Gravitational waves without general relativity

strainRobert C. Hilborn
This tutorial leads the reader through the details of calculating the properties of gravitational waves from orbiting binaries, such as two orbiting black holes. Using analogies with electromagnetic radiation, the tutorial presents a calculation that produces the same dependence on the masses of the orbiting objects, the orbital frequency, and the mass separation as does the linear version of General Relativity (GR). However, the calculation yields polarization, angular distributions, and overall power results that differ from those of GR. Nevertheless, the calculation produces waveforms that are very similar to the pre-binary-merger portions of the signals observed by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO-VIRGO) collaboration. The tutorial should be easily understandable by students who have taken a standard upper-level undergraduate course in electromagnetism.


Free Will in the Theory of Everything

Gerard ‘t Hooft

From what is known today about the elementary particles of matter, and the forces that control their behavior, it may be observed that still a host of obstacles must be overcome that are standing in the way of further progress of our understanding. Most researchers conclude that drastically new concepts must be investigated, new starting points are needed, older structures and theories, in spite of their successes, will have to be overthrown, and new, superintelligent questions will have to be asked and investigated. In short, they say that we shall need new physics. Here, we argue in a different manner. Today, no prototype, or toy model, of any so-called Theory of Everything exists, because the demands required of such a theory appear to be conflicting. The demands that we propose include locality, special and general relativity, together with a fundamental finiteness not only of the forces and amplitudes, but also of the set of Nature’s dynamical variables. We claim that the two remaining ingredients that we have today, Quantum Field Theory and General Relativity, indeed are coming a long way towards satisfying such elementary requirements. Putting everything together in a Grand Synthesis is like solving a gigantic puzzle. We argue that we need the correct analytical tools to solve this puzzle. Finally, it seems to be obvious that this solution will give room neither for “Divine Intervention”, nor for “Free Will”, an observation that, all by itself, can be used as a clue. We claim that this reflects on our understanding of the deeper logic underlying quantum mechanics.

Memories of a Theoretical Physicist

Joseph Polchinski

While I was dealing with a brain injury and finding it difficult to work, two friends (Derek Westen, a friend of the KITP, and Steve Shenker, with whom I was recently collaborating), suggested that a new direction might be good. Steve in particular regarded me as a good writer and suggested that I try that. I quickly took to Steve’s suggestion. Having only two bodies of knowledge, myself and physics, I decided to write an autobiography about my development as a theoretical physicist.
This is not written for any particular audience, but just to give myself a goal. It will probably have too much physics for a nontechnical reader, and too little for a physicist, but perhaps there with be different things for each. Parts may be tedious. But it is somewhat unique, I think, a blow-by-blow history of where I started and where I got to.
Probably the target audience is theoretical physicists, especially young ones, who may enjoy comparing my struggles with their own. Some disclaimers: This is based on my own memories, jogged by the arXiv and Inspire. There will surely be errors and omissions. And note the title: this is about my memories, which will be different for other people. Also, it would not be possible for me to mention all the authors whose work might intersect mine, so this should not be treated as a reference work.


The Shape of Bouncing Universes

John D. Barrow, Chandrima Ganguly
What happens to the most general closed oscillating universes in general relativity? We sketch the development of interest in cyclic universes from the early work of Friedmann and Tolman to modern variations introduced by the presence of a cosmological constant. Then we show what happens in the cyclic evolution of the most general closed anisotropic universes provided by the Mixmaster universe. We show that in the presence of entropy increase its cycles grow in size and age, increasingly approaching flatness. But these cycles also grow increasingly anisotropic at their expansion maxima. If there is a positive cosmological constant, or dark energy, present then these oscillations always end and the last cycle evolves from an anisotropic inflexion point towards a de Sitter future of everlasting expansion.


Relativistic Generalization of the Incentive Trap of Interstellar Travel with Application to Breakthrough Starshot

René Heller
As new concepts of sending interstellar spacecraft to the nearest stars are now being investigated by various research teams, crucial questions about the timing of such a vast financial and labor investment arise. If humanity could build high-speed interstellar lightsails and reach the alpha Centauri system 20 yr after launch, would it be better to wait a few years, then take advantage of further technology improvements to increase the speed, and arrive earlier despite waiting? The risk of being overtaken by a future, faster probe has been described earlier as the incentive trap. Based on 211 yr of historical data, we find that the speed growth of human-made vehicles, from steam-driven locomotives to Voyager 1, is much faster than previously believed, about 4.72 % annually or a doubling every 15 yr. We derive the mathematical framework to calculate the minimum of the wait time (t) plus travel time (tau(t)) and extend two exponential growth law models into the relativistic regime. We show that the minimum of t+tau(t) disappears for nearby targets. There is no use of waiting for speed improvements once we can reach an object within about 20 yr of travel, irrespective of the actual speed. In terms of speed, the t+tau(t) minimum for a travel to alpha Centauri will occur once 19.6 % the speed of light (c) become available, in agreement with the 20 % c proposed by the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative. If interstellar travel at 20 % c can be obtained within 45 yr from today and if the kinetic energy could be increased at a rate consistent with the historical record, then humans can reach the ten most nearby stars within 100 yr from today.