Foundations of Physics

, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 279–294 | Cite as

Condensed Matter Lessons About the Origin of Time

  • Gil JannesEmail author


It is widely hoped that quantum gravity will shed light on the question of the origin of time in physics. The currently dominant approaches to a candidate quantum theory of gravity have naturally evolved from general relativity, on the one hand, and from particle physics, on the other hand. A third important branch of twentieth century ‘fundamental’ physics, condensed-matter physics, also offers an interesting perspective on quantum gravity, and thereby on the problem of time. The bottomline might sound disappointing: to understand the origin of time, much more experimental input is needed than what is available today. Moreover it is far from obvious that we will ever find out the true origin of physical time, even if we become able to directly probe physics at the Planck scale. But we might learn some interesting lessons about time and the structure of our universe in the process. A first lesson is that there are probably several characteristic scales associated with “quantum gravity” effects, rather than the single Planck scale usually considered. These can differ by several orders of magnitude, and thereby conspire to hide certain effects expected from quantum gravity, rendering them undetectable even with Planck-scale experiments. A more tentative conclusion is that the hierarchy between general relativity, special relativity and Newtonian physics, usually taken for granted, might have to be interpreted with caution.


Emergent gravity Time Analogue gravity Condensed matter physics Quantum gravity 



I thank F. Barbero, C. Barceló and G.E. Volovik for useful comments. Financial support was provided by the Spanish MICINN through the project FIS2011-30145-C03-01.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Modelling & Numerical Simulation GroupUniversidad Carlos III de MadridLeganésSpain

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