A group of physicists from RIKEN, a research institution, has put forward a new mathematical analysis proposing that a quantum property called “magic” could hold the key to understanding the origins of space and time. Their research, published in Physical Review D, challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental aspects of the universe and suggests that they may instead arise from a deeper underlying mechanism.

The idea that space and time are derived rather than fundamental gained momentum in the 1990s when theoretical physicist Juan Maldacena established a connection between a gravitational theory describing spacetime and a quantum theory involving particles. Maldacena’s concept envisioned a hypothetical space enclosed within an infinite “bulk” resembling a soup can, which contains objects like black holes influenced by gravity. On the surface of the can, particles governed by quantum mechanics are in motion. Maldacena demonstrated that the quantum theory describing the boundary particles is mathematically equivalent to the gravitational theory describing the black holes and spacetime inside the bulk.

According to Kanato Goto from RIKEN’s Interdisciplinary Theoretical and Mathematical Sciences (iTHEMS), this connection implies that spacetime itself is not fundamental but emerges from some quantum nature. Physicists are now striving to understand the specific quantum property that plays a crucial role in this emergence.

Initially, researchers believed that quantum entanglement, the phenomenon where particles remain connected regardless of their separation, was the key factor. The degree of entanglement on the boundary was thought to determine the smoothness of the spacetime within the bulk. However, Goto and his iTHEMS colleagues, Tomoki Nosaka and Masahiro Nozaki, found that considering entanglement alone cannot explain all the properties of black holes, such as the growth of their interiors.

Therefore, the team searched for an alternative quantum quantity applicable to the boundary system, which could also be mapped to the bulk to provide a more comprehensive description of black holes. They identified a concept called “magic,” which measures the computational difficulty of simulating a quantum state using a classical computer (one that operates on classical, non-quantum principles). The researchers’ calculations revealed that in a chaotic system, nearly any state will evolve into a “maximally magical” state, which is the most challenging to simulate.

This discovery establishes a direct connection between the quantum property of magic and the chaotic nature of black holes. Goto suggests that this finding indicates the strong involvement of magic in the emergence of spacetime.