Scientists are wondering if our world is a three-dimensional projection from a two-dimensional source of information. The basic assertion in what is called the holographic principle was put forth first by Gerard t’ Hooft: All the information contained in some region of space is encoded on the boundary of that region.
The name of the principle derives from holography. Holography is a technique which records light rays reflected in all directions from an object. When the image is projected from a holographic film in space, the image appears three-dimensional just as the object looked originally – a 3D figure from a 2D source.
This principle had its first known application to black holes. However, applied to the universe at large, the principle asserts that “the entire universe can be seen as a two-dimensional information structure “painted” on the cosmological horizon.”
To those interested in physics….
A paradox about black holes was puzzling scientists back in the 1970s. If any object entered a black hole, all information in the object was lost. This included information about entropy (in other words, ‘information describing its microscopic parts). This, however, violated the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy of an isolated system will increase over time if the system is not in equilibrium.
At the same time, there was another fact known about the black holes: that the surface area of a black hole’s boundary always grew when objects fell into it. t’ Hooft showed that the information ‘lost’ by an object falling into the black hole was actually stored by a corresponding alteration on the boundary of the black hole.
During the 1990s, scientists finally applied the same principle to the whole universe. The idea gained credibility among the scientific community because it was in line with the string theory, the wacky explains-all theory which integrates all known ideas about particles, energy and gravity.
To those interested in religion….
In Qur’an there is repeated mention of a kitaab – a book – that has everything recorded in it. The literal meaning of the word kitaab in Arabic is ‘anything that is written’. Everything that’s in the universe and everything that has happened or will happen is recorded in this book. This includes Qur’an, with respect to which, this master register of everything has been called as Loh-e-Mehfooz, where loh means a page or a paper and mehfooz means safe. The strict conceptual meaning of loh-e-mehfooz would be ‘a two-dimensional, permanent and secure record of information’.
Do you not know that Allah knows all that occurs in heaven as well as on earth? All this, behold, is in a record: verily, this is easy for Allah. [Sura Al-Haj, ayah 70]
He has the keys to the things that are beyond the reach of a created being’s perception: none knows them but He. And He knows all that is on land and in the sea; and not a leaf falls but He knows it; and neither is there a grain in the earth’s deep darkness, nor anything living or dead, but is recorded in [His] clear decree. [Sura Al-An'am, ayah 59]
Nay, but this [divine writ they reject] is a discourse sublime (ayah 21), Upon an imperishable tablet [inscribed] (ayah 22). [Sura Al-Buruj]
A few pinches of salt
1. Discussions on some of the websites (for examples check this out) sound as if the ‘hologram’ analogy is being applied to literally by the readers. But such thinking is incorrect. The holographic principle does not actually imply that the three dimensional observable world is an illusion, just as a holographic image literally is. Raphael Bousso helps clarify: The world doesn’t appear to us like a hologram, but in terms of the information needed to describe it, it is one.
The holographic principle, hence, really asserts that information describing everything that is in the world is recorded on it’s 2D boundary. It may be of interest here that Allah has actually described the world as la’ib and lahw:
And nothing is the life of this world but a play and a passing delight; [in Sura Al-An'am, ayah 32]
However, it doesn’t necessarily follow from this interpretation of ‘life in this world’ that everything we see is literally an illusion.
2. The scientific status of the holographic principle, and the larger string theory in which it is grounded, is THEORY. Theoretical physics is (and has always been) way ahead of experimental physics (the one which provides evidence for the theories). Theoretical physics relies on mathematics and the holographic principle is the outcome of a series of elaborate math equations which help explain the known oddities about black holes and fit in with string theory – another (rather a set of several) series of equations… There’s simply not enough technology available to test any of this. For a long time to come, any ‘evidence’ that supports the principle is likely to be circumstantial. That is, it will be a piece of observation that could be related to the theory – it will still be far from a conclusive piece of evidence.
3. Even if the holographic principle was true, it does not necessarily mean that this is REALLY WHAT Allah means by umm-ul-kitaab. Only Allah has the full knowledge and only He possesses the true knowledge of such concepts which can never by ascertained to a 100% gaurantuee by the most advanced of sciences.
Here is more on the relationship between Qur’anic knowledge and scientific knowledge from this blog: