There’s a quite interesting discussion going on about Wick rotation over at Lubos Motl’s weblog.
In flat space-time, the situation is well-understood: if your Hamiltonian has good positivity properties you can analytically continue to imaginary values of time, and when you do this you end up with “Euclidean” path integrals, which actually make sense, unlike QFT path integrals expressed on Minkowski space, which don’t. You can see the problem even in free field theory: the propagator is given by an integral that goes through two poles, so is ill-defined. The correct way to define it to get causal propagation for a theory with positive energies is to go above one pole, below the other, which is equivalent to “Wick rotating” the integration contour 90 degrees to lie on the imaginary time axis.
In a curved space time, things are much trickier. And in a path integral approach to quantum gravity it is very tricky. Do you integrate over all metrics with Lorentz signature (ignoring the fact that the path integral doesn’t really make sense for a single one), or do you integrate over Euclidean signature metrics (Euclidean Quantum Gravity)? There are arguments against either choice, not to mention the non-renormalizability problems that both may have. For some of the arguments, see the debate in Lubos’s comment section, which gives some idea of how confused the state of this question is. Another good reference is the article by Gary Gibbons in the Hawking 60th birthday celebration volume. It doesn’t seem to be on-line, but his talk at the workshop is.
I’ve always thought this whole confusion is an important clue that there is something about the relation of QFT and geometry that we don’t understand. Things are even more confusing than just worrying about Minkowski vs. Euclidean metrics. To define spinors, we need not just a metric, but a spin connection. In Minkowski space this is a connection on a Spin(3,1)=SL(2,C) bundle, in Euclidean space on a Spin(4)=SU(2)xSU(2) bundle, and these are quite different things, with associated spinor fields with quite different properties. So the whole “Wick Rotation” question is very confusing even in flat space-time when one is dealing with spinors.
Over the years I’ve tried to sell the outrageous idea that one should define QFT in Euclidean space time, with one of the two SU(2)s in Spin(4) being Spin(3), the spatial rotations, the other being the SU(2) of the electroweak gauge group. I’ve never been able to get anyone to take this seriously, partly because I’ve never come up with a well-defined way of writing down path integrals which implement this idea.
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