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This book addresses a basic question in differential geometry that was first considered by physicists Stanley Deser and Adam Schwimmer in 1993 in their study of conformal anomalies. The question concerns conformally invariant functionals on the space of Riemannian metrics over a given manifold. These functionals act on a metric by first constructing a Riemannian scalar out of it, and then integrating this scalar over the manifold. Suppose this integral remains invariant under conformal re-scalings of the underlying metric. What information can one then deduce about the Riemannian scalar? Deser and Schwimmer asserted that the Riemannian scalar must be a linear combination of three obvious candidates, each of which clearly satisfies the required property: a local conformal invariant, a divergence of a Riemannian vector field, and the Chern-Gauss-Bonnet integrand. This book provides a proof of this conjecture. The result itself sheds light on the algebraic structure of conformal anomalies, which appear in many settings in theoretical physics. It also clarifies the geometric significance of the renormalized volume of asymptotically hyperbolic Einstein manifolds. The methods introduced here make an interesting connection between algebraic properties of local invariants--such as the classical Riemannian invariants and the more recently studied conformal invariants--and the study of global invariants, in this case conformally invariant integrals. Key tools used to establish this connection include the Fefferman-Graham ambient metric and the author's super divergence formula.
What can fashionable ideas, blind faith, or pure fantasy possibly have to do with the scientific quest to understand the universe? Surely, theoretical physicists are immune to mere trends, dogmatic beliefs, or flights of fancy? In fact, acclaimed physicist and bestselling author Roger Penrose argues that researchers working at the extreme frontiers of physics are just as susceptible to these forces as anyone else. In this provocative book, he argues that fashion, faith, and fantasy, while sometimes productive and even essential in physics, may be leading today's researchers astray in three of the field's most important areas—string theory, quantum mechanics, and cosmology. Arguing that string theory has veered away from physical reality by positing six extra hidden dimensions, Penrose cautions that the fashionable nature of a theory can cloud our judgment of its plausibility. In the case of quantum mechanics, its stunning success in explaining the atomic universe has led to an uncritical faith that it must also apply to reasonably massive objects, and Penrose responds by suggesting possible changes in quantum theory. Turning to cosmology, he argues that most of the current fantastical ideas about the origins of the universe cannot be true, but that an even wilder reality may lie behind them. Finally, Penrose describes how fashion, faith, and fantasy have ironically also shaped his own work, from twistor theory, a possible alternative to string theory that is beginning to acquire a fashionable status, to "conformal cyclic cosmology," an idea so fantastic that it could be called "conformal crazy cosmology." The result is an important critique of some of the most significant developments in physics today from one of its most eminent figures.
Da oltre un secolo la fisica teorica sembra progredire in una marcia inarrestabile di trionfi. Dopo le grandi rivoluzioni della relatività einsteiniana e della meccanica quantistica, la ricerca del Santo Graal di una Teoria del Tutto ha prodotto frutti clamorosi: il modello cosmologico standard ci ha permesso di definire l'evoluzione dell'universo dal Big Bang fino ai suoi possibili destini ultimi, mentre l'imponente architettura matematica della teoria delle stringhe ci offre una visione elegante della struttura essenziale della materia e dello spaziotempo. Tutto bene, dunque?Roger Penrose ci mostra con la consueta forza delle sue argomentazioni che le cose non stanno esattamente così. Quanto l'indiscutibile eleganza della teoria delle stringhe e la sua conseguente popolarità impediscono di dedicare le nostre ricerche a ipotesi forse meno spettacolari ma più solide? Quale base reale hanno i voli di fantasia delle teorie cosmologiche attuali, erette sul dogma del modello inflazionario? E la precisione straordinaria delle predizioni della meccanica quantistica giustifica la fede cieca nell'affidabilità dei suoi traballanti fondamenti concettuali? Con lo sguardo penetrante, l'originalità di pensiero e l'indipendenza di giudizio che da sempre ne contraddistinguono la ricerca scientifica e l'opera di divulgazione, in questo suo nuovo saggio Penrose ci fornisce uno spaccato profondo e sorprendente del valore e delle debolezze della nuova scienza fondamentale.

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