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All models of space that I know from physics use real or complex manifolds. I was just wondering if it is still the case at the level of Planck scale. In string theory, physicists still use strings (circles) in a 11 dimensional manifold in order to model particles. Do they do this because there is no mathematical alternatives or because the nature (mathematical essence) of space at the Planck scale is still not yet discovered?

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closed as off-topic by Qiaochu Yuan, Stefan Waldmann, YCor, Stefan Kohl, Ian Morris Feb 12 '15 at 12:30

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about research level mathematics within the scope defined in the help center." – Qiaochu Yuan, Stefan Waldmann, YCor, Stefan Kohl, Ian Morris
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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There are approaches to quantum gravity where spacetime is described as a quantum superposition of labelled piecewise-linear CW complexes or other related combinatorial/algebraic entities. See for example:

However, your question feels more like a physics question than a math question to me.

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This paper by Carlip http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0108040 is a good, relatively nontechnical explanation of why it's hard to reconcile quantum mechanics (QM) with general relativity (GR).

GR says that spacetime is a real manifold with a semi-Riemannian metric. QM says that the possible states of a system form a complex vector space.

If you naively try to combine these two ideas, it's hard to make sense of the result. Given one manifold-with-metric $M_1$ and another one $M_2$, what would it even mean to talk about the linear combination $c_1M_1+c_2M_2$, where $c_1$ and $c_2$ are complex numbers? The spacetimes $M_1$ and $M_2$ do not have any built-in way of matching up points in one with points in the other. The two spacetimes don't even need to have the same topology. In quantum mechanics, we would also have the Born rule, which says that $|c_1|^2$ and $|c_2|^2$ have interpretations as the probabilities of outcomes of measurements. It's not clear what these probabilities would mean in this context.

So should spacetime be described at the Planck scale as a real manifold, or if not, then what? Straightforward application of the fundamental principles of the two theories seems to lead to nonsense answers. We really don't know.

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  • $\begingroup$ That naive attempt at combining the two ideas is way too naive! $\endgroup$ – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Feb 12 '15 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ I essentially agree with the general message of this answer, but I disagree with the objection given to the naive proposal. The linear combination $c_1M_1+c_2M_2$ can trivially be taken in the vector space generated by the $M_i$'s and it is usually this kind of thing one has to do in quantum mechanics. For example, in gauge theory, we have classically bundles-with-connections and if $E_1$ and $E_2$ are two such objects then $c_1M_1+c_2M_2$ is a well-defined element in the Hilbert space of the theory. More generally, the "linearity" of quantum mechanics is something which has nothing to do .. $\endgroup$ – user25309 Feb 15 '15 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ with the linearity of the classical objects. I agree that the naive proposal does not work but one has to give better reasons. $\endgroup$ – user25309 Feb 15 '15 at 20:35

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