This article reviews the present status of the spin-foam approach to the quantization of gravity. Special attention is payed to the pedagogical presentation of the recently-introduced new models for four-dimensional 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 self contained 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.
We review the question of whether the fundamental laws of nature limit our ability to probe arbitrarily short distances. First, we examine what insights can be gained from thought experiments for probes of shortest distances, and summarize what can be learned from different approaches to a theory of quantum gravity. Then we discuss some models that have been developed to implement a minimal length scale in quantum mechanics and quantum field theory. These models have entered the literature as the generalized uncertainty principle or the modified dispersion relation, and have allowed the study of the effects of a minimal length scale in quantum mechanics, quantum electrodynamics, thermodynamics, black-hole physics and cosmology. Finally, we touch upon the question of ways to circumvent the manifestation of a minimal length scale in short-distance physics.
The entanglement entropy is a fundamental quantity, which characterizes the correlations between sub-systems in a larger quantum-mechanical system. For two sub-systems separated by a surface the entanglement entropy is proportional to the area of the surface and depends on the UV cutoff, which regulates the short-distance correlations. The geometrical nature of entanglement-entropy calculation is particularly intriguing when applied to black holes when the entangling surface is the black-hole horizon. I review a variety of aspects of this calculation: the useful mathematical tools such as the geometry of spaces with conical singularities and the heat kernel method, the UV divergences in the entropy and their renormalization, the logarithmic terms in the entanglement entropy in four and six dimensions and their relation to the conformal anomalies. The focus in the review is on the systematic use of the conical singularity method. The relations to other known approaches such as ’t Hooft’s brick-wall model and the Euclidean path integral in the optical metric are discussed in detail. The puzzling behavior of the entanglement entropy due to fields, which non-minimally couple to gravity, is emphasized. The holographic description of the entanglement entropy of the black-hole horizon is illustrated on the two- and four-dimensional examples. Finally, I examine the possibility to interpret the Bekenstein-Hawking entropy entirely as the entanglement entropy.
We give a comprehensive review of the quantization of midisuperspace models. Though the main focus of the paper is on quantum aspects, we also provide an introduction to several classical points related to the definition of these models. We cover some important issues, in particular, the use of the principle of symmetric criticality as a very useful tool to obtain the required Hamiltonian formulations. Two main types of reductions are discussed: those involving metrics with two Killing vector fields and spherically-symmetric models. We also review the more general models obtained by coupling matter fields to these systems. Throughout the paper we give separate discussions for standard quantizations using geometrodynamical variables and those relying on loop-quantum-gravity-inspired methods.
The problem of describing the quantum behavior of gravity, and thus understanding quantum spacetime, is still open. Loop quantum gravity is a well-developed approach to this problem. It is a mathematically well-defined background-independent quantization of general relativity, with its conventional matter couplings. Today research in loop quantum gravity forms a vast area, ranging from mathematical foundations to physical applications. Among the most significant results obtained so far are: (i) The computation of the spectra of geometrical quantities such as area and volume, which yield tentative quantitative predictions for Planck-scale physics. (ii) A physical picture of the microstructure of quantum spacetime, characterized by Planck-scale discreteness. Discreteness emerges as a standard quantum effect from the discrete spectra, and provides a mathematical realization of Wheeler’s “spacetime foam” intuition. (iii) Control of spacetime singularities, such as those in the interior of black holes and the cosmological one. This, in particular, has opened up the possibility of a theoretical investigation into the very early universe and the spacetime regions beyond the Big Bang. (iv) A derivation of the Bekenstein–Hawking black-hole entropy. (v) Low-energy calculations, yielding n-point functions well defined in a background-independent context. The theory is at the roots of, or strictly related to, a number of formalisms that have been developed for describing background-independent quantum field theory, such as spin foams, group field theory, causal spin networks, and others. I give here a general overview of ideas, techniques, results and open problems of this candidate theory of quantum gravity, and a guide to the relevant literature.
Quantum gravity is expected to be necessary in order to understand situations in which classical general relativity breaks down. In particular in cosmology one has to deal with initial singularities, i.e., the fact that the backward evolution of a classical spacetime inevitably comes to an end after a finite amount of proper time. This presents a breakdown of the classical picture and requires an extended theory for a meaningful description. Since small length scales and high curvatures are involved, quantum effects must play a role. Not only the singularity itself but also the surrounding spacetime is then modified. One particular theory is loop quantum cosmology, an application of loop quantum gravity to homogeneous systems, which removes classical singularities. Its implications can be studied at different levels. The main effects are introduced into effective classical equations, which allow one to avoid the interpretational problems of quantum theory. They give rise to new kinds of early-universe phenomenology with applications to inflation and cyclic models. To resolve classical singularities and to understand the structure of geometry around them, the quantum description is necessary. Classical evolution is then replaced by a difference equation for a wave function, which allows an extension of quantum spacetime beyond classical singularities. One main question is how these homogeneous scenarios are related to full loop quantum gravity, which can be dealt with at the level of distributional symmetric states. Finally, the new structure of spacetime arising in loop quantum gravity and its application to cosmology sheds light on more general issues, such as the nature of time.
Whereas semiclassical gravity is based on the semiclassical Einstein equation with sources given by the expectation value of the stress-energy tensor of quantum fields, stochastic semiclassical gravity is based on the Einstein–Langevin equation, which has, in addition, sources due to the noise kernel. The noise kernel is the vacuum expectation value of the (operator-valued) stress-energy bitensor, which describes the fluctuations of quantum-matter fields in curved spacetimes. A new improved criterion for the validity of semiclassical gravity may also be formulated from the viewpoint of this theory. In the first part of this review we describe the fundamentals of this new theory via two approaches: the axiomatic and the functional. The axiomatic approach is useful to see the structure of the theory from the framework of semiclassical gravity, showing the link from the mean value of the stress-energy tensor to the correlation functions. The functional approach uses the Feynman–Vernon influence functional and the Schwinger–Keldysh closed-time-path effective action methods. In the second part, we describe three applications of stochastic gravity. First, we consider metric perturbations in a Minkowski spacetime, compute the two-point correlation functions of these perturbations and prove that Minkowski spacetime is a stable solution of semiclassical gravity. Second, we discuss structure formation from the stochastic-gravity viewpoint, which can go beyond the standard treatment by incorporating the full quantum effect of the inflaton fluctuations. Third, using the Einstein–Langevin equation, we discuss the backreaction of Hawking radiation and the behavior of metric fluctuations for both the quasi-equilibrium condition of a black-hole in a box and the fully nonequilibrium condition of an evaporating black hole spacetime. Finally, we briefly discuss the theoretical structure of stochastic gravity in relation to quantum gravity and point out directions for further developments and applications.
The asymptotic safety scenario in quantum gravity is reviewed, according to which a renormalizable quantum theory of the gravitational field is feasible which reconciles asymptotically safe couplings with unitarity. The evidence from symmetry truncations and from the truncated flow of the effective average action is presented in detail. A dimensional reduction phenomenon for the residual interactions in the extreme ultraviolet links both results. For practical reasons the background effective action is used as the central object in the quantum theory. In terms of it criteria for a continuum limit are formulated and the notion of a background geometry self-consistently determined by the quantum dynamics is presented. Self-contained appendices provide prerequisites on the background effective action, the effective average action, and their respective renormalization flows.
In three spacetime dimensions, general relativity drastically simplifies, becoming a ``topological'' theory with no propagating local degrees of freedom. Nevertheless, many of the difficult conceptual problems of quantizing gravity are still present. In this review, I summarize the rather large body of work that has gone towards quantizing (2+1)-dimensional vacuum gravity in the setting of a spatially closed universe.
This article is meant as a summary and introduction to the ideas of effective field theory as applied to gravitational systems, ideas which provide the theoretical foundations for the modern use of general relativity as a theory from which precise predictions are possible.
In this review we describe a non-trivial relationship between perturbative gauge theory and gravity scattering amplitudes. At the semi-classical or tree-level, the scattering amplitudes of gravity theories in flat space can be expressed as a sum of products of well defined pieces of gauge theory amplitudes. These relationships were first discovered by Kawai, Lewellen, and Tye in the context of string theory, but hold more generally. In particular, they hold for standard Einstein gravity. A method based on $D$-dimensional unitarity can then be used to systematically construct all quantum loop corrections order-by-order in perturbation theory using as input thegravity tree amplitudes expressed in terms of gauge theory ones. More generally, the unitarity method provides a means for perturbatively quantizing massless gravity theories without the usual formal apparatus associated with the quantization of constrained systems. As one application, this method was used to demonstrate that maximally supersymmetric gravity is less divergent in the ultraviolet than previously thought.
We review the present status of black hole thermodynamics. Our review includes discussion of classical black hole thermodynamics, Hawking radiation from black holes, the generalized second law, and the issue of entropy bounds. A brief survey also is given of approaches to the calculation of black hole entropy. We conclude with a discussion of some unresolved open issues.
The construction of a consistent theory of quantum gravity is a problem in theoretical physics that has so far defied all attempts at resolution. One ansatz to try to obtain a non-trivial quantum theory proceeds via a discretization of space-time and the Einstein action. I review here three major areas of research: gauge-theoretic approaches, both in a path-integral and a Hamiltonian formulation; quantum Regge calculus; and the method of dynamical triangulations, confining attention to work that is strictly four-dimensional, strictly discrete, and strictly quantum in nature.