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Scientists discover that spacetime looks like ... moguls?
A new description of spacetime has taken the theory that Stephen Hawking made famous and advanced it to a new – yet paradoxically more simple – level. String theory may be replaced by "mogul theory."
Photo by Dan Davis

Scientists discover that spacetime looks like ... moguls?

By Tom Boyd

July 22, 2008 —  Buried in one of last winter’s powder days I had a moment atop Prima when I felt like the field of bumps below me was the only thing that mattered in the universe.

I was almost right.

Turns out, bumps may be the way matter distributes itself throughout the universe … or something like that, because a group of scientists have recently discovered that the world around us – spacetime itself – looks a lot like a mogul run.

The most famous physicist of our time – Stephen Hawking – is likely known as well for his debilitating Lou Gehrig’s disease as for marshalling one of the post-Einstein era’s most compelling scientific theories: Euclidean Quantum Gravity.

He also helped prove the existence of Black Holes and then, alternately, that they radiate energy, but in the world of physics he’s primarily known as the poster boy for EQG.

The term Euclidean Quantum Gravity may make you want to nod off, or chug a pitcher of espresso, or click on one of our sponsor’s ads (thought I’d give it a shot) but before your lids slam shut, consider that Birds of Prey, Highline, Prima and Prima Cornice … all this time we’ve been carving something which looks unbelievably, uncannily, like Einstein and Hawking’s spacetime continuum. When time and space come together, they look bumpy – yet patterned, just as a mogul run does.

For all but the greatest skiers, there’s that moment when we look down at the next section of piste we imagine the elusive, invisible line. Irregular but still within a pattern, the bumps we see are the work of hundreds, if not thousands, of skiers before us – none of whom had any predetermined idea of where the bumps should form, nor how.

If the grooming cats fail to show up, what we’re left with is lumps of matter recognizable as mostly the same shape and size, but none which are exactly the same.

Now imagine the proverbial faceplant.

Up close, the snowflakes are each as individual, as unique, as nature allows – perhaps, as some say, each snowflake is unlike any other to ever fall (a non-provable concept, yet appealing in its own right). Take a snowflake under a microscope and you see something that’s not only unique, you also see a “fractal,” meaning it has the same basic pattern repeating itself over and over and over again … or, said otherwise, it looks the same no matter how close you zoom in.

Once we stand up from our faceplant, however, the landscape returns to its bumpy yet recognizable form.

This may not seem like rocket science, and technically it’s not. But it may be the most important step forward science has made recently in harmonizing the two disparate fields of physics: Einstien’s theories of relativity (which apply to the cosmos) and the theories of quantum physics (which apply to the very, very, small world).

More on the work of Jan Ambjorn, Jerzy Jukiewecz, and Renate Loll (visit Loll’s website at, can be found in the print edition of the July Scientific American or at



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