)which are to have unambiguous operator analogs. The holonomies
h
e
(
A
) :=
exp
 
e
A
(2.1)associated with a curve/edge
e
on
is a (SU(2)-valued) configuration function on
Γ
. Similarly, given a 2-surface
on
, and a su(2)-valued (test) function
on
,
S,f 
:=
 
Tr(
P
) (2.2)is a momentum-function on
Γ
, where Tr is over the su(2) indices.
2
The symplecticstructure on
Γ
enables one to calculate the Poisson brackets
{
h
e
,
S,f 
}
. The result isa linear combination of holonomies and can be written as a Lie derivative,
{
h
e
,
S,f 
}
=
L
X
S,f 
h
e
,
(2.3)where
S,f 
is a derivation on the ring generated by holonomy functions, and cantherefore be regarded as a vector field on the configuration space
A
of connections.This is a familiar situation in classical mechanics of systems whose configuration spaceis a finite dimensional manifold. Functions
h
e
and vector fields
S,f 
generate a Liealgebra. As in quantum mechanics on manifolds, the first step is to promote thisalgebra to a quantum algebra by demanding that the commutator be given by
i
times the Lie bracket. The result is a
-algebra
a
, analogous to the algebra generatedby operators exp
ˆ
x
and ˆ
 p
in quantum mechanics. By exponentiating the momentumoperatorsˆ
S,f 
one obtains
, the analog of the quantum mechanical Weyl algebragenerated by exp
ˆ
x
and exp
ˆ
 p
.The main task is to obtain the appropriate representation of these algebras. Inthat representation,
quantum 
Riemannian geometry can be probed through the mo-mentum operatorsˆ
S,f 
, which stem from classical orthonormal triads. As in quantummechanics on manifolds or simple field theories in flat space, it is convenient to dividethe task into two parts. In the first, one focuses on the algebra
C
generated by theconfiguration operatorsˆ
h
c
and finds all its representations, and in the second oneconsiders the momentum operatorsˆ
S,f 
to restrict the freedom.
C
is called the holonomy algebra. It is naturally endowed with the structure of an Abelian
algebra (with identity), whence one can apply the powerful machin-ery made available by the Gel’fand theory. This theory tells us that
C
determinesa unique compact, Hausdorff space¯
A
such that the
algebra of all continuousfunctions on
A
is naturally isomorphic to
C
.¯
A
is called the Gel’fand spectrum of 
2
For simplicity of presentation all fields are assumed to be smooth and curves/edges
e
and surfaces
, finite and piecewise analytic in a specific sense. The extension to smooth curves and surfaceswas carried out by Baez and Sawin, Lewandowski and Thiemann, and Fleischhack. It is technicallymore involved but the final results are qualitatively the same.
3

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