It is clear that, like quantum geometrodynamics, the functional integral approach makes fundamental use of a manifold. This means not just that it uses mathematical continua, such as the real numbers (to represent the values of coordinates, or physical quantities); it also postulates a 4-dimensional manifold M as an ‘arena for physical events’. However, its treatment of this manifold is very different from the treatment of spacetime in general relativity in so far as it has a Euclidean, not Lorentzian metric (which, apart from anything else, makes the use of the word ‘event’ distinctly problematic). Also, we may wish to make a summation over different such manifolds, it is in general necessary to consider complex metrics in the functional integral (so that the ‘distance squared’ between two spacetime points can be a complex number), whereas classical general relativity uses only real metrics.
Thus one might think that the manifold (or manifolds!) does not (do not) deserve the name ‘spacetime’. But what is in a name?! Let us in any case now ask how spacetime as understood in present-day physics could emerge from the above use of Riemannian manifolds M, perhaps taken together with other theoretical structures.
In particular: if we choose to specify the boundary conditions using the no-boundary proposal, this means that we take only those saddle-points of the action as contributors (to the semi-classical approximation of the wave function) that correspond to solutions of the Einstein field equations on a compact manifold M with a single boundary Σ and that induce the given values h and φ0 on Σ.
In this way, the question of whether the wave function defined by the functional integral is well approximated by this semi-classical approximation (and thus whether it predicts classical spacetime) turns out to be a question of choosing a contour of integration C in the space of complex spacetime metrics. For the approximation to be valid, we must be able to distort the contour C into a steepest-descents contour that passes through one or more of these stationary points and elsewhere follows a contour along which |e−I| decreases as rapidly as possible away from these stationary points. The wave function is then given by:
Ψ[h, φ0, Σ] ≈ ∑p e−Ip/ ̄h
where Ip are the stationary points of the action through which the contour passes, corresponding to classical solutions of the field equations satisfying the given boundary conditions. Although in general the integral defining the wave function will have many saddle-points, typically there is only a small number of saddle-points making the dominant contribution to the path integral.
For generic boundary conditions, no real Euclidean solutions to the classical Einstein field equations exist. Instead we have complex classical solutions, with a complex action. This accords with the account of the emergence of time via the semiclassical limit in quantum geometrodynamics.