The SpinFoam Approach to Quantum Gravity
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Abstract
This article reviews the present status of the spinfoam approach to the quantization of gravity. Special attention is payed to the pedagogical presentation of the recentlyintroduced new models for fourdimensional quantum gravity. The models are motivated by a suitable implementation of the path integral quantization of the Plebanski formulation of gravity on a simplicial regularization. The article also includes a selfcontained treatment of 2+1 gravity. The simple nature of the latter provides the basis and a perspective for the analysis of both conceptual and technical issues that remain open in four dimensions.
1 Introduction
2 Quantum Gravity: A Unifying Framework for Fundamental Physics
The revolution brought about by Einstein’s theory of gravity lies more in the discovery of the principle of general covariance than in the form of the dynamical equations of general relativity. General covariance brings the relational character of nature into our description of physics as an essential ingredient for the understanding of the gravitational force. In general relativity, the gravitational field is encoded in the dynamical geometry of spacetime, implying a strong form of universality that precludes the existence of any nondynamical reference system — or nondynamical background — on top of which things occur. This leaves no room for the old view, where fields evolve on a rigid preestablished spacetime geometry (e.g., Minkowski spacetime): to understand gravity one must describe the dynamics of fields with respect to one another, and independent of any background structure.
General relativity realizes the requirements of general covariance as a classical theory, i.e., for h = 0. Einstein’s theory is, in this sense, incomplete as a fundamental description of nature. A clear indication of such incompleteness is the generic prediction of spacetime singularities in the context of gravitational collapse. Near spacetime singularities, the spacetime curvature and energy density become so large that any classical description turns inconsistent. This is reminiscent of the foundational examples of quantum mechanics — such as the UV catastrophe of blackbody radiation or the instability of the classical model of the hydrogen atom — where similar singularities appear if quantum effects are not appropriately taken into account. General relativity must be replaced by a more fundamental description that appropriately includes the quantum degrees of freedom of gravity.
At first sight the candidate would be a suitable generalization of the formalism of quantum field theory (QFT). However, the standard QFTs used to describe other fundamental forces are not appropriate to tackle the problem of quantum gravity. Firstly, because standard QFTs are not generally covariant, as they can only be defined if a nondynamical spacetime geometry is provided: the notion of particle, Fourier modes, vacuum and Poincaré invariance are essential tools that can only be constructed on a given spacetime geometry. This is a strong limitation when it comes to quantum gravity, since the very notion of spacetime geometry is most likely not defined in the deep quantum regime. Secondly, quantum field theory is plagued by singularities too (UV divergences) coming from the contribution of arbitrary highenergy quantum processes. This limitation of standard QFTs is expected to disappear once the quantum fluctuations of the gravitational field, involving the dynamic treatment of spacetime geometry, are appropriately taken into account. But because of its intrinsicallybackgrounddependent definition, standard QFT cannot be used to shed light on this issue. A general covariant approach to the quantization of gravity is needed.
This is obviously not an easy challenge, as in the construction of a general covariant QFT one must abandon from the starting point most of the concepts that are essential in the description of ‘nongravitational’ physics. One has to learn to formulate a quantum theory in the absence of preferred reference systems or preexistent notion of space and time. Loop quantum gravity (LQG) is a framework to address this task. The degrees of freedom of gravity are quantized in accordance to the principles of general covariance. At the present stage there are some indications that both the singularity problems of classical general relativity as well as the UV problem of standard QFTs might vanish in the framework.
However, these indications are not conclusive, mainly because the systematic description of dynamical processes remains an open problem at the present stage. In this article we review the status of the construction of a promising approach for handling the difficult dynamical question in LQG: the spinfoam formulation.
2.1 Why nonperturbative quantum gravity?
This is especially so in gravity, due to the dual role of the gravitational field that simultaneously describes the geometry and its own dynamical degrees of freedom. More explicitly, in the standard backgrounddependent quantization, the existence of a fixedbackground geometry is fundamental to the definition of the theory. In the usual treatment one imposes fields at spacelike separated points to commute alluding to standard causality considerations. Even when this is certainly justified for matter fields (at least in the range of applicability of the standard model) it makes no sense in the case of gravity: one would be using the causal structure provided by the unphysical background η_{ ab }. This difficulty has been raised several times (see, for instance, [367]).
Therefore, treating the gravitational field according to the splitting given in Eq. (1) is inconsistent with the fundamental nature of the gravitational degrees of freedom. Treating h_{ ab } with the standard perturbative techniques is equivalent to viewing h_{ ab } as another matter field with no special properties. As mentioned above, gravitons would propagate respecting the causal structure of the unphysical background to all orders in perturbation theory!^{1} Radiative corrections do not affect causality. Even though such a thing is quite sensible when dealing with matter fields in the regime where gravity is neglected, it would be clearly wrong for the gravitational interaction.
2.2 Nonrenormalizability of general relativity
If we ignore all these issues and try to set up a naive perturbative quantization of gravity, we find that the theory is nonrenormalizable. This can be expected from dimensional analysis as the quantity playing the role of the coupling constant turns out to be the Planck length ℓ_{ p }. The nonrenormalizability of perturbative gravity is often explained through an analogy with the (nonrenormalizable) Fermi’s fourfermion effective description of the weak interaction. Fermi’s four fermions theory is known to be an effective description of the (renormalizable) Weinberg—Salam theory. The nonrenormalizable UV behavior of Fermi’s four fermion interaction is a consequence of neglecting the degrees of freedom of the exchanged massive gauge bosons, which are otherwise disguised as the dimensionfull coupling \({\Lambda _{{\rm{Fermi}}}} \approx 1/m_W^2\) at momentum transfer much lower than the mass of the W particle \({q^2} \ll m_W^2\). A similar view is applied to gravity to promote the search of a more fundamental theory, which is renormalizable or finite (in the perturbative sense) and reduces to general relativity at low energies. From this perspective it is argued that the quantization of general relativity is a hopeless attempt to quantize a theory that does not contain the fundamental degrees of freedom.
These arguments, based on backgrounddependent concepts, seem, at the very least, questionable in the case of gravity. Although one should expect the notion of a background geometry to be useful in certain semiclassical situations, the assumption that such structure exists all the way down to the Planck scale is inconsistent with what we know about gravity and quantum mechanics. General considerations indicate that standard notions of space and time are expected to fail near the Planck scale ℓ_{ p }.^{2} In the field of LQG, people usually tend to interpret the severe divergences of perturbative quantum gravity as an indication of the inconsistency of the separation of degrees of freedom in Eq. (1). According to concrete results in LQG the nature of spacetime is very different from the classical notion in quantum gravity. The treatment that uses Eq. (1) as the starting point is assuming a welldefined notion of background geometry at all scales, which directly contradicts these results.
It is possible that new degrees of freedom would become important at more fundamental scales. It is also possible that including these degrees of freedom might be very important for the consistency of the theory of quantum gravity. However, there is a constraint that seems hardly avoidable: if we want to get a quantum theory that reproduces gravity in the semiclassical limit, we should have a backgroundindependent formalism. In LQG one stresses this viewpoint. The hope is that learning how to define quantum field theory in the absence of a background is a key ingredient in a recipe for quantum gravity.
One of the achievements of the background independent formulation of LQG is the discovered intrinsic discreteness of quantum geometry. Geometric operators have discrete spectra yielding a physical mechanism for the cutoff of UV degrees of freedom around the Planck scale. In this way LQG is free of UV divergences. Is this a complete answer to the nonrenormalizability problem of gravity mentioned above? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is in the negative at this stage. The reason is that the true answer to the question of renormalizabity or not renormalizability is not in the presence of divergences but in the degree of intrinsic ambiguity of the quantization recipe applied to a field theory.
In standard background dependent quantum field theories, in order to avoid UV divergences one has to provide a regularization prescription (e.g., an UV cutoff, dimensional regularization, point splitting, etc.). Removing the regulator is a subtle task involving the tuning of certain terms in the Lagrangian (counterterms) that ensure finite results when the regulator is removed. In fact by taking special care in the mathematical definition of the products of distributions at the same point, in good cases, one can provide a definition of the quantum theory, which is completely free of UV divergences [171] (see also [343, 224, 225]). However, any of these regularization procedures is intrinsically ambiguous. The dimension of the parameter space of ambiguities depends on the structure of the theory. The right theory must be fixed by comparing predictions with observations (by the renormalization conditions). In loop quantum gravity there is strong indications that the mathematical framework of the theory provides a regularization of divergences. It remains to settle the crucial issue of how to fix the associated ambiguities.
According to the previous discussion, ambiguities associated with the UV regularization allow for the classification of theories as renormalizable or nonrenormalizable quantum field theories. In a renormalizable theory such as QED there are finitely many ambiguities, which can be fixed by a finite number of renormalization conditions, i.e., one selects the suitable theory by appropriate tuning of the ambiguity parameters in order to match observations. In a nonrenormalizable theory (e.g., perturbative quantum gravity) the situation is similar except for the fact that there are infinitely many parameters to be fixed by renormalization conditions. As the latter must be specified by observations, a nonrenormalizable theory has very limited predictive power. In the case of gravity there is evidence indicating that the theory might be nonperturbatively renormalizable coming from the investigations of non trivial fix points of the renormalization group flow in truncated models (see [317] and references therein).
Similar ambiguities are present in LQG; they appear in the regularization of the constraints in the canonical formulation [303]. These ambiguities are also present in the spinfoam formulation, which is the central subject of this review. The simple dimensional argument given for YangMills theory is no longer valid in the case of gravity, and a full dynamical investigation of their effect in physical predictions must be investigated. The spinfoam approach is best suited for getting the necessary insights into this important question.
3 Why Spin Foams?
We now provide the basic motivation for the study and definition of spin foams. We present this motivation from the perspective of the canonical quantization approach known as loop quantum gravity (see [321, 359, 35]). In such context, spin foams appear as the natural tool for studying the dynamics of the canonicallydefined quantum theory from a covariant perspective. Therefore, in order to introduce the spinfoam approach, it is convenient to start with a short introduction of the quantum canonical formulation.
3.1 Loop quantum gravity
Loop quantum gravity is an attempt to define a quantization of gravity paying special attention to the conceptual lessons of general relativity. The theory is explicitly formulated in a backgroundindependent, and therefore, nonperturbative fashion. The theory is based on the Hamiltonian (or canonical) quantization of general relativity in terms of variables that are different from the standard metric variables. In terms of these variables, general relativity is cast into the form of a background independent SU(2) gauge theory whose phase space structure is similar in various ways to that of SU(2) YangMills theory (the key difference being the absence of any background metric structure). The main prediction of LQG is the discreteness [344] of the spectrum of geometrical operators such as area and volume. The discreteness becomes important at the Planck scale, while the spectrum of geometric operators crowds very rapidly at ‘low energy scales’ (large geometries). This property of the spectrum of geometric operators is consistent with the smooth spacetime picture of classical general relativity.
Thus, from the perspective of LQG, it is not surprising that perturbative approaches would lead to inconsistencies. In splitting the gravitational field degrees of freedom as in Eq. (1), one is assuming the existence of a background geometry, which is smooth all the way down to the Planck scale. As we consider contributions from ‘higher energies’, this assumption is increasingly inconsistent with the fundamental structure discovered in the nonperturbative treatment. However, despite the many achievements of LQG, there remain important issues to be addressed. At the heart of the completion of the definition of the theory, the clearcut definition of quantum dynamics remains open. The spinfoam approach is one of the main avenues to exploring this problem.
The background independence of general relativity implies that the canonical formulation of the field theory is that of a gauge theory with diffeomorphism as part of the gauge group. LQG is constructed by quantizing a phasespace formulation of general relativity in terms of SU(2) connection variables. This introduces an extra SU(2) gauge symmetry group. The presence of gauge symmetries implies the existence of relations among phase space variables — defined on a spacelike initialvalue hypersurface — known as constraints. These constraints define the Poisson algebra of infinitesimal generators of gauge transformations. There are three local constraints G^{ i } — the Gauss constraints — generating SU(2) gauge transformations, three local constraints V_{ a } — the vector constraints — generating three dimensional diffeomorphisms of the initial spacelike hypersurface, and finally a scalar local constraint S related to the remaining gauge symmetry related to the fourdiffeomorphism symmetry of the Lagrangian formulation.
The canonical quantization of systems with gauge symmetries is often called the Dirac program. The Dirac program [143, 223] applied to the quantization of general relativity in connection variables leads to the LQG approach.
The first step in the recipe consists in finding a representation of the phasespace variables of the theory as operators in a kinematical Hilbert space \({\mathcal H_{{\rm{kin}}}}\) satisfying the standard commutation relations, i.e., {,} → −i/ħ[,]. This step has been successfully completed in LQG. One chooses the polarization where the SU(2) connection is the configuration variable. Unconstrained phasespace variables are replaced by the holonomyflux algebra, which is represented by associated operators in a kinematical Hilbert space of suitable functionals of the generalizedconnection ψ[A], which are square integrable with respect to the AshtekarLewandowski [32] (gauge invariant and diffeomorphism invariant) measure dμ_{AL}[A]. A key input is the use of the holonomyflux algebra as a starting point for quantization. Many peculiar properties of LQG follow from this choice, motivated by having an observable algebra leading to simple (diffeomorphism covariant) Poisson brackets.^{3}
The next step is to promote the constraints to (selfadjoint) operators in \({\mathcal H_{{\rm{kin}}}}\) in such a way that the classical Poisson algebra is respected by the appropriate quantum commutator algebra (if this last part is achieved the quantization is said to be nonanomalous). In the case of gravity one must quantize the seven constraints G_{ i }, V_{ a }, and S. Both the Gauss constraint and (finite) diffeomorphism transformations have a natural (unitary) action on states on \({\mathcal H_{{\rm{kin}}}}\) For that reason the quantization (and subsequent solution) is rather direct. The quantization of the scalar constraint presents difficulties. Concrete quantizations producing welldefined operators are available: no UV divergences are encountered by these proposals; the fundamental discreteness of quantum geometry in LQG plays the role of physical regulator at the Planck scale [354]. Despite this partial success, problems partly related to special features of the constraint algebra (fielddependent structure constant) and partly related to the nonexistence of an infinitesimal generator of diffeomorphism at the quantum level make the issue of whether any of the proposed quantizations of the constraints are anomalyfree a difficult open question.
Finally, physical interpretation necessitates the definition of a (complete) set of gaugeinvariant observables, i.e., operators commuting with the constraints. They represent the questions that are well posed in a generally covariant quantum theory. Already in classical gravity the construction of gaugeindependent quantities is a subtle issue. At the present stage of the approach, physical observables are explicitly known only in some special cases. However, understanding the set of physical observables is intimately related to the problem of characterizing the solutions of the scalar constraint described before.
The spinfoam approach was constructed as a means to tackle the difficult question of dynamics and the definition of observable quantities in LQG. It is an attempt to address the difficulties associated with the last three steps of the list given above by rethinking the problem of dynamics from a pathintegral covariant perspective. So we first need to briefly discuss the special features of the path integral formulation in the case of generallycovariant systems.
3.2 The path integral for generally covariant systems
In general relativity the absence of a preferred notion of time implies that the Hamiltonian of gravity is a linear combination of constraints. This means that Hamilton equations cannot be interpreted as time evolution and rather correspond to motion along gauge orbits of general relativity. In generallycovariant systems, conventional time evolution is pure gauge: from an initial data satisfying the constraints one recovers a spacetime by selecting a particular oneparameter family of gaugetransformations (in the standard ADM context this amounts to choosing a particular lapse field N(x, t) and shift N^{ a }(x, t)).
From this perspective the notion of spacetime becomes secondary and the dynamical interpretation of the theory seems problematic (in the quantum theory this is referred to as the problem of time). A reason for this is the central role played by the spacetime representation of classical gravity solutions, which is useful only if it can be interpreted via the notion of test observers (or more generally test fields).^{4} Due to the fact that this idealization is a good approximation to the (classical) process of observation, the notion of spacetime is a useful concept only in classical gravity.
As emphasized by Einstein with his hole argument (see [321] for a modern explanation) only the information in relational statements (independent of any spacetime representation) have physical meaning. In classical gravity it remains useful to have a spacetime representation when dealing with idealized test observers. For instance, to solve the geodesic equation and then ask diffinvariantquestions such as: what is the proper time elapsed on particle 1 between two successive crossings with particle 2? However, already in the classical theory the advantage of the spacetime picture becomes, by far, less clear if the test particles are replaced by real objects coupling to the gravitational field.^{5}
The possibility of using the notion of test observers and test fields to construct our interpretative framework is no longer available in quantum gravity. At the Planck scale (ℓ_{ p }) the quantum fluctuations of the gravitational field become so important that there is no way (not even in principle^{6}) to make observations without affecting the gravitational field. The notion of test fields and test observer is lost and with it the usual spacetime representation. In this context there cannot be any, a priori, notion of time and hence no notion of spacetime is possible at the fundamental level. A spacetime picture would only arise in the semiclassical regime with the identification of some subsystems that approximate the notion of test observers.
Then what is the meaning of the path integral in such a backgroundindependent context? The previous discussion rules out the conventional interpretation of the path integral. There is no meaningful notion of transition amplitude between states at different times t_{1} > t_{0} or equivalently a notion of “unitary time evolution” represented by an operator U(t_{1} − t_{0}). Nevertheless, a path integral representation of generally covariant systems exists and arises as a tool for implementing the constraints in the quantum theory as we argue below.
3.3 A brief history of spin foams in four dimensions
In this section, we briefly describe the various spinfoam models for quantum gravity in the literature (for previous reviews on spin foams, see [293, 39, 302, 301, 248, 20]).
3.3.1 The Reisenberger model
3.3.2 The FreidelKrasnov prescription
The idea of using such generating functional techniques has regained interest in the context of the McDowellMansouri formulation of general relativity [259]. The interest of the latter formulation is that it provides an action of gravity that is given by a BF term plus a genuine potential term instead of constraints. The implementation of the spinfoam quantization of such a formulation is investigated in [349, 346, 189]; see also [332] for an important remark on the approach. More recently similar techniques have been used in [272].
3.3.3 The Iwasaki model
3.3.4 The BarrettCrane model
The appealing feature of the previous models is the clear connection to LQG, since they are defined directly using the selfdual formulation of gravity (boundary states are SU(2)spin networks). The drawback is the lack of closed simple expressions for the amplitudes, which complicates their analysis. However, there is a simple model that can be obtained as a systematic quantization of the simplicial SO(4) Plebanski’s action. This model was introduced by Barrett and Crane in [59] and further motivated by Baez in [38]. The basic idea behind the definition was that of the quantum tetrahedron introduced by Barbieri in [58] and generalized to 4D in [40]. The beauty of the model resides in its remarkable simplicity. This has stimulated a great deal of explorations and produced many interesting results.
3.3.5 MarkopoulouSmolin causal spin networks
3.3.6 GambiniPullin model
Gambini and Pullin [193] introduced a very simple model obtained by modification of the BF theory skein relations. As we argued in Section 14, skein relations defining the physical Hilbert space of BF theory are implied by the spinfoam transition amplitudes. These relations reduce the large kinematical Hilbert space of BF theory (analogous to that of quantum gravity) to a physical Hilbert space corresponding to the quantization of a finite number of degrees of freedom. Gambini and Pullin define a model by modifying these amplitudes so that some of the skein relations are now forbidden. This simple modification frees local excitations of a field theory. A remarkable feature is that the corresponding physical states are (in a certain sense) solutions to various regularizations of the scalar constraint for (Riemannian) LQG. The fact that physical states of BF theory solve the scalar constraint is well known [353], since roughly F(A) = 0 implies EEF(A) = 0. The situation here is of a similar nature, and — as the authors argue — one should interpret this result as an indication that some ‘degenerate’ sector of quantum gravity might be represented by this model. The definition of this spinfoam model is not explicit since the theory is directly defined by the physical skein relations.
3.3.7 CapovillaDellJacobson theory on the lattice
3.3.8 The EnglePereiraRovelliLivine (EPRL)
A modification of the BarrettCrane model was recently introduced in [168, 169] and extended for arbitrary Immirzi parameter in [164]. The basic idea was to relax the imposition of the Plebanski constraints that reduce BF theory to general relativity in the quantum theory. The anomalous commutation relations of the B^{10} field in the quantum theory imply that the commutation of the Plebanski constraints does not define a closed algebra. Imposing the constraints strongly, as in the BarrettCrane model, implies the imposition of additional conditions that are not present in the classical theory. There is a natural way to relax the constraints and this leads to a simple model that has a more clear relationship with the canonical picture provided by LQG. The detailed description of this model will be the main subject of the following discussion of spinfoam models for general relativity in 4 dimensions.
3.3.9 FreidelKrasnov (FK)
A very similar set of models were independently introduced by Freidel and Krasnov in [182]. Indeed, these models are arguably the same as the EPRL model for a suitable range of the Immirzi parameter (the vertex amplitudes coincide for γ < 1 as we will discuss in the sequel). However, the logic used in the derivation is different. The idea is to express the BF path integral in terms of the coherent state representation, in order to impose the Plebanski constraints semiclassically in terms of expectation values. The coherent intertwiner basis relevant for the definition of spin foams and the 4D quantum gravity amplitude was also derived by Livine and Speziale in [254]. Freidel and Krasnov introduced^{11} the linear version of the Plebanski constraints that later used in order to provide a simpler derivation and generalization of the EPRL model to arbitrary Immirzi parameter.
The last two models are going to be the subject of most of our discussions in what follows. They are the most developed candidates in four dimensions and we will review their properties in detail in the following part.
4 Preliminaries: LQG and the canonical quantization of fourdimensional gravity
In this part, we briefly review the basic results of the LQG approach to the canonical quantization of gravity. This part is relevant for the interpretation of the new spinfoam models presented in Part III. The reader interested in the canonical formulation of general relativity in terms of connection variables is referred to [321, 359, 24] and [35]. For a pedagogical introduction, see [302].
In the following Section 3, we review the canonical analysis of general relativity formulated as a constrained BF theory, i.e., in the Plebanski formulation [307]. The study is done in terms of the variables that, on the one hand, allow for the closest comparison with the discrete variables used in the spinfoam approach, while, on the other hand, allow for the introduction of the basic elements of the canonical quantization program of LQG. The latter being, in my view, the clearest possible setting in which spin foams are to be interpreted.
In Section 4 we present the basic elements of LQG. In Section 5 we give a short description of the spinfoam representation of the path integral of gravity. Concrete realizations of this will be reviewed in 4D in Part III and in 3D in Part IV.
5 Classical General Relativity in Connection Variables
The Hamiltonian analysis of general relativity is the basic starting point for canonical quantization. LQG and spin foams are based on the possibility of formulating Hamiltonian general relativity in terms of YangMillslike connection variables. The primitive ancestor of these formulations is Ashtekar’s selfdual complex connection formulation of general relativity [23]. Modern LQG and spin foams are based on a certain relative of these variables, that is often referred to as AshtekarBarbero variables [56, 227]. These variables can be introduced directly by means of a canonical transformation of the phase space of the Palatini formulation of general relativity [356] or can be derived directly from the canonical analysis of the Holst action for general relativity [226]. More simply, the new variables also follow from the addition of the NiehYan topological invariant to the Palatini action [131]. The AshtekarBarbero connection parametrization of the phase space of general relativity also arises naturally from the consideration of the most general diffeomorphisminvariant action principle that can be written for the field content of the Palatini firstorder formulation [318] (i.e., a Lorentz connection \(\omega _a^{IJ} =  \omega _a^{IJ}\) and a cotetrad \(e_a^I\) with a spacetime indeces and I, J = 0, 1, 2, 3 internal Lorentz indeces).
The new spinfoam models are based on Plebanski’s realization that one can obtain classical general relativity by suitably constraining the variations of the B field in the simple kind of topological theory called BF theory [307]. For that reason, the best suited action principle of gravity for the study of the new spinfoam models corresponds to one of the Plebanski type. However, the details of such a treatment are only partially presented in the literature (see, for instance, [205], [368]). The material of the following Section 3.1 is meant to fill this void, largely inspired by [276, 365] for the canonical formulation of constrained BF theory (see also [18]). As we show below, the Hamiltonian analysis of such a formulation of gravity is at the heart of the replacement of the Plebanski quadratic constraints by linear ones that has been so useful in the definition of the new vertex amplitudes [182].
5.1 Gravity as constrained BF theory
In order to keep the presentation simple (and not to bother with the ± signs appearing in dealing with the raising and lowering of Lorentz indices), we present here the Hamiltonian formulation of Riemannian gravity. This is enough to illustrate the algebraic structures that are necessary in the present context.^{12}
5.2 Canonical analysis
The constraint (49) coincides with the standard Gauss law of YangMills theory (e.g., \(\overrightarrow \nabla \cdot \overrightarrow E = 0\) in electromagnetism). In fact, if we ignore (47) and (48), the phase space variables (\(A_a^i,E_j^b\)) together with the Gauss law (49) characterize the physical phase space of an SU(2)^{14} YangMills (YM) theory. The gauge field is given by the connection \(A_a^i\) and its conjugate momentum is the electric field \(E_j^b\). YangMills theory is a theory defined on a background spacetime geometry. Dynamics in such a theory is described by a nonvanishing Hamiltonian — the Hamiltonian density of YM theory being \({\mathcal H} = E_a^iE_i^a + B_a^iB_i^a\). General relativity is a generally covariant theory and coordinate time plays no physical role. The Hamiltonian is a linear combination of constraints.^{15} Dynamics is encoded in the constraint equations (47), (48), and (49). In this sense we can regard general relativity in the new variables as a background independent relative of SU(2) YangMills theory. We will see in the sequel that the close similarity between these theories will allow for the implementation of techniques that are very natural in the context of YM theory.
To conclude this section, let us point out that the real connection formulation of general relativity presented here is a peculiar property of four dimensions due to the special property (45). Nevertheless, there are means to obtaining real connection formulations for gravity and supergravity in higher dimensions as recently shown by Thiemann and collaborators [83, 81, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 82].
5.2.1 Constraints algebra
5.3 Geometric interpretation of the new variables
6 Loop Quantum Gravity and Quantum Geometry in a Nutshell
LQG is a proposal for the implementation of the quantization program established in the 1960s by Dirac, Wheeler, and DeWitt, among others (for recent reviews see [35, 356, 323]). The technical difficulties of Wheeler’s ‘geometrodynamics’ are circumvented by the use of connection variables instead of metrics [24, 23, 56]. At the kinematical level, the formulation is similar to that of standard gauge theories. However, the fundamental difference is the absence of any nondynamical background field in the theory.
The configuration variable is an SU(2)connection \(A_a^i\) on a 3manifold Σ representing space. The canonical momenta are given by the densitized triad \(E_i^a\). The latter encode the (fully dynamical) Riemannian geometry of Σ and are the analog of the ‘electric fields’ of YangMills theory.
The solution of the vector constraint is more subtle [32]. One uses groupaveraging techniques together with the diffeomorphism invariance of the kinematical inner product in \({{\mathcal H}}\). The diffeomorphism constraint does not exist in the quantum theory. Only finite diffeomorphisms can be defined. As a result, solutions (diffeomorphisminvariant states) correspond to generalized states. These are not in \({{\mathcal H}}\) but are elements of the topological dual Cyl*.^{18} However, the intuitive idea is quite simple: solutions to the vector constraint are given by equivalence classes of spinnetwork states up to diffeomorphism. Two spinnetwork states are considered equivalent if their underlying graphs can be deformed into each other by the action of a diffeomorphism.
This can be regarded as an indication that the smooth spinnetwork category could be replaced by something that is more combinatorial in nature so that diffeomorphism invariance becomes a derived property of the classical limit. LQG has been modified along these lines by replacing the smooth manifold structure of the standard theory by the weaker concept of piecewise linear manifold [370]. In this context, graphs defining spinnetwork states can be completely characterized using the combinatorics of cellular decompositions of space. Only a discrete analog of the diffeomorphism symmetry survives, which can be dealt with in a fully combinatorial manner. We will take this point of view when we introduce the notion of spin foam in Section 5.
6.1 Quantum geometry
The generalized states described above solve all of the constraints (64) but the scalar constraint. They are regarded as quantum states of the Riemannian geometry on Σ. They define the kinematical sector of the theory known as quantum geometry.
The spectrum of the volume operator is also discrete [344, 329, 258, 34]. If we define the volume operator \({\hat V_\sigma}(E)\) of a 3dimensional region σ ⊂ Σ, then nonvanishing eigenstates are given by spinnetworks containing nvalent nodes in σ for n > 3. Volume is concentrated in nodes. For new results on the volume see [72, 71]. Other geometric quantities have been considered in the quantization; in particular, in studies of coupling LQG to matter [354], the introduction of a metric operator is necessary. For another proposal of the length operator see [70].
6.2 Quantum dynamics
From this perspective, there has been growing interest in approaching the problem of dynamics by defining a covariant formulation of quantum gravity. The idea is that (as in the QFT case) one can keep manifest 4dimensional covariance in the path integral formulation. The spinfoam approach is an attempt to define the path integral quantization of gravity using what we have learned from LQG.
In standard quantum mechanics, path integrals provide the solution of dynamics as a device to compute the timeevolution operator. Similarly, in the generallycovariant context, it provides a tool to find solutions to the constraint equations (this has been emphasized formally in various places: in the case of gravity see, for example, [212]; for a detailed discussion of this in the context of quantum mechanics see [316]). Recall discussion of Section 2.2.
7 Spin Foams and the Path Integral for Gravity in a Nutshell
There are various difficulties associated with (73). Technically there is the problem of defining the functional integration over [g] on the RHS. This is partially because of the difficulties in defining infinite dimensional functional integration beyond the perturbative framework. In addition, there is the issue of having to deal with the space \(G/Diff({\mathcal M})\), i.e., how to characterize the diffeomorphism invariant information in the metric. This gauge problem (3diffeomorphisms) is also present in the definition of the boundary data. There is no welldefined notion of kinematical state ∣[q_{ ab }]〉 as the notion of kinematical Hilbert space in standard metric variables has never been defined.
The backgroundindependent character of spin foams is manifest. The 2complex can be thought of as representing ‘spacetime’ while the boundary graphs represent ‘space’. They do not carry any geometrical information in contrast with the standard concept of a lattice. Geometry is encoded in the spin labellings, which represent the degrees of freedom of the gravitational field.
In standard quantum mechanics the path integral is used to compute the matrix elements of the evolution operator U(t). In this way, it provides the solution for dynamics since for any kinematical state Ψ the state U(t)Ψ is a solution to Schrödinger’s equation. Analogously, in a generallycovariant theory the path integral provides a device for constructing solutions to the quantum constraints. Transition amplitudes represent the matrix elements of the generalized ‘projection’ operator P (i.e., 〈s, s’〉_{phys} = 〈sP, s’〉, recall the general discussion of Sections 2.2) such that PΨ is a physical state for any kinematical state Ψ. As in the case of the vector constraint, the solutions of the scalar constraint correspond to distributional states (zero is in the continuum part of its spectrum). Therefore, \({\mathcal H_{{\rm{phys}}}}\) is not a proper subspace of \({\mathcal H}\) and the operator P is not a projector (P^{2} is ill defined).^{23} In Section 14 we give an explicit example of this construction.
8 The new spinfoam models for fourdimensional gravity
In this part we study the nonperturbative quantization of fourdimensional general relativity from the spinfoam perspective. Together with Part II, this part of the article forms a selfcontained body, that can be studied completely independently from the rest of the content of this review.
The new spinfoam models for fourdimensional quantum gravity are introduced from a perspective that, in some aspects, is independent from the one taken in the original works related to the EPRL model [164, 169, 168], as well as the one used in the definition of the FK models [182]. Our starting point is the quantization of BF theory in the pathintegral formulation, which leads to a welldefined unambiguous state sum model or topological field theory (see Section 6). The space of the histories of the BF theory path integral will be constrained to satisfy the linear simplicity constraints that reduce BF theory to gravity.
In Section 6 we review the quantization of BF theory and its spinfoam representation. In Section 7 we present the Riemannian EPRL model together with various mathematical tools that will be useful in the following sections. In Section 8 the Lorentzian version of the EPRL model is reviewed. In Section 9 we present the FK model. In Section 10 we recall the definition of the BarrettCrane model.
Finally, there are various review works in the literature [326, 325] where the new models are introduced from a rather minimalistic perspective by simply postulating the defining amplitudes and deriving their relation to gravity a posteriori. Such choice is indeed quite advantageous if the novel simplicity of the new models is to be emphasized. In this article we have chosen a complementary moreconstructive view. This strategy allows for a systematic presentation of the ingredients that go into the construction of the new models from the perspective of continuum general relativity and BF theory. A possible drawback of this choice is that most of the simplicial geometry intuitions used in other derivations are almost completely avoided. We hope that this loss will be compensated by the potential advantages of an alternative viewpoint. For another recent review see [16].
9 Spinfoam Quantization of BF Theory
Remark: In the special case G = SU(2) and d = 3, BF theory is (Riemannian) general relativity, where the field \({\rm{B}}_a^i\) is given by the cotetrad frames \(e_a^i\) of general relativity in the firstorder formalism. This simple example will be studied in more detail in Section 14. Another case of interest is G = Spin(4) and d = 4 as it will provide the basis for the construction of the spinfoam models for fourdimensional quantum (Riemannian) general relativity studied in Sections 7, 8, 9 and 10. The relationship with general relativity stems from the fact that constraining the field \({\rm{B}}_{ab}^{IJ} = {\epsilon ^{IJ}}_{KL}e_a^Ke_b^L\) in the action (76) — where \(e_a^I\) is interpreted as the tetrad coframe — produces the action of general relativity in four dimensions. In the physicallyrelevant cases of the above examples one needs to deal with noncompact groups — G = SL(2, ℝ) and G = SL(2, ℂ), respectively. The noncompactness of the gauge group leads to certain infrared divergences of transition amplitudes (infinite volume factors). We avoid such complications at this stage and concentrate on the compact G case. The infinitevolume divergences will be solved in the particular case of interest that is the spinfoam model for fourdimensional Lorentzian gravity, whose construction is reviewed in Section 8.
There is a nice graphical representation of the partition function of BF theory that will be very useful for some calculations. On the one hand, using this graphical notation one can easily prove the discretization independence of the BF amplitudes. On the other hand, this graphical notation will simplify the presentation of the new spinfoam models of quantum gravity that will be considered in the following sections. This useful notation was introduced by Oeckl [286, 291] and used in [206] to give a general proof of the discretization independence of the BF partition function and the TuraevViro invariants for their definition on general cellular decompositions.
9.1 Special cases
We end this section with some simple examples of BF theory that will be useful in following applications.
9.1.1 SU(2) BF theory in 2D: the simplest topological model
9.1.1.1 Extra remarks on twodimensional BF theory
Twodimensional BF theory has been used as the basic theory in an attempt to dehne a manifoldindependent model of QFT in [252]. It is also related to gravity in two dimensions in two ways: on the one hand it is equivalent to the JackiwTeitelboim model [232, 351]; on the other hand, it is related to usual 2D gravity via constraints in a way similar to the one exploited in four dimensions (see Section 7). The first relationship has been used in the canonical quantization of the JackiwTeitelboim model in [126]. The second relationship has been explored in [295].
9.1.2 SU(2) BF theory and 3D Riemannian gravity
9.1.2.1 Extra remarks on three dimensional BF theory
Three dimensional BF theory and the spinfoam quantization presented above is intimately related to classical and quantum gravity in three dimensions (for a classic reference see [112]). We will discuss this relationship in detail in Part IV. The state sum as presented above matches the quantum amplitudes first proposed by Ponzano and Regge in the 1960s based on their discovery of the asymptotic expressions of the 6j symbols [309] and is often referred to as the PonzanoRegge model. Divergences in the above formal expression require regularization. We will see in Part IV that natural regularizations are available and that the model is well defined [67, 281, 186]. For a detailed study of the divergence structure of the model see [100, 101, 102, 103]. The quantum deformed version of the above amplitudes lead to the TuraevViro model [364], which is expected to correspond to the quantization of threedimensional Riemannian gravity in the presence of a nonvanishing positive cosmological constant. For the definition of observables in the latter context, as well as in the fourdimensional analog see [66].
The topological character of BF theory can be preserved by the coupling of the theory with topological defects that play the role of point particles. In the spinfoam literature, this has been considered form the canonical perspective in [279, 280] and from the covariant perspective extensively by Freidel and Louapre [188]. These theories have been shown by Freidel and Livine to be dual, in a suitable sense, to certain noncommutative fields theories in three dimensions [185, 184].
Concerning coupling BF theory with nontopological matter, see [172, 155] for the case of fermionic matter, and [347] for gauge fields. A more radical perspective for the definition of matter in 3D gravity is taken in [173]. For threedimensional supersymmetric BF theory models, see [250, 36].
Recursion relations for the 6j vertex amplitudes have been investigated in [98, 157]. They provide a tool for studying dynamics in spin foams of 3D gravity and might be useful in higher dimensions [99].
9.1.3 SU(2) BF theory: The Ooguri model
9.1.4 SU(2)×SU(2) BF theory: a starting point for 4D Riemannian gravity
9.1.4.1 Extra remarks on fourdimensional BF theory
The state sum (86) is generically divergent (due to the gauge freedom analogous to (78)). A regularized version defined in terms of SU_{ q }(2) × SU_{ q }(2) was introduced by Crane and Yetter [130, 129]. As in three dimensions, if an appropriate regularization of bubble divergences is provided, (86) is topologically invariant and the spinfoam path integral is discretization independent.
As in the threedimensional case, BF theory in any dimensions can be coupled to topological defects [41]. In the fourdimensional case, defects are stringlike [175] and can carry extra degrees of freedom such as topological YangMills fields [275]. The possibility that quantum gravity could be defined directly from these simple kinds of topological theories has also been considered outside spin foams [350] (for which the UV problem described in the introduction is absent); this is attractive and should, in my view, be considered further.
It is also possible to introduce onedimensional particles in fourdimensional BF theory and gravity as shown in [180].
9.2 The coherentstates representation
In this section we introduce the coherentstate representation of the SU(2) and Spin(4) path integral of BF theory. This will be particularly important for the models defined by Freidel and Krasnov in [182], which we will address in Section 9, as well as in the semiclassical analysis of the new models reported in Section 13. The relevance of such representation for spin foams was first emphasized by Livine and Speziale in [254].
9.2.1 Coherent states
Coherent states associated with the representation theory of a compact group have been studied by Thiemann and collaborators [357, 355, 342, 360, 361, 362, 358, 50, 51, 177]; see also [76]. Their importance for the new spinfoam models was put forward by Livine and Speziale in [254], where the emphasis is put on coherent states of intertwiners or the quantum tetrahedron (see also [123]). Here we follow the presentation of [182].
9.2.2 Spin(4) BF theory: amplitudes in the coherent state basis
10 The Riemannian EPRL Model
In this section we introduce the Riemannian version of the EnglePereiraRovelliLivine (EPRL) [168, 164]. The section is organized as follows. The relevant Spin(4) representation theory is introduced in Section 7.1. In Section 7.2 we present and discuss the linear simplicity constraints — classically equivalent to the Plebanski constraints — and discuss their implementation in the quantum theory. In Section 7.3 we introduce the EPRL model of Riemannian gravity. In Section 7.4 we prove the validity of the quadratic Plebanski constraints — reducing BF theory to general relativity — directly in the spinfoam representation. In Section 7.5 we discuss a certain modification of the EPRL model. In Section 7.6 we present the coherent state representation of the EPRL model, which is essential for the semiclassical analysis of Section 13. The material of this section will also allow us to describe the construction of the closely related (although derived from a different logic) Riemannian FK constructed in [182]. The idea that linear simplicity constraints are more convenient for dealing with the constraints that reduce BF theory to gravity was pointed out by Freidel and Krasnov in this last reference. We have shown in Part II that they arise directly from the canonical analysis of the Plebanski formulation of gravity.
10.1 Representation theory of Spin(4) and the canonical basis
10.2 The linear simplicity constraints
 1.
The first is to take γ = ±1, in which case the constraint (186) can be imposed strongly. More precisely, for the plus sign it reduces to the condition \(J_{f +}^i = 0\) (or equivalently for the other sign \(J_{f }^i = 0\)), which amounts to setting all the left quantum numbers in the BF statesum for the group Spin(4) to zero. It is immediate to see that if we impose such restriction on the Spin(4) BF amplitude (106) it simply reduces to the amplitude (102) defining SU(2) BF theory. Thus, this possibility does not lead to an acceptable model for quantum gravity in 4D.
 2.
The second possibility is to work in the sector where \(L_f^i = 0\). We will show later that this corresponds to the famous BarretCrane model [59] with the various limitations discussed in Section 10.
10.3 On the weak imposition of the linear simplicity constraints
We now discuss the weak imposition of the linear simplicity constraints in the quantum framework. There are essentially three views in the literature: two of them, discussed below, directly concerns the way the EPRL model has usually been introduced. The third possibility is the semiclassical view based on the coherentstate representation leading to the FK model (see Section 9).
10.3.1 Riemannian model: The GuptaBleuler criterion
 1.Case γ < 1: Following [142], in this case one restricts the Spin(4) representations towhich amounts to choosing the maximum weight component j = j^{+} + j^{−} in the expansion (182). Simple algebra shows that condition (188) is met. There are indeed other solutions [140] of the GuptaBleuler criterion in this case.$${j^ \pm} = (1 \pm \gamma){j \over 2},$$(130)
 2.
10.3.2 Riemannian model: The Masterconstraint criterion
 1.Case γ < 1: In this case the minimum eigenvalue is obtained fori.e., one has$${j^ \pm} = (1 \pm \gamma)j/2,$$(133)where m_{ j } = ℏ^{2}(1 − γ^{2})j, where we have restored the explicit dependence on ℏ so that it is apparent that the selected eigenvalue vanishes in the semiclassical limit ℏ → 0 and k → ∞ with ℏk = constant.$${m_{{j^ \pm},j}} \geq {m_j},$$
 2.Case γ > 1: In this case, the minimum eigenvalue is obtained forfor which m_{ j } = ℏ^{2}(γ^{2} − 1)j, and thus vanishes in the semiclassical limit ℏ → 0 and k → ∞ with ℏk = constant.$${j^ \pm} = (\gamma \pm 1)j/2,$$(134)
10.3.3 Riemannian model: Restrictions on the Immirzi parameter
 1.
Case γ < 1: If one wants the spin j ∈ ℕ/2 to be arbitrary, then the only possibilities are γ = 0 or γ = 1. Rational γ values would restrict the spins j to a subclass in ℕ/2. This restriction is not natural from the viewpoint of LQG. Its relevance, if any, remains mysterious at this stage.
 2.
Case γ > 1: In this case, γ ∈ ℕ would allow any j ∈ ℕ/2. Rational choices of γ have the same effect as in the previous case.
10.3.4 Riemannian model: Overview of the solutions of the linear simplicity constraints
 1.Case γ < 1:$${j^ \pm} = (1 + \gamma)j/2,$$(137)
 2.Case γ > 1:$${j^ \pm} = (\gamma \pm 1)j/2,$$(138)
10.4 Presentation of the EPRL amplitude
Here we complete the definition of the EPRL models by imposing the linear constraints on the BF amplitudes constructed in Section 6. We will also show that the pathintegral expectation value of the Plebanski constraints (25), as well as their fluctuations, vanish in a suitable semiclassical sense. This shows that the EPRL model can be considered as a lattice definition of quantumgravity theory.
10.4.1 The spinfoam representation of the EPRL amplitude
10.5 Proof of validity of the Plebanski constraints
In this section, we prove that the quadratic constraints are satisfied in the sense that their path integral expectation value and fluctuation vanish in the appropriate semiclassical limit.
10.5.1 The dual version of the constraints
10.5.2 The path integral expectation value of the Plebanski constraints
Here we prove that the Plebanski constraints are satisfied by the EPRL amplitudes in the path integral expectation value sense.
10.5.2.1 The triangle constraints:
10.5.2.2 The tetrahedra constraints:
10.5.2.3 The 4simplex constraints
10.6 Modifications of the EPRL model
10.6.1 P_{EPRL} is not a projector
 1.From (148) one can immediately obtain the following expression for the EPRL amplitudeThis expression has the formal structure of expression (88) for BF theory. However, the formal similarity is broken by the fact that \(P_{{\rm{EPRL}}}^e({j_1}, \cdots, {j_4})\) is not a projection operator. From the formal perspective, the possibility that the amplitudes be defined in terms of a network of projectors (as in BF theory) might provide an interesting structure that might be of relevance in the definition of a discretizationindependent model (see discussion in Part V). On the contrary, the failure of \(P_{{\rm{EPRL}}}^e({j_1}, \cdots, {j_4})\) is not a projector may lead, in my opinion, to difficulties in the limit, where the complex Δ is refined: the increasing of the number of edges might produce either trivial or divergent amplitudes.^{25}$${Z_{{\rm{EPRL}}}}(\Delta) = \sum\limits_{{\rho _f} \in {\mathscr K}} {\prod\limits_{f \in \Delta {\ast}} {{{\rm{d}}_{{\vert}1  \gamma {\vert}{j \over 2}}}{{\rm{d}}_{(1 + \gamma){j \over 2}}}}} \prod\limits_e {P_{{\rm{EPRL}}}^e} ({j_1}, \cdots, {j_4}){.}$$(167)
 2.
Another difficulty associated with \(P_{{\rm{EPRL}}}^e{({j_1}, \cdots, {j_4})^2} \neq P_{{\rm{EPRL}}}^e({j_1}, \cdots, {j_4})\) is the failure of the amplitudes of the EPRL model, as defined here, to be consistent with the abstract notion of spin foams as defined in [38]. This is a point of crucial importance under current discussion in the community. The point is that the cellular decomposition Δ has no physical meaning and is to be interpreted as a subsidiary regulating structure to be removed when computing physical quantities. Spin foams (as defined in Section 5) can fit in different ways on a given Δ, yet any of these different embeddings represent the same physical process (like the same gravitational field in different coordinates). Consistency requires the spinfoam amplitudes to be independent of the embedding, i.e., well defined on the equivalence classes of spin foams as defined by Baez in [38] (the importance of these consistency requirements was emphasized in [90]). The amplitude (167) fails this requirement due to \(P_{{\rm{EPRL}}}^e{({j_1}, \cdots, {j_4})^2} \neq P_{{\rm{EPRL}}}^e({j_1}, \cdots, {j_4})\).
10.6.2 The Warsaw proposal
The advantages of the modified model are important, but a generalization of the above modification of the EPRL model in the Lorentzian case is still lacking. Notice that this modification does not interfere with the results of the semiclassical limit (to leading order) as reviewed in Section 13. The reason is that the matrix elements \(g_{\alpha \beta}^e \rightarrow {\delta _{\alpha \beta}}\) in that limit [1].
10.7 The coherent states representation
We have written the amplitude defining the EPRL model by constraining the state sum of BF theory. For semiclassical studies that we will review in Section 13, it is convenient to express the EPRL amplitude in terms of the coherent states basis. The importance of coherent states in spinfoam models was put forward in [254] and explicitly used to rederive the EPRL model in [255]. The coherent state technology was used by Freidel and Krasnov in [182] to introduce a new kind of spinfoam model for gravity: the FK models. In some cases, the FK model is equivalent to the EPRL model; we will review this in detail in Section 9.
10.7.1 The case of γ < 1
10.7.2 The case of γ > 1
10.8 Some additional remarks
It is important to point out that the commutation relations of basic fields — reflecting the simple algebraic structure of spin(4) — used here are those induced by the canonical analysis of BF theory presented previously. The presence of constraints generally modifies canonical commutation relations in particular in the presence of secondclass constraints. For some investigation of the issue in the context of the EPRL and FK models, see [13]. In [11] it is pointed out that the presence of secondary constraints in the canonical analysis of the Plebanski action should translate into additional constraints in the holonomies of the spinfoam models here considered (see also [12]). From the viewpoint of the GFT formulation, and using the tool of the noncommutative Fourier transform [53], this question has been explored in [54, 55] A possible view is that the simplicity constraints are here imposed for all times and thus secondary constraints should be imposed automatically.
Recently, a nice example has been worked out in three dimensions [202]. In this example, one defines a Plebanskilike field theory consisting of SO(4) BF theory on a threedimensional manifold plus simplicity constraints. The continuum theory is shown, via the canonical analysis, to be equivalent to three dimensional gravity: the analysis is nontrivial — there are firstclass constraints, as well as secondclass constraints, to be taken into account, in analogy with the case of fourdimensional Plebanski action. The quantum simplicity constraints are the analog of the ones in four dimensional models. The difference is that the secondclass constraints required by the condition that simplicity constraints are preserved in time are now simple to impose at the quantum level. The authors show that unless one imposes the secondclass constraints, one does not obtain the state sum model of threedimensional BF theory, i.e., threedimensional spinfoam gravity. A similar example in four dimensions has been analyzed in [14].
There are alternative derivations of the models presented in the previous sections. In particular one can derive them from a strict Lagrangian approach of Plebanski’s action. Such a viewpoint is taken in [92, 91, 97]. The path integral formulation of Plebanski theory using commuting Bfields was studied in [218], where it is shown that, only in the appropriate semiclassical limit the amplitudes coincide with the ones presented in the previous sections (this is just another indication that the construction of the models have a certain semiclassical input; see below). The spinfoam quantization of the Holst formulation of gravity via cubulations was investigated in [52]. The simplicity constraints can also be studied from the perspective of the U(N) formulation of quantum geometry [160, 159, 161], which also has been explored in the Lorentzian sector [156]. Such U(N) treatment is related to previous work, which has been extended to a completely new perspective on quantum geometry with possible advantageous features [104, 257]. For additional discussion on the simplicity constraints, see [149].
11 The Lorentzian EPRL Model: Representation Theory and Simplicity Constraints
In this section we introduce some elements of SL(2, ℂ) representation theory and show how the linearsimplicity constraints are solved in the Lorentzian EPRL model [300, 167, 164].
11.1 Representation theory of SL(2, ℂ) and the canonical basis
11.2 Lorentzian model: the linear simplicity constraints
 1.
The first one is to take γ = ±i, in which case the constraint (186) could, in principle, be imposed strongly. However, the selfdual sector is not present in \({{\mathscr{H}}_{p,k}}\).
 2.
The second possibility is to work in the sector where \(L_e^i = 0\). Where, as in the Riemannian case, it corresponds to the BarretCrane model [60] with the various limitations discussed in Section 10.
11.3 On the weak imposition of the linear simplicity constraints
We now discuss the weak imposition of the linear simplicity constraints in the quantum framework. There are essentially three views in the literature: two of them, discussed below, directly concerns the way the EPRL model has usually been introduced. The third possibility is the semiclassical view based on the coherent state representation leading to the FK model (see Section 9).
11.3.1 Lorentzian model: The GuptaBleuler criterion
11.3.2 Lorentzian model: The Masterconstraint criterion
11.3.3 Lorentzian model: Restrictions on the Immirzi parameter
Unlike the Riemannian model, all values of spin j are allowed, and no restrictions on the Immirzi parameter arise.
11.3.4 Lorentzian model: Overview of the solutions of the linear simplicity constraints
11.4 Presentation of the EPRL Lorentzian model
11.5 The coherent state representation
12 The FreidelKrasnov Model
Shortly after the appearance of [168], Freidel and Krasnov [182] introduced a set of new spinfoam models for fourdimensional gravity using the coherent state basis of the quantum tetrahedron of Livine and Speziale [254]. The idea is to impose the linearized simplicity constraints (126) directly as a semiclassical condition on the coherent state basis. As we have seen above, coherent states are quantum states of the right and left tetrahedra in BF theory, which have a clearcut semiclassical interpretation through their property (112). We have also seen that the imposition of the linear constraints (126) à la EPRL is, in essence, semiclassical, as the constraints are strictly valid only in the large spin limit. In the FK approach, one simply accepts from the starting point that, due to their property of not defining the set that is closed under commutation relations, the Plebanski constraints are to be imposed semiclassically. One defines new models by restricting the set of coherent states entering into the coherentstate representation of Spin(4) BF theory (115) to those that satisfy condition (126) in expectation values. They also emphasize how the model [168] corresponds to the sector γ = ∞, which has been shown to be topological [246].
12.1 The case of γ < 1
12.2 The case of γ > 1
13 The BarrettCrane Model
13.1 The coherent states representation of the BC amplitude
14 Boundary Data for the New Models and Relation with the Canonical Theory
So far we have considered cellular complexes with no boundary. Transition amplitudes are expected to be related to the definition of the physical scalar product, as discussed in Section 2.2. In order to dehne them, one needs to consider complexes with boundaries. Boundary states are defined on the boundary of the dual twocomplex Δ* that we denote ∂Δ*. The object ∂Δ* is a onecomplex (a graph). According to the construction of the model (Sections 7 and 8), boundary states are in onetoone correspondence with SU(2) spin networks. This comes simply from the fact that links (onecells) ℓ ∈ ∂Δ* inherit the spin labels (unitary irreducible representations of the subgroup SU(2)) of the boundary faces, while nodes (zerocells) n ∈ ∂Δ* inherit the intertwiner levels of boundary edges.
At this stage one can associate the boundary data with elements of a Hilbert space. Being in onetoone correspondence with SU(2) spin networks, a natural possibility is to associate to them an element of the kinematical Hilbert space of LQG. More precisely, with a given colored boundary graph γ with links labeled by spins j_{ ℓ } and nodes labeled by interwiners ι_{ n }, we associate a cylindrical function \({\Psi _{\gamma, \{{j_\ell}\}, \{{\iota _n}\}}} \in {{\mathscr{L}}^2}(SU{(2)^{{N_\ell}}})\), where here N_{ ℓ } denotes the number of links in the graph γ (see Eq. 69). In this way, the boundary Hilbert space associated with ∂Δ* is isomorphic (if one used the natural AshtekarLewandowski measure) with the Hilbert space of LQG truncated to that fixed graph. Moreover, geometric operators such as volume and area defined in the covariant context are shown to coincide with the corresponding operators defined in the canonical formulation [141, 142]. Now, if cellular complexes are dual to triangulations, then the boundary spin networks can have, at most, four valent nodes. This limitation can be easily overcome: as in BF theory, the EPRL amplitudes can be generalized to arbitrary complexes with boundaries given by graphs with nodes of arbitrary valence. The extension of the model to arbitrary complexes was first studied in [237, 236] and has been revisited in [140].
Alternatively, one can associate the boundary states with elements of \({{\mathscr{L}}^2}(Spin{(4)^{{N_\ell}}})\) (in the Riemannian models) — or carefully dehne the analog of spinnetwork states as distributions in the Lorentzian case.^{27} In this case, one gets a special kind of spinnetwork states that are a subclass of the projected spin networks introduced in [19, 247] in order to dehne an heuristic quantization of the (noncommutative and very complicated) Dirac algebra of a Lorentz connection formulation of the phase space of gravity [15, 10, 19, 9, 8, 7, 17, 21]. The fact that these special subclasses of projected spin networks appear naturally as boundary states of the new spin foams is shown in [158].
Due to their similarity to γ < 1, the same relationship between boundary data and elements of the kinematical Hilbert space hold for the FK model. However, such a simple relationship does not hold for the model in the case of γ > 1.
The role of knotting in the Hilbert space of the EPRL model is studied in [42].
15 Further Developments and Related Models
15.1 The measure
The spinfoam amplitudes discussed in the previous sections have been introduced by constraining the BF histories through the simplicity constraints. However, in the path integral formulation, the presence of constraints has the additional effect of modifying the weights with which those histories are to be summed: secondclass constraints modify the pathintegral measure (in the spinfoam context this issue was raised in [90]). As pointed out before, this question has not been completely settled yet in the spinfoam community. The explicit modification of the formal measure in terms of continuous variables for the Plebanski action was presented in [106]. A systematic investigation of the measure in the spinfoam context was attempted in [163] and [213]. As pointed out in [90], there are restrictions in the manifold of possibilities coming from the requirement of background independence. The simple BF measure chosen in the presentation of the amplitudes in the previous sections satisfies these requirements. There are other consistent possibilities; see, for instance, [78] for a modified measure, which remains extremely simple and is suggested from the structure of LQG.
15.2 Relation with the canonical formulation: the scalar constraint
An important question is the relationship between the spinfoam amplitudes and the canonicaloperator formulation. The question of whether one can reconstruct the Hamiltonian constraints out of spinfoam amplitudes has been analyzed in detail in three dimensions. For the study of quantum threedimensional gravity from the BF perspective, see [281]; we will in fact present this perspective in detail in the threedimensional part of this article. For the relationship with the canonical theory using variables that are natural from the Regge gravity perspective, see [94, 93]. In four dimensions the question has been investigated in [3] in the context of the new spin foam models. In the context of group field theories this issue is explored in [251]. Finally, spin foams can, in principle, be obtained directly from the implementation of the Dirac program using pathintegral methods; this avenue has been explored in [219, 220], from which a discrete pathintegral formulation followed [214]. The question of the relationship between covariant and canonical formulations in the discrete setting has also been analyzed in [148].
15.3 Spinfoam models with timelike faces
By construction, all tetrahedra in the FK and EPRL models are embedded in a spacelike hypersurface and, hence, have only spacelike triangles. It seem natural to ask the question of whether a more general construction allowing for timelike faces is possible. The models described in previous sections have been generalized in order to include timelike faces in the work of Conrady [125, 120, 124]. An earlier attempt to define such models in the context of the BarrettCrane model can be found in [305].
15.4 Coupling to matter
The issue of the coupling of the new spinfoam models to matter remains, to a large extent, unexplored territory. Nevertheless, some results can be found in the literature. The coupling of the BarrettCrane model (the γ → ∞ limit of the EPRL model) to YangMills fields was studied in [294]. More recently, the coupling of the EPRL model to fermions has been investigated in [217, 73]. A novel possibility of unification of the gravitational and gauge fields was recently proposed in [6].
15.5 Cosmological constant
The introduction of a cosmological constant in the construction of fourdimensional spinfoam models has a long history. Barrett and Crane introduced a vertex amplitude [60] in terms of the Crane and Yetter model [130] for BF theory with cosmological constant. The Lorentzian quantumdeformed version of the previous model was studied in [283]. For the new models, the coupling with a cosmological constant is explored in terms of the quantum deformation of the internal gauge symmetry in [139, 215, 216] as well as (independently) in [174].
15.6 Spinfoam cosmology
The spinfoam approach applied to quantum cosmology has been explored in [74, 366, 222, 79, 335, 334]. The spinfoam formulation can also be obtained from the canonical picture provided by loop quantum cosmology (see [89] and references therein). This has been explored systematically in [29, 28, 27, 108]. Very recent results are [249].
15.7 Constraints are imposed semiclassically
As we have discussed in the introduction of the new models, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle precludes the strong imposition of the Plebanski constraints that reduce BF theory to general relativity. The results on the semiclassical limit of these models seem to indicate that metric gravity should be recovered in the low energy limit. However, its seems likely that the semiclassical limit could be related to certain modifications of Plebanski’s formulation of gravity [240, 241, 243, 242, 244]. A simple interpretation of the new models in the context of the bigravity paradigm proposed in [348] could be of interest.
15.8 Group field theories associated to the new spin foams
As pointed out in [38], spin foams can be interpreted in close analogy to Feynman diagrams. Standard Feynman graphs are generalized to 2complexes and the labeling of propagators by momenta to the assignment of spins to faces. Finally, momentum conservation at vertices in standard Feynmanology is now represented by spinconservation at edges, ensured by the assignment of the corresponding intertwiners. In spinfoam models, the nontrivial content of amplitudes is contained in the vertex amplitude, which in the language of Feynman diagrams can be interpreted as an interaction. This analogy is indeed realized in the formulation of spinfoam models in terms of a group field theory (GFT) [315, 314].
The GFT formulation resolves by definition the two fundamental conceptual problems of the spinfoam approach: diffeomorphism gauge symmetry and discretization dependence. The difficulties are shifted to the question of the physical role of λ (a dimensionless coupling constant in the theory) and the convergence of the corresponding perturbative series.
This idea has been studied in more detail in three dimensions. In [262] scaling properties of the modification of the Boulatov group field theory introduced in [187] were studied in detail. In a further modification of the previous model (known as colored tensor models [208]) new techniques based on a suitable 1/N expansion imply that amplitudes are dominated by spherical topology [207]; moreover, it seems possible that the continuum limit might be critical, as in certain matrix models [209, 95, 210, 211, 339]. However, it is not yet clear if there is a sense in which these models correspond to a physical theory. The naive interpretation of the models is that they correspond to a formulation of 3D quantum gravity including a dynamical topology.
16 The Semiclassical Limit
Having introduced the relevant spinfoam models in the previous sections, we now present the results on the largespin asymptotics of the spinfoam amplitudes suggesting that, on a fixed discretization, the semiclassical limit of the EPRLFK models is given by Regge’s discrete formulation of general relativity [61, 64].
The semiclassical limit of spin foams is based on the study of the the largespinlimit asymptotic behavior of coherentstate spinfoam amplitudes. The notion of large spin can be defined by the rescaling of quantum numbers and Planck’s constant according to j → λj and ℏ > ℏ/λ and taking λ >> 1. In this limit the quantum geometry approximates the classical one when tested with suitable states (e.g., coherent states). However, the geometry remains discrete during this limiting process, as the limit is taken on a fixed regulating cellular structure. That is why one usually makes a clear distinction between the semiclassical limit and the continuum limit. In the semiclassical analysis presented here, one can only hope to make contact with discrete formulations of classical gravity; hence, the importance of Regge calculus in the discussion of this section.
The key technical ingredient in this analysis is the representation of spinfoam amplitudes in terms of the coherentstate basis introduced in Section 6.2. Here we follow [61, 64, 62, 65, 63]. The idea of using coherent states and discrete effective actions for the study of the largespin asymptotics of spinfoam amplitudes was put forward in [122, 121]. The study of largespin asymptotics has a long tradition in the context of quantum gravity, dating back to the work of PonzanoRegge [309]. More directly related to our discussion here are the early works [68, 69]. The key idea is to use asymptotic stationary phase methods for the amplitudes, written in terms of the discrete actions presented in Sections 7, 8, and 9.
16.1 Vertex amplitudes asymptotics
In this section we review the results of the analysis of the largespin asymptotics of the EPRL vertex amplitude for both the Riemannian and Lorentztian models. We follow the notation and terminology of [61] and related papers.
16.1.1 SU(2) 15jsymbol asymptotics
In order to study the asymptotics of (214), one needs to use extended stationary phase methods due to the fact the the action (215) is complex (see [122, 121]). The basic idea is that, in addition to stationarity, one requires a real part of the action to be maximal. Points satisfying these two conditions are called critical points. As the real part of the action is negative definite, the action at critical points is purely imaginary.
16.1.2 The Riemannian EPRL vertex asymptotics
16.1.3 Lorentzian EPRL model
16.2 Full spinfoam amplitudes asymptotics
16.3 Fluctuations: two point functions
The problem of computing the two point function and higher correlation functions in the context of spin foam has received lots of attention recently. The framework for the definition of the correlation functions in the backgroundindependent setting has been generally discussed by Rovelli in [322] and corresponds to a special application of a more general proposal investigated by Oeckl [288, 290, 289, 119, 118, 117, 116, 287]. It was then applied to the BarrettCrane model in [5, 4, 77], where it was discovered that certain components of the twopoint function could not yield the expected result compatible with Regge gravity in the semiclassical limit. This was used as the main motivation for the weakening of the imposition of the Plebanski constraints leading to the new models. Soon thereafter it was argued that the difficulties of the BarrettCrane model were indeed absent in the EPRL model [2]. The two point function for the EPRL model was calculated in [75] and was shown to produce a result in agreement with that of Regge calculus [80, 260] in the limit γ → 0.
The fact that, for the new model, the double scaling limit γ → 0 and j → ∞ with γj = constant defines the appropriate regime, where the fluctuation behaves as in Regge gravity (in the leading order) has been further clarified in [261]. This indicates that the quantum fluctuations in the new models are more general than simply metric fluctuations. The fact the the new models are not metric at all scales should not be surprising, as we know that the Plebanski constraints that produce metric general relativity out of BF theory has been implemented only semiclassically (in the large spin limit). At the deep Planckian regime, fluctuations are more general than metric. However, it not clear at this stage why this is controlled by the Immirzi parameter.
All the previous calculations involve a complex with a single foursimplex. The first computation involving more than one simplex was performed in [263, 77] for the case of the BarrettCrane model. Certain peculiar properties were found and it is not clear at this stage whether these issues remain in the EPRL model. Higherorder correlation functions have been computed in [337]; the results are in agreement with Regge gravity in the γ → 0 limit.
17 Threedimensional gravity
In this part, we shall review the quantization of threedimensional gravity, introducing in this simpler context what, in this case, can be called the spinfoam representation of the quantum dynamics. We present this case in great detail as it is completely solvable. More precisely, it allows for an explicit realization of the path integral quantization for a generallycovariant system, as generally discussed in Section 2.2. Moreover, the path integral takes the form of a sum of spinfoam amplitudes, which share all the kinematical quantum geometric properties with their fourdimensional relatives.
The simplicity of this theory allows for the clearcut illustration of some central conceptual difficulties associated with the quantization of a generallycovariant system. We will use the insights provided by 3D gravity to support the discussion of certain difficult conceptual issues for the spinfoam approach in Section V.
18 Spin Foams for ThreeDimensional Gravity
Threedimensional gravity is an example of BF theory for which the spinfoam approach can be implemented in a rather simple way. Despite its simplicity, the theory allows for the study of many of the conceptual issues to be addressed in four dimensions. In addition, spin foams for BF theory are the basic building block of 4dimensional gravity models. For a beautiful presentation of BF theory and its relation to spin foams, see [39]. For simplicity, we study the Riemannian theory; the Lorentzian generalization of the results of this section have been studied in [178].
18.1 Spin foams in 3D quantum gravity
Here we derive the spinfoam representation of LQG in a simple solvable example: 2+1 gravity. For the definition of other approaches to 3D quantum gravity, see Carlip’s book [112].
18.2 The classical theory
18.3 Spin foams from the Hamiltonian formulation
One can make (228) a rigorous definition, if one introduces a regularization. A regularization is necessary to avoid the naive UV divergences that appear in QFT when one quantizes nonlinear expressions of the canonical fields, such as F(A) in this case (or those representing interactions in standard particle physics). A rigorous quantization is achieved if the regulator can be removed without the appearance of infinities, and if the number of ambiguities appearing in this process is under control. We shall see that all this can be done in the simple toy example in this section.
18.4 The spinfoam representation
Spinnetwork nodes evolve into edges, while spinnetwork links evolve into 2dimensional faces. Edges inherit the intertwiners associated to the nodes and faces inherit the spins associated to the links. Therefore, the series of transitions can be represented by a 2complex, whose 1cells are labeled by intertwiners and whose 2cells are labeled by spins. The places where the action of the plaquette loop operators create new links (Figure 13 and 14) define 0cells or vertices. These foamlike structures are the spin foams. The spinfoam amplitudes are purely combinatorial and can be explicitly computed from the simple action of the loop operator in \({\mathcal H_{{\rm{kin}}}}\).
18.5 Spinfoam quantization of 3D gravity
In order to give meaning to the formal expressions above, we replace the 3dimensional manifold \(\mathcal{M}\) with an arbitrary cellular decomposition Δ. We also need the notion of the associated dual 2complex of Δ denoted by Δ*. The dual 2complex Δ* is a combinatorial object defined by a set of vertices v ∈ Δ* (dual to 3cells in Δ), edges e ∈ Δ* (dual to 2cells in Δ) and faces f ∈ Δ* (dual to 1cells in Δ). The fields e and A have support on these discrete structures. The su(2)valued 1form field e is represented by the assignment of an e ∈ su(2) to each 1cell in Δ. The connection field A is represented by the assignment of group elements g_{ e } ∈ SU(2) to each edge in Δ*.
Going from Eq. (241) to (244), we have replaced the continuous integration over the e’s by the sum over representations of SU(2). Roughly speaking, the degrees of freedom of e are now encoded in the representation being summed over in (244).
18.5.1 Discretization independence
The sum over spins in (247) is typically divergent, as indicated by the previous equation. Divergences occur due to infinite volume factors corresponding to the topological gauge freedom (225) (see [186]).^{30} The factor τ in (248) represents such a volume factor. It can also be interpreted as a δ(0) coming from the existence of a redundant delta function in (242). One can partially gauge fix this freedom at the level of the discretization. This has the effect of eliminating bubbles from the 2complex.
In the case of simply connected Σ, the gauge fixing is complete. One can eliminate bubbles and compute finite transition amplitudes. The result is equivalent to the physical scalar product defined in the canonical picture in terms of the delta measure.^{31}
In the case of gravity with cosmological constant the statesum generalizes to the TuraevViro model [364] defined in terms of SU_{ q }(2) with q^{ n } = 1, where the representations are finitely many. Heuristically, the presence of the cosmological constant introduces a physical infrared cutoff. Eq. (248) has been proven in this case for the case of simplicial decompositions in [364]; see also [363, 238]. The generalization for arbitrary cellular decomposition was obtained in [206].
18.5.2 Transition amplitudes
Transition amplitudes can be defined along similar lines using a manifold with boundaries. Given Δ, \({{\mathcal J}_\Delta}\) then defines graphs on the boundaries. Consequently, spin foams induce spin networks on the boundaries. The amplitudes have to be modified concerning the boundaries to have the correct composition property (74). This is achieved by changing the face amplitude from (Δ_{ jf }) to (Δjℓ)^{1/2} on external faces.

Given \({\mathcal M} = \Sigma \times [0,1]\) (piecewise linear) and spin network states s = (γ, {j}, {ι}) and s′ = (γ, {j′}, {ι′}) on the boundaries — for γ and γ′ piecewise linear graphs in Σ — choose any cellular decomposition Δ such that the dual 2complex \({{\mathcal J}_\Delta}\) is bordered by the corresponding graphs γ and γ′ respectively (existence can be easily shown).

Compute the transition amplitude between s and s′ by summing over all spinfoam amplitudes (rescaled as in (248)) for the spin foams F : s → s′ defined on the 2complex \({{\mathcal J}_\Delta}\).
18.5.3 The generalized projector
We can compute the transition amplitudes between any element of the kinematical Hilbert space \({\mathcal H}\).^{33} Transition amplitudes define the physical scalar product by reproducing the skein relations of the canonical analysis. We can construct the physical Hilbert space by considering equivalence classes under states with zero transition amplitude with all the elements of \({\mathcal H}\), i.e., null states.
18.5.4 The continuum limit
Recently, Zapata [372, 371] formalized the idea of a continuum spinfoam description of 3dimensional gravity using projective techniques inspired by those utilized in the canonical picture [32]. The heuristic idea is that, due to the discretization invariance one can define the model in an ‘infinitely’ refined cellular decomposition that contains any possible spinnetwork state on the boundary (this intuition is implicit in our rules for computing transition amplitudes above). Zapata concentrates on the case with nonvanishing cosmological constant and constructs the continuum extension of the TuraevViro model.
18.6 Conclusion
We have illustrated the general notion of the spinfoam quantization in the simple case of threedimensional Riemannian gravity (for the generalization to the Lorentzian case, see [178]). The main goal of the approach is to provide a definition of the physical Hilbert space. The example of this section sets the guiding principles of what one would like to realize in four dimensions. However, as should be expected, there are various new issues that make the task by far more involved.
18.7 Further results in 3D quantum gravity
In this part of the article we have reviewed SU(2) BF theory from the perspective of classical and quantum gravity in three dimensions (for a classic reference see [112]). The state sum as presented above matches the quantum amplitudes first proposed by Ponzano and Regge in the 1960s, based on their discovery of the asymptotic expressions of the 6jsymbols [309], and is often referred to as the PonzanoRegge model. Divergences in the above formal expression require regularization. We have seen in Section 14.3 that transition amplitudes are indeed finite in the canonical framework, where M = Σ × R. Natural regularizations are available in more general cases [67, 281, 186]. For a detailed study of the divergence structure of the model, see [100, 101, 102]. The quantum deformed version of the above amplitudes lead to the TuraevViro model [364], which is expected to correspond to the quantization of threedimensional Riemannian gravity in the presence of a nonvanishing positive cosmological constant.
The topological character of BF theory can be preserved by the coupling of the theory with topological defects playing the role of point particles. In the spinfoam literature this has been considered from the canonical perspective in [279, 280] and extensively from the covariant perspective by Freidel and Louapre [188]. These theories have been shown by Freidel and Livine to be dual, in a suitable sense, to certain noncommutative field theories in three dimensions [185, 184].
Concerning coupling BF theory with nontopological matter, see [172, 155] for the case of fermionic matter, and [347] for gauge fields. A more radical perspective for the definition of matter in 3D gravity is taken in [173]. For threedimensional supersymmetric BF theory models see [250, 36].
Recursion relations for the 6j vertex amplitudes have been investigated in [98, 157]. They provide a tool for studying dynamics in spin foams of 3D gravity and might be useful in higher dimensions [99].
19 Conceptual issues and open problems
In the last part of this review we discuss some important conceptual issues that remain open questions to a large degree in the formulation. The description of the completely solvable model of Section 14 will serve as the main example to illustrate some of these issues.
20 Quantum Spacetime and Gauge Histories
What is the geometric meaning of the spinfoam configurations? Can we identify the spin foams with “quantum spacetime configurations”? The answer to the above questions is, strictly speaking, in the negative, in agreement with our discussion at the end of Section 2.2. Physical degrees of freedom are extracted from the huge set of kinematical ones by the sum over gaugehistories that is realized in the spinfoam representation.
Here we are discussing the interpretation of the spinfoam representation in the precise context of our solvable 3D example; however, the validity of the conclusion is of a general nature and holds true in the case of physical interest: fourdimensional LQG. Although, the quantum numbers labeling the spinfoam configurations correspond to eigenvalues of kinematical geometric quantities, such as length (in 2+1) or area (in 3+1) LQG, their physical meaning and measurability depend on dynamic considerations (for instance, the naive interpretation of the spins in 2+1 gravity as quanta of physical length is shown here to be of no physical relevance). Quantitative notions such as time or distance, as well as qualitative statements about causal structure or time ordering, are misleading (at best) if they are naively constructed in terms of notions arising from an interpretation of spin foams as quantum spacetime configurations.
Now this does not mean that kinematical features (that usually admit simpler geometric interpretation) are completely meaningless. It may be that such kinematical quantum geometric considerations might reflect true physical features when Dirac observables are considered. For instance, the simplicial geometry interpretation of spinfoam histories (e.g., the total area of a polyhedron associated to a spin network vertex) is the analog of the computation of some classical geometric quantity in general relativity (e.g., the area of some closed surface embedded in spacetime). Both the former and the latter have no intrinsic physical meaning: in the first case, as argued above, in the second case, because of the absent diffeomorphisminvariant characterization of the surface. However, in classical general relativity, the ability to compute the area of surfaces is useful to construct a physical meaningful quantity, such as the area of the event horizon in Schwarzschild spacetime, which is a fullydiffeomorphism invariant property of the BH spacetime. Similarly, all the machinery of quantum geometry (and its simplicial geometric interpretation in suitable cases) might play an important role in the construction of the physicallymeaningful objects (Dirac observables) of quantum gravity.^{34}
It is well known (and can be illustrated by many simple examples) that gauge invariant properties can often be obtained by the suitable combination of gauge covariant quantities. For example, in YangMills theory, the holonomy h(γ_{ AB }) ∈ G from a point A to a point B along a path γ_{ AB } connecting the two points is not physically meaningful. Nor is the value of some field multiplets Ψ(A) and Ψ(B) at points A and B respectively. A physicallymeaningful quantity arises from the gaugeinvariant combination of the above quantities, namely 〈Ψ(A)h(γ_{ AB })Ψ(B)〉. The pure gauge character of the quantum geometric interpretation pointed out above in the simple 3D context corresponds to the holonomy h(γ_{ AB }) ∈ G in the above analogy. As soon as we couple 2+1 gravity with matter fields (corresponding to the Ψ in the above analogy) nontrivial Dirac observables become available (in fact such theory would have local degrees of freedom). These will have to encode the relationship between the gaugedependent geometry and the gauge dependent field content in a gaugeinvariant fashion.
In four dimensions we do not need to add anything, as gravity already has its local degrees of freedom, yet physicallymeaningful questions are still relational. Unfortunately, no backgroundindependent quantum theory with local degrees of freedom is sufficiently simple to illustrate this with an example. There is no lucky example of free quantum field theories for standard QFT (nonlinearity and background independence may go handinhand). In four dimensions, and in particular, in the case of the spinfoam models described in this review, the difficult question of extracting physics from the models is very important and presents a major challenge for the future. The references discussed in Section 13.3 are important encouraging steps in this direction.
21 Anomalies and Gauge Fixing
As we mentioned before, and illustrated with the example of threedimensional gravity (see discussion in Section 15), the spinfoam path integral is meant to provide a definition of the physical Hilbert space. Spinfoam transition amplitudes are not interpreted as defining propagation in time, but rather as defining the physical scalar product. This interpretation of spinfoam models is the one consistent with general covariance. However, in the pathintegral formulation, this property relies on the gauge invariance of the pathintegral measure. If the measure meets this property, we say it is anomaly free. It is well known that, in addition to the invariance of the measure, one must provide appropriate gaugefixing conditions for the amplitudes to be well defined. In this section we analyze these issues in the context of the spinfoam approach.
Since we are interested in gravity in the firstorder formalism, in addition to diffeomorphism invariance one has to deal with gauge transformations in the internal space. Let us first describe the situation for the latter. If this gauge group is compact, then anomaly free measures are defined using appropriate variables and invariant measures. In this case, gauge fixing is not necessary for the amplitudes to be well defined. Examples where this happens are: the models of Riemannian gravity considered in this paper (the internal gauge group being SO(4) or SU(2)), and standard lattice gauge theory. In these cases, one represents the connection in terms of group elements (holonomies) and uses the (normalized) Haar measure in the integration. In the Lorentzian sector (internal gauge group SL(2, ℂ)), the internal gauge orbits have infinite volume and the lattice path integral would diverge without an appropriate gauge fixing condition. These conditions generally exist in spinfoam models and are used to regularize the vertex amplitudes of the Lorentzian models (we have illustrated this at the end of Section 8.3; for a general treatment see [186]).
The remaining gauge freedom is diffeomorphism invariant. To illustrate this issue, we concentrate on the case of a model defined on a fixed discretization Δ, as it is the usual setting for calculations dealing with the models in four dimensions.
Let us start by considering the spin network states, at ∂Δ*: boundary of Δ*, for which we want to define the transition amplitudes. According to what we have learned from the canonical approach, 3diffeomorphism invariance is implemented by considering (diffeomorphism) equivalence classes of spinnetwork states. In the context of spin foams, the underlying discretization Δ restricts the graphs on the boundary to be contained on the dual 1skeleton of the boundary complex ∂Δ*. These states are regarded as representative elements of the corresponding 3diffeomorphism equivalence class. The discretization can be interpreted, in this way, as a gauge fixing of 3diffeomorphisms on the boundary. This gauge fixing is partial in the sense that, generically, there will remain a discrete symmetry remnant given by the discrete symmetries of the spin network. This remaining symmetry has to be factored out when computing transition amplitudes (in fact this also plays a role in the definition of the kinematical Hilbert space of LQG).
A natural view point (consistent with LQG and quantum geometry) is that this should naturally generalize to 4diffeomorphisms for spin foams. The underlying 2complex \({{\mathcal J}_\Delta}\) on which spin foams are defined represents a partial gauge fixing for the configurations (spin foams) entering in the path integral. The remaining symmetry, to be factored out in the computation of transition amplitudes, corresponds simply to the finite group of discrete symmetries of the corresponding spin foams.^{35} This factorization is well defined, since the number of equivalent spin foams can be characterized in a fully combinatorial manner, and is finite for any spin foam defined on a finite discretization. In addition, a spinfoam model is anomaly free if the amplitudes are invariant under this discrete symmetry. We have seen that this requirement (advocated in [90]) can be met by suitable definitions of the transition amplitudes [49, 235] (see Section 7.5).
However, it is expected — from the experience in lowerdimensional backgroundindependent models (recall the discussion of Section 14) — that there will be remnants of the gauge symmetries acting nontrivially on spinfoam histories by doing more than simply changing the embedding in the discrete regulating structure Δ as described above. After all, in gravity the Hamiltonian constraint generates gauge transformations that hide in themselves the nontrivial dynamics of the theory. This is illustrated precisely in the simplest scenario of 3D gravity, where it is well known that bubble divergences are directly linked to the infinite volume of the gauge orbits generated by the curvature constraint [186]. Notice that such gaugesymmetryrelated spin foams do not differ only by their embedding (see Section 14).
It is also important to point out that the view that spin foams represent diffeomorphism equivalence classes of geometries, which sometimes can be loosely stated in the community, is incompatible with the idea that spin foams should act as a projector onto the solutions of constraints. A path integral would only act as a projector if it includes gauge symmetries in the sense of group averaging. This is related to the fact that physical states (those left invariant by the projector) are outside the kinematical Hilbert space, i.e., nonnormalizable.
The discretization of the manifold Δ is seen as a regulator introduced to define the spinfoam model. Even when the regulator (or the discretization dependence) eventually has to be removed (see next Section 17), the theory is presumed to remain discrete at the fundamental level. The smoothmanifold diffeomorphisminvariant description is expected to emerge in the (low energy) continuum limit. Fundamental excitations are intrinsically discrete. From this viewpoint, the precise meaning of the gauge symmetries of such a theory would have to be formulated directly at the discrete level. We have seen that this can be achieved in the case of 3dimensional gravity (recall Section 14.5.1).
The previous paragraph raises the question of whether the discretization procedures used in the derivation of the spin foams are compatible with the expectation that one is approximating a diffeomorphisminvariant fundamental theory. More precisely, can one tell whether the diffeomorphism invariance is broken by our regularization procedure. This question is quite an important one and has been one of the central concerns of the work led by Dittrich and collaborators for the last few years [151, 147, 150, 144, 43]. Indeed, there exist possible discretizations of a field theory, which maintain the full symmetry content of their continuum relatives. These regularizations are called perfect actions and even when they are difficult to construct explicitly in general cases, there are, in principle, methods (based on renormalization group ideas) to approach them [144, 44] (see also [48] and [46] for more recent discussion and explicit calculations in the perturbative context).
However, there are indications that the discretization procedures used generally do break the general covariance of gravity. In the simple case of 3D gravity with cosmological constant, this can be shown explicitly at the classical level [45] as well as at the quantum level [304]. In the first reference it is shown nonetheless that there exists a welldefined perfect action in this case. At the quantum level, the results of [282] indicate a possible resolution of the anomaly issue. In four dimensions, this was first validated by the results obtained by Gambini and Pullin et al. in the consistentdiscretization approach [190, 199, 198, 197, 196, 137, 138, 195, 191, 194]. They study the canonical formulation of theories defined on a lattice from the onset. The consistent discretization approach provides a way to analyze the meaning of gauge symmetries directly à la Dirac. Their results indicate that diffinvariance is indeed broken by the discretization in the sense that there is no infinitesimal generator of diffeomorphism. This is consistent with the covariant picture of discrete symmetries above. In their formulation the canonical equations of motion fix the value of what were Lagrange multipliers in the continuum (e.g., lapse and shift). This is interpreted as a breaking of diffeomorphism invariance; however, the solutions of the multiplier equations are highly nonunique. The ambiguity in selecting a particular solution corresponds to the remnant diffeomorphism invariance of the discrete theory. More recently, the issue of the breaking of the diffeomorphism symmetry by the regularizations used in spin foams has been studied by the Dittrich group (see references above). The possibility of using very simple models to study these questions has been opened in [47].
An important question is whether the possible breaking of the diffeomorphism gauge symmetry by the regularization can be made to disappear in the continuum limit. The breaking of a gauge symmetry implies the existence of a new host of degrees of freedom that might be in conflict with the lowenergy interaction one is trying to recover in that limit.^{36} In addition, the breaking of noncompact symmetries by a regulating structure poses serious difficulties for the lowenergy regime, even in the case of global symmetries [115] (see [200] and [308] for a recent discussion). We mention this point here because it is, in our opinion, of major importance. Even though the question seems quite difficult to address in the context of the present models at this stage, it must be kept in mind in search of opportunities of further insights.
However, the notion of anomaly freeness evoked at the beginning of this section should be strengthened. In fact, according to our tentative definition, an anomalyfree measure can be multiplied by any gauge invariant function and yield a new anomaly free measure. This kind of ambiguity is not wanted; however, it is, in fact, present in most of the spinfoam models defined so far: In standard QFT theory, the formal (phase space) path integral measure in the continuum has a unique meaning (up to a constant normalization) emerging from the canonical formulation. Provided an appropriate gauge fixing, the corresponding Dirac bracket determines the formal measure on the gaugefixedconstraint surface. In the discussion in Section 12.1 we have provided references where this issue is analyzed.
22 Discretization Dependence
The spinfoam models we have introduced so far are defined on a fixedcellular decomposition of \({\mathcal M}\). This is to be interpreted as an intermediate step toward a definition of the theory. The discretization reduces the infinite dimensional functional integral to a multiple integration over a finite number of variables. This cutoff is reflected by the fact that only a restrictive set of spin foams (spin network histories) is allowed in the path integral: those that can be obtained by all possible coloring of the underlying 2complex. In addition, it restricts the number of possible 3geometry states (spin network states) on the boundary by fixing a finite underlying boundary graph. This represents a truncation in the allowed fluctuations and the set of states of the theory playing the role of a regulator. However, the nature of this regulator is fundamentally different from the standard concept in the backgroundindependent framework: since geometry is encoded in the coloring (that can take any spin values) the configurations involve fluctuations all the way to Plank scale.^{37} This scenario is different in lattice gauge theories where the lattice introduces an effective UV cutoff given by the lattice spacing. However, transition amplitudes are discretization dependent now. A consistent definition of the path integral using spin foams should include a prescription to eliminate this discretization dependence.
A special case is that of topological theories, such as gravity in 3 dimensions. In this case, one can define the sum over spin foams with the aid of a fixed cellular decomposition Δ of the manifold. Since the theory has no local excitations (no gravitons), the result is independent of the chosen cellular decomposition. A single discretization suffices to capture the degrees of freedom of the topological theory.
In lattice gauge theory, the solution to the problem is implemented through the continuum limit. In this case, the existence of a background geometry is crucial, since it allows one to define the limit when the lattice constant (length of links) goes to zero. In addition, the possibility of working in the Euclidean regime allows the implementation of statistical mechanical methods.
None of these structures are available in the backgroundindependent context. The lattice (triangulation) contains only topological information and there is no geometrical meaning associated to its components. As mentioned above, this has the novel consequence that the truncation cannot be regarded as a UV cutoff, as in the backgrounddependent context. This, in turn, represents a conceptual obstacle to the implementation of standard techniques. Moreover, no Euclidean formulation seems meaningful in a backgroundindependent scenario. New means to eliminate the truncation introduced by the lattice need to be developed. For a recent analysis in which the difference between lattice regularization of backgrounddependent versus backgroundindependent theories is carefully considered, see [326]. For a more general discussion, see [324].

Refinement of the discretization:
According to this idea, topology is fixed by the simplicial decomposition. The truncation in the number of degrees of freedom should be removed by considering triangulations of increasing number of simplexes for that fixed topology. The flow in the space of possible triangulations is controlled by the Pachner moves. The idea is to take a limit in which the number of four simplexes goes to infinity together with the number of tetrahedra on the boundary. Given a 2complex \({{\mathcal J}_2}\), which is a refinement of a 2complex \({{\mathcal J}_1}\), then the set of all possible spin foams defined on \({{\mathcal J}_1}\) is naturally contained in those defined on \({{\mathcal J}_2}\). The refinement process should also enlarge the space of possible 3geometry states (spin networks) on the boundary recovering the full kinematical sector in the limit of infinite refinements. An example where this procedure is well defined is Zapata’s treatment of the TuraevViro model [372]. The key point in this case is that amplitudes are independent of the discretization (due to the topological character of the theory), so that the refinement limit is trivial. In the general case, the definition of the refinement limit has recently been studied and formalized in [327]. There is no evidence that the amplitudes of any of the present models for 4D converge in such a limit.
It has often been emphasized that such a refinement limit may be studied from the Wilsonian renormalization view point. In the past a renormalization approach for spin foams has been proposed by Markopoulou [266, 265]. Also, Oeckl [285] has studied the issue of renormalization in the context of spinfoam models containing a coupling parameter. These models include generalized covariant gauge theories [284, 306, 291], the Reisenberger model, and the interpolating model (defined by Oeckl). The latter is given by a oneparameter family of models that interpolate between the trivial BF topological model and the BarrettCrane model according to the value of a ‘coupling constant’. Qualitative aspects of the renormalization groupoid flow of the couplings are studied in the various models.

Spin foams as Feynman diagrams:
This idea has been motivated by the generalized matrix models of Boulatov and Ooguri [105, 292]. The fundamental observation is that spin foams admit a dual formulation in terms of a field theory over a group manifold [133, 315, 314]. The duality holds in the sense that spinfoam amplitudes correspond to Feynman diagram amplitudes of the GFT. The perturbative Feynman expansion of the GFT (expansion in a fiducial coupling constant λ) provides a definition of sum over discretizations, which is fully combinatorial and hence independent of any manifold structure.^{38} The latter is the most appealing feature of this approach.
However, the convergence issues clearly become more involved. The perturbative series are generically divergent. This is not necessarily a definite obstruction as divergent series can often be given an asymptotic meaning and provide physical information. Moreover, there are standard techniques that one can allow to ‘resum’ a divergent series in order to obtain nonperturbative information [319]. Freidel and Louapre [187] have shown that this is indeed possible for certain GFT’s in three dimensions. Other possibilities have been proposed in [315].
Diffeomorphismequivalent configurations (in the discrete sense described above) appear at all orders in the perturbation series.^{39} From this perspective (and leaving aside the issue of convergence) the sum of different order amplitudes corresponding to equivalent spin foams should be interpreted as the definition of the physical amplitude of that particular spin foam. The discussion of Section 16 does not apply in the GFT formulation, i.e., there is no need for gauge fixing.
The GFT formulation could resolve by definition the two fundamental conceptual problems of the spinfoam approach: diffeomorphism gauge symmetry and discretization dependence. The difficulties are shifted to the question of the physical role of Δ and the convergence of the corresponding perturbative series. A prescription that avoids this last issue is the radical proposal of Freidel [179], where the treelevel GFT amplitudes are used to define the physical inner product of quantum gravity.
This idea has been studied in more detail in three dimensions. In [262] scaling properties of the modification of the Boulatov group field theory introduced in [187] were studied in detail. In a further modification of the previous model (known as colored tensor models [208]) new techniques based on a suitable 1/N expansion imply that amplitudes are dominated by spherical topology [207]; moreover, it seem possible that the continuum limit might be critical, as in certain matrix models [209, 95, 210, 211, 339]. However, it is not yet clear if there is a sense in which these models correspond to a physical theory. The appealing possible interpretation of the models is that they correspond to a formulation of 3D quantum gravity including a dynamical topology. Not much is known about gravity models in four dimensions at this stage.
Finally, discretization independence is not only a problem of spin foams but also of Regge gravity. Even linearized classical Regge calculus is not discretization independent in 4D as shown in [152], where a general discussion of the issues raised in this section are considered. It is also natural to expect the issue of discretization independence to be connected to the issue of diffeomorphism symmetry discussed in Section 16. There is evidence [46, 146, 145] that the implementation of diffeomorphism symmetry into the models will lead to discretization independence.
23 Lorentz Invariance in the Effective LowEnergy Regime
Finally, a very important question for LQG and spin foams (closely related to the consistency of their low energy limit) is that of the fate of Lorentz symmetry in the low energy regime. This question has received lots of attention in recent years as it seems to provide an open window of opportunity for observations of quantum gravity effects (see [270, 233] and references therein). In the context of LQG, a systematic firstprinciples analysis of such properties of the lowenergy regime remains open. This is mainly due to the presentlyunsolved difficulties associated with a quantitative dynamical description of physical states. The spinfoam approach discussed in this review is meant to address the dynamical question and the definition of the new models may provide the necessary insights to tackle the relevant aspects for the question of Lorentz invariance at low energies. This question is perhaps within reach at the present stage of development of the theory, so it deserves all the attention in future investigations.
In the absence of detailed formulations, certain early pioneering model calculations [192] (see also general treatment [340, 341]) indicate the possibility for certain Lorentzinvarianceviolation (LIV) effects associated to a quantumgravity granularity of spacetime measured at rest by a preferred frame of observers. The effects take the form of corrections to the effective Lagrangian with LIV terms of dimension 5 or higher that are suppressed by negative powers of the Planck mass. This makes them, in principle, negligible at low energies so that the potential quantumgravity effects would be observed as corrections to the standard QFT welltested physics. However, it was soon realized [115] that the framework of effective field theories severely restricts the possibility that LIV remains small when interactions in QFT are taken into account. In fact, dimension five or higher LIV terms will generically (in the absence of some fundamental protecting mechanism) generate dimension four and lower LIV terms (with factors in front that are at best quadratic in standard model coupling constants). Such unsuppressed contributions are in flagrant conflict with the observed Lorentz invariance of particle physics at low energies.
Therefore, the early calculations in LQG cited above need to be revised under the light of the strong constraints on the way LIV can arise in quantum gravity. A logical possibility is that these LIV terms are there thanks to the protecting effect of some custodial mechanism restricting the LIV to dimension 5 and higher operators.^{40} For example, such a possibility has been considered in [200], where it is shown that the large LIV effects can be avoided in the context of Euclidean field theory (the protecting mechanism being here the trading of the noncompact Poincaré group by the Euclidean group). This example is interesting but unfortunately does not provide an answer to the question for the physical Lorentzian theory (see discussion in [114] and more recently [308]).
 1.
an effective action with no LIV terms, or
 2.
an effective action where LIV terms appear starting from dimensionfive operators on, due to some fundamental protecting mechanism in LQG for such structure to be stable under radiative corrections.
For completeness we add that, in addition to the above (conservative) possibilities, some less standard scenarios could be realized. This has been the view of some of the quantum gravity community. For a recent proposal of a completely new theoretical framework see [22] and references therein.
Footnotes
 1.
 2.
For instance, a typical example is to use a photon to measure distance. The energy of the photon in our lab frame is given by E_{ γ } = hc/λ. We put the photon in a cavity and produce a standing wave measuring the dimensions of the cavity in units of the wavelength. The best possible precision is attained when the Schwarzschild radius corresponding to energy of the photon is on the order of its wavelength. Beyond that the photon can collapse to form a black hole around some of the maxima of the standing wave. This happens for a value λ_{ c } for which λ_{ c } ≈ GE_{ γ }/c^{4} = hG/(λ_{ c }c^{3}). The solution is \({\lambda _c} \approx \sqrt {hG/{c^3}}\), which is the Planck length
 3.
Interestingly, and as a side remark, the structure of the phase space of gravity with boundaries used in the description of concrete physical models seems to provide an extra justification for the use of the holonomyflux variables (see Section IV E in [165] for a more detailed discussion of this intriguing fact)
 4.
Most (if not all) of the applications of general relativity make use of this concept together with the knowledge of certain exact solutions. In special situations there are even preferred coordinate systems based on this notion, which greatly simplify interpretation (e.g., comoving observers in cosmology, or observers at infinity for isolated systems)
 5.
In this case, one would need first to solve the constraints of general relativity in order to find the initial data representing the selfgravitating objects. Then one would have essentially two choices: 1) Fix a lapse N(t) and a shift N^{ a }(t), evolve with the constraints, obtain a spacetime (out of the data) in a particular gauge, and finally ask the diffinvariantquestion; or 2) try to answer the question by simply studying the data itself (without tevolution). It is far from obvious whether the first option (the conventional one) is any easier than the second
 6.
In order to make a Planck scale observation, we need a Planck energy probe (think of a Planck energy photon). It would be absurd to suppose that one can disregard the interaction of such a photon with the gravitational field, treating it as a test photon
 7.Notice that (for example) the right invariant vector field \({{\mathcal J}^i}(U) = {\sigma ^i}{}_B^AU{}_C^B\partial/\partial U{}_C^A\) has a welldefined action at the level of Eq. (244) and acts as a B operator at the level of (241) sincewhere σ^{ i } are Pauli matrices$$ i{\chi ^i}(U)\left[ {{e^{i{\rm{Tr}}[Bu]}}} \right]{{\vert}_{U\sim1}} = {\rm{Tr}}[{\sigma ^i}UB]{e^{i{\rm{Tr}}[BU]}}{{\vert}_{U\sim1}}\sim{B^i}{e^{i{\rm{Tr}}[BU]}},$$(11)
 8.
This difficulty also arises in the BarrettCrane model, as we shall see in Section 10
 9.
Iwasaki defines another model involving multiple cellular complexes to provide a simpler representation of wedge products in the continuum action. A more detailed presentation of this model would require the introduction of various technicalities at this stage, so we refer the reader to [231]
 10.
The six components B^{ IJ } are associated to invariant vector fields in the Lorentz group as a direct consequence of the discretization procedure in spin foams. This makes them noncommutative and render the simplicity constraints (functionals of the B field alone) non commutative. The origin of the noncommutativity of B fields is similar to the noncommutativity of fluxed in canonical LQG [30]
 11.
See also [12] for linear simplicity constraints
 12.
I am grateful to M. Montesinos and M. Velázquez for discussions and contributions to the present section
 13.
In fact, Eq. (36) implies that \(\Gamma _a^i[E] = \Gamma _a^i[\lambda E]\) for a constant λ. This homogeneity property plus the existence of W[E] implies that \(W[E] = \int {E_i^a\Gamma _a^i}\), as can be verified by direct calculation
 14.
The constraint structure does not distinguish SO(3) from SU(2), as both groups have the same Lie algebra. From now on we choose to work with the more fundamental (universal covering) group SU(2). In fact, this choice is physically motivated as SU(2) is the gauge group, if we want to include fermionic matter [278]
 15.
In the physics of the standard model we are used to identifying the coordinate t with the physical time of a suitable family of observers. In the general covariant context of gravitational physics, the coordinate time t plays the role of a label with no physical relevance. One can arbitrarily change the way we coordinatize spacetime without affecting the physics. This redundancy in the description of the physics (gauge symmetry) induces the appearance of constraints in the canonical formulation. The constraints in turn are the generating functions of these gauge symmetries. The Hamiltonian generates evolution in coordinate time t, but because redefinition of t is pure gauge, the Hamiltonian is a constraint itself, i.e., \({\mathcal H} = 0\) on shell [143, 223]
 16.
The construction is rather a projective limit [32]. This leads to nontrivial requirements (cylindrical consistency) on the structure (operators) of the theory. This point is very important for spin foams, especially in considering the refining limit of amplitudes. We will revisit this issue in Section 7.5
 17.
Spinnetworks were introduced by Penrose [296, 297, 299, 298] in a attempt to define 3dimensional Euclidean quantum geometry from the combinatorics of angular momentum in quantum mechanics. Independently they have been used in lattice gauge theory as a natural basis for gauge invariant functions on the lattice. For an account of their applications in various contexts see [345]
 18.
According to the triple \(Cyl \subset {\mathcal H} \subset Cyl^{\ast}\)
 19.
The Imirzi parameter ι is a free parameter in the theory. This ambiguity is purely quantum mechanical (it disappears in the classical limit). It has to be fixed in terms of physical predictions. The computation of blackhole entropy in LQG fixes the value of γ (see [26])
 20.
However, there is an additional complication here: the canonical constraint algebra does not reproduce the 4diffeomorphism Lie algebra. This complicates the geometrical meaning of S
 21.
 22.
 23.
In the notation of Section 4, states in \({\mathcal H_{{\rm{phys}}}}\) are elements of Cyl*
 24.
It is important to point out that the integration over the algebravalued B field does not exactly give the group delta function. For instance, in the simple case where G = SU(2) with B ∈ su(2), integration leads to the SO(3) delta distribution (which only contains integer spin representations in the mode expansion (85)). Generally, one ignores this fact and uses the Gdelta distribution in the models found in the literature
 25.
 26.
The importance of such a formulation of the constraints was emphasized before by Alexandrov
 27.
The definition of polymerlike gaugeinvariant states as elements of a Hilbert space of a gauge theory with noncompact group is an open issue. The naive attempts fail, the basic problem is that gaugeinvariant states are not square integrable functions with respect to the obvious generalization of the AL measure for a fixed graph: this is due to the infinite volume of the gauge group (the invariant measure is not normalizable). For that reason the discussion of the Lorentzian sector with G = SL(2, ℂ) is usually formal. See [183] for some insights on the problem of defining a gaugeinvariant Hilbert space of graphs for noncompact gauge groups
 28.The physical inner product between spinnetwork states satisfies the following inequalityfor some positive constant C. The convergence of the sum for genus g ≥ 2 follows directly. The case of the sphere g = 0 and the torus g = 1 can be treated individually [107]$${\vert}{\langle s,s{\prime}\rangle _p}{\vert}\, \leq C\sum\limits_j {{{(2j + 1)}^{2  2g}}},$$
 29.
We are dealing with Riemannian 3dimensional gravity. This should not be confused with the approach of Euclidean quantum gravity formally obtained by a Wick rotation of Lorentzian gravity. Notice the imaginary unit in front of the action. The theory of Riemannian quantum gravity should be regarded as a toy model with no obvious connection to the Lorentzian sector
 30.For simplicity we concentrate on the Abelian case G = U(1). The analysis can be extended to the nonAbelian case. Writing g ∈ U(1) as g = e^{ iθ }, the analog of the gravity simplicial action iswhere F_{ f }({θ_{ e }}) = ∑_{ e∈f } θ_{ e }. Gauge transformations corresponding to (224) act at the end points of edges \(e \in {{\mathcal J}_\Delta}\) by the action of group elements {β} in the following way$$S(\Delta, \{{e_f}\}, \{{\theta _e}\}) = \sum\limits_{f \in \Delta ^{\ast}} {{e_f}{F_f}(\{{\theta _e}\})},$$(249)where the subindex s (respectively t) labels the source vertex (respectively target vertex) according to the orientation of the edge. The gauge invariance of the simplicial action is manifest. The gauge transformation corresponding to (225) acts on vertices of the triangulation Δ and is given by$$\begin{array}{*{20}c} {{e_f} \rightarrow {e_f},\quad \quad \quad \,\,} \\ {{\theta _e} \rightarrow {\theta _e} + {\beta _s}  {\beta _t},} \\ \end{array}$$(250)According to the discrete analog of Stokes’ theorem,$$\begin{array}{*{20}c} {{B_f} \rightarrow {B_f} + {\eta _s}  {\eta _t},} \\ {{\theta _e} \rightarrow {\theta _e}{.}\quad \quad \quad \quad} \\ \end{array}$$(251)which implies the invariance of the action under the transformation above. The divergence of the corresponding spinfoam amplitudes is due to this last freedom. Alternatively, one can understand it from the fact that Stokes’ theorem implies a redundant delta function in (242) per bubble in \({{\mathcal J}_\Delta}\)$$\sum\limits_{f \in {\rm{Bubble}}} {{F_f}} (\{{\theta _e}\}) = 0,$$
 31.
If \({\mathcal M} = {S^2} \times [0,1]\) one can construct a cellular decomposition interpolating any two graphs on the boundaries without having internal bubbles and hence no divergences
 32.
 33.
 34.
An interesting example, where this is strictly realized, is the midisuperspace formulation of black holes in the context of LQG known as the isolatedhorizon formulation (see [31] for a review). In this framework the area of what represents the blackhole horizon is a Dirac observable and has a discrete spectrum inherited from the area spectrum of the kinematical area in the full theory [26]. Such discreteness is crucial in recovering the BekensteinHawking area law for the blackhole entropy in LQG [170, 25]
 35.
Baez [38] points out this equivalence relation between spin foams as a necessary condition for the definition of the category of spin foams
 36.
Breaking gauge symmetries comes handinhand with introducing (unwanted) new degrees of freedom. For example, longitudinal photon modes would appear if U(1) gauge symmetry is violated in electromagnetism; similar spurious modes come to life if diffeormorphism invariance is broken in gravity theories
 37.
Changing the label of a face from j to j +1 amounts to changing an area eigenvalue by an amount on the order of the Planck length squared according to (71)
 38.
This is more than a ‘sum over topologies’ as many of the twocomplexes appearing in the perturbative expansion cannot be associated to any manifold [134]
 39.
Already, the GFT formulation is clearly nontrivial in the case of topological theories. There have been attempts to make sense of the GFT formulation dual to BF theories in lower dimensions [253]
 40.
For an example of protecting symmetry, see [113]; however, notice that the noncompact nature of the protecting symmetry in this case makes it seemingly unsuitable for a sensible possibility in LQG.
Notes
Acknowledgements
I would like to thank many people in the field that have helped me in various ways. I am grateful to Benjamin Bahr, Eugenio Bianchi, Bianca Dittrich, Carlo Rovelli and Simone Speziale for the many discussions on aspects and details of the recent literature. Many detailed calculations that contributed to the presentation of the new models in this review were done in collaboration with Mercedes Velázquez to whom I would like to express my gratitude. I would also like to thank Sergey Alexandrov, You Ding, Florian Conrady, Laurent Freidel, Muxin Han, Merced Montesinos and José Antonio Zapata for their help and valuable interaction.
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