In his book "The Grand Design" on page 167-173 Stephen Hawking explains how one can get rid of the so called "time zero issue", meaning by this the very special initial state needed for inflation to work (?), by applying the so called "no-boundery condition" which says that time behaves as a closed space dimension for times small enough such that the universe is still governed by quantum gravity.

To see better what Hawking is talking or writing about I`d like to understand this a bit more "technically" and detailed, so my questions are:

1) How can situations where QG kicks in lead to a transition of the time dimension to a space dimension? I mean what is the physical reason for this "ambiguity" of the signature of the correspondng spacetime metric?

2) What are the triggering causes of the "symmetry breaking" between the 4 space dimensions when starting from the no-boundary condition such that one of the space dimensions becomes an open time dimension at the beginning of time?

3) Are there (quantum gravity) theories or models that can explain 1) and 2) and if so, how?

Since I've just read about these issues recently in the "Grand Design" (and nothing else) I`m probably confused and hope that somebody can enlighten me by explaining some details ...

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    $\begingroup$ I know that this stuff is speculative and I know that there are several related questions around (which however do not answer my specific questios) but I hope this gets not closed immediately :-) ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Feb 3 '12 at 23:59
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    $\begingroup$ I don't see why it would, it seems like a perfectly good question to me... $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 4 '12 at 1:34

I don't have "The Grand Design", so I hope my answer is relevant:

The question I assume he's addressing is "what is the amplitude for arriving at a universe with 3 metric $h_{ij}$ on a spatial 3 slice $\Sigma$?" This amplitude, which will be a complex wavefunction on the space of 3 metrics, is given by the path integral over all the past 4 geometries which induce $h_{ij}$ on the slice. Unfortunately, classical Lorentzian 4 geometries have a past cosmological singularity, which renders things a bit problematic.

This path integral can be computed in the Euclidean domain, i.e. over Euclidean metrics. Using the saddle point approximation, the path integral is dominated by Euclidean metrics which are classical solutions of the field equations. The Hartle-Hawking guess/hypothesis/ansatz was to take the path integral over non singular compact Euclidean metrics - ones which don't have a cosmological singularity in the past.

Hawking describes an example: $\Sigma$ is a 3 sphere of radius a. This can be taken as the boundary of one of the pieces of an $S^4$ which has been sliced into two. This has the metric of a 4-sphere of radius $\sqrt{3\over\Lambda}$ where $\Lambda$ is the cosmological constant. Computing the action, he notes that for $a<\sqrt{3\over\Lambda}$ the wavefunction is exponential, but for $a>=\sqrt{3\over\Lambda}$, it's oscillatory.

Now Lorentzian signature De-Sitter space, thought of as a Lorentzian FRW universe can be Wick rotated to a Euclidean solution and, having done this, we arrive at an $S^4$ metric. So, if we wish, we can think of our $S^4$ slice as a Euclidean de Sitter space with boundary an $S^3$ of radius $\sqrt{3\over\Lambda}$. This motivates Hawking to talk of $\sqrt{3\over\Lambda}$ as the radius beyond which we can think of a Lorentz signature solution - we can think of smoothly joining an expanding Lorentzian de Sitter spacetime to this boudary. It happens at the same radius at which the wavefunction switches from exponential to oscillatory behaviour (as a function of the radius).

I guess your question is really how to interpret this situation. I've always thought of the Euclidean signature part as just a component in a mathematical model of a tunneling phenomenon-similar in some ways to the Yang Mills Euclidean instanton, which can cause fermion/antifermion transitions. In this case, the "tunneling" is from nothing to a De-Sitter universe. All we're talking about is a path integral contribution - a Euclidean 4 metric which happens to have an analytic continuation to a Lorentzian De-Sitter metric, so I don't see how there is a need for a mechanism to "cause" a signature change at a given point in time, because it's just a calculation, but I'm open to being educated by someone more knowledgeable.

Hawking describes this in a readable way in some more detail in chapter 5 of this book, which contains this De Sitter example.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @twistor59, Your answer containing Hawkings example helps a lot to make things clearer :-). I do not exactly know what the saddle point approximation is but this does not really reduce the comprehensibility of the ideas You explained to me. Thinking about the interpretation of the situation, certain tunneling or vacuum transition like processes came to my mind too ... Maybe somebody has additional things to say from this point of view...? Ill probably make the book You linked to my next nice and exciting "bed-time" reading. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Feb 4 '12 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ Hi @Dilaton You're in luck, I found the contents of the book available on the arxiv $\endgroup$ – twistor59 Feb 4 '12 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ Wow thanks a lot @twistor59, it's downloaded and saved :-) $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Feb 4 '12 at 19:33

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