World next door

Nine theories of the multiverse promise everything and more. But if reality is so vast and varied, where do we fit in?

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String Theory suggests that our universe may be like a page in a book, stacked alongside tens of trillions of others. Those other realities would be right next to us now. Photo by the Esch Collection/Getty

String Theory suggests that our universe may be like a page in a book, stacked alongside tens of trillions of others. Those other realities would be right next to us now. Photo by the Esch Collection/Getty

Michael Hanlon is a science journalist and a Templeton Journalism Fellow. His latest book is Eternity: Our Next Billion Years (2009). He lives in London.

Our understanding of the fundamental nature of reality is changing faster than ever before. Gigantic observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope on the Paranal Mountain in Chile are probing the furthest reaches of the cosmos. Meanwhile, with their feet firmly on the ground, leviathan atom-smashers such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) under the Franco-Swiss border are busy untangling the riddles of the tiny quantum world.

Myriad discoveries are flowing from these magnificent machines. You may have seen Hubble’s extraordinary pictures. You will probably have heard of the ‘exoplanets’, worlds orbiting alien suns, and you will almost certainly have heard about the Higgs Boson, the particle that imbues all others with mass, which the LHC found this year. But you probably won’t know that (if their findings are taken to their logical conclusion) these machines have also detected hints that Elvis lives, or that out there, among the flaming stars and planets, are unicorns, actual unicorns with horns on their noses. There’s even weirder stuff, too: devils and demons; gods and nymphs; places where Hitler won the Second World War, or where there was no war at all. Places where the most outlandish fantasies come true. A weirdiverse, if you will. Most bizarre of all, scientists are now seriously discussing the possibility that our universe is a fake, a thing of smoke and mirrors.

All this, and more, is the stuff of the multiverse, the great roller-coaster rewriting of reality that has overturned conventional cosmology in the last decade or two. The multiverse hypothesis is the idea that what we see in the night sky is just an infinitesimally tiny sliver of a much, much grander reality, hitherto invisible. The idea has become so mainstream that it is now quite hard to find a cosmologist who thinks there’s nothing in it. This isn’t the world of the mystics, the pointy-hat brigade who see the Age of Aquarius in every Hubble image. On the contrary, the multiverse is the creature of Astronomers Royal and tenured professors at Cambridge and Cornell.

First, some semantics. The old-fashioned, pre-multiverse ‘universe’ is defined as the volume of spacetime, about 90 billion light years across, that holds all the stars we can see (those whose light has had enough time to reach us since the Big Bang). This ‘universe’ contains about 500 sextillion stars — more than the grains of sand on all the beaches of Earth — organised into about 80 billion galaxies. It is, broadly speaking, what you look up at on a clear night. It is unimaginably vast, incomprehensibly old and, until recently, assumed to be all that there is. Yet recent discoveries from telescopes and particle colliders, coupled with new mathematical insights, mean we have to discard this ‘small’ universe in favour of a much grander reality. The old universe is as a gnat atop an elephant in comparison with the new one. Moreover, the new terrain is so strange that it might be beyond human understanding.

That hasn’t stopped some bold thinkers from trying, of course. One such is Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University in New York. He turned his gaze upon the multiverse in his latest book, The Hidden Reality (2011). According to Greene, it now comes in no fewer than nine ‘flavours’, which, he says, can ‘all work together’.

The simplest version he calls the ‘quilted multiverse’. This arises from the observation that the matter and energy we can see through our most powerful telescopes have a certain density. In fact, they are just dense enough to permit a gravitationally ‘flat’ universe that extends forever, rather than looping back on itself. We know that a repulsive field pervaded spacetime just after the Big Bang: it was what caused everything to fly apart in the way that it did. If that field was large enough, we must conclude that infinite space contains infinite repetitions of the ‘Hubble volume’, the volume of space, matter and energy that is observable from Earth.

There is another you, sitting on an identical Earth, about 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 120 light years away

If this is correct, there might — indeed, there must — be innumerable dollops of interesting spacetime beyond our observable horizon. There will be enough of these patchwork, or ‘pocket’, universes for every single arrangement of fundamental particles to occur, not just once but an infinite number of times. It is sometimes said that, given a typewriter and enough time, a monkey will eventually come up with Hamlet. Similarly, with a fixed basic repertoire of elementary particles and an infinity of pocket universes, you will come up with everything.

In such a case, we would expect some of these patchwork universes to be identical to this one. There is another you, sitting on an identical Earth, about 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 120 light years away. Other pocket universes will contain entities of almost limitless power and intelligence. If it is allowed by the basic physical laws (which, in this scenario, will be constant across all universes), it must happen. Thus there are unicorns, and thus there are godlike beings. Thus there is a place where your evil twin lives. In an interview I asked Greene if this means there are Narnias out there, Star Trek universes, places where Elvis got a personal trainer and lived to his 90s (as has been suggested by Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York). Places where every conscious being is in perpetual torment. Heavens and hells. Yes, it does, it seems. And does he find this troubling? ‘Not at all,’ he replied. ‘Exciting. Well, that’s what I say in this universe, at least.’

The quilted multiverse is only the beginning. In 1999 in Los Angeles, the Russian émigré physicist Andrei Linde invited a group of journalists, myself included, to watch a fancy computer simulation. The presentation illustrated Linde’s own idea of an ‘inflationary multiverse’. In this version, the rapid period of expansion that followed the Big Bang did not happen only once. Rather, like Trotsky’s hopes for Communism, it was a constant work in progress. An enormous network of bubble universes ensued, separated by even more unimaginable gulfs than those that divide the ‘parallel worlds’ of the quilted multiverse.

Here’s another one. String Theory, the latest attempt to reconcile quantum physics with gravity, has thrown up a scenario in which our universe is a sort of sheet, which cosmologists refer to as a ‘brane’, stacked up like a page in a book alongside tens of trillions of others. These universes are not millions of light years away; indeed, they are hovering right next to you now.

That doesn’t mean we can go there, any more than we can reach other universes in the quantum multiverse, yet another ‘flavour’. This one derives from the notion that the probability waves of classical quantum mechanics are a hard-and-fast reality, not just some mathematical construct. This is the world of Schrödinger’s cat, both alive and dead; here, yet not here. Einstein called it ‘spooky’, but we know quantum physics is right. If it wasn’t, the computer on which you are reading this would not work.

The ‘many worlds’ interpretation of quantum physics was first proposed in 1957 by Hugh Everett III (father of Mark Everett, frontman of the band Eels). It states that all quantum possibilities are, in fact, real. When we roll the dice of quantum mechanics, each possible result comes true in its own parallel timeline. If this sounds mad, consider its main rival: the idea that ‘reality’ results from the conscious gaze. Things only happen, quantum states only resolve themselves, because we look at them. As Einstein is said to have asked, with some sarcasm, ‘would a sidelong glance by a mouse suffice?’ Given the alternative, the prospect of innumerable branching versions of history doesn’t seem like such a terrible bullet to bite.

There is a non-trivial probability that we, our world, and even the vast extensions of spacetime are no more than a gigantic computer simulation

Stranger still is the holographic multiverse, which implies that ‘our world’ — not just stars and galaxies but you and your bedroom, your career problems and last night’s dinner — are mere flickers of phenomena taking place on an inaccessible plane of reality. The entire perceptible realm would amount to nothing more than shapes in a shadow theatre. This sounds like pure mysticism; indeed, it sounds almost uncannily like Plato’s allegory of the cave. Yet it has some theoretical support: Stephen Hawking relies on the idea in his solution to the Black Hole information paradox, which is the riddle of what happens to information destroyed as it crosses the Event Horizon of a dark star.

String theory affords other possibilities, and yet more layers of multiverse. But the strangest (and yet potentially simplest) of all is the idea that we live in a multiverse that is fake. According to an argument first posited in 2001 by Nick Bostrom, professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford, there is a non-trivial probability that we, our world, and even the vast extensions of spacetime that we saw in the first multiverse scenarios, are no more than a gigantic computer simulation.

The idea that what we perceive as reality is no more than a construct is quite old, of course. The Simulation Argument, as it is called, has features in common with the many layers of reality posited by some traditional Buddhist thinking. The notion of a ‘pretend’ universe, on the other hand, crops up in fiction and film — examples include the Matrix franchise and The Truman Show (1998). The thing that makes Bostrom’s idea unique is the basis on which he argues for it: a series of plausible assumptions, plus a statistical calculation.

In essence, the case goes like this. If it turns out to be possible to use computers to simulate a ‘universe’ — even just part of one — with self-aware sentient entities in it, the chances are that someone, somewhere, will do this. Furthermore, as Bostrom explained it to me, ‘Look at the way our computer simulations work. When we run a simulation of, say, the weather or of a nuclear explosion [the most complex computer simulations to date performed], we do not run them once, but many thousands, millions — even billions — of times. If it turns out that it is possible to simulate — or, more correctly, generate — conscious awareness in a machine, it would be surprising if this were done only once. More likely it would be done countless billions of times over the lifetime of the advanced civilisation that is interested in such a project.’

If we start running simulations, as we soon might, given our recent advances in computing power, this would be very strong evidence that we ourselves live in a simulation. If we conclude that we are, we have some choices. I'll say more on those below.

First, we come to the most bizarre scenario of all. Brian Greene calls it the ‘ultimate multiverse’. In essence, it says that everything that can be true is true. At first glance, that seems a bit like the quilted multiverse we met earlier. According to that hypothesis, all physical possibilities are realised because there is so much stuff out there and so much space for it to do things in.

Those who argue that this ‘isn’t science’ are on the back foot. The Large Hadron Collider could find direct evidence for aspects of string theory within the decade

The ultimate multiverse supercharges that idea: it says that anything that is logically possible (as defined by mathematics rather than by physical reality) is actually real. Furthermore, and this is the important bit, it says that you do not necessarily need the substrate of physical matter for this reality to become incarnate. According to Max Tegmark, professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the ‘Mathematical Universe Hypothesis’ can be stated as follows: ‘all structures that exist mathematically also exist physically‘. Tegmark uses a definition of mathematical existence formulated by the late German mathematician David Hilbert: it is ‘merely the freedom from contradiction’. Hence, if it is possible, it exists. We can allow unicorns but not arbitrary, logic-defying magic.

What does all this mean? If we live in a world of infinite possibilities existing across numerous dimensions, what is the point of trying to make sense of any of it? Does any of it have the slightest bearing on how we ought to live?

For the most part, scientists have no answer to these questions, except to repeat Churchill’s maxim to ‘keep buggering on’. But some have come up with tentative suggestions. Robin Hanson, an economist at George Mason University, has written several commentaries on Bostrom’s simulation thesis. His conclusions are rather depressing: ‘If our descendants prefer their simulations to be entertaining, all else equal, then you should want you and the events around you to be entertaining as well, all else equal … Be funny, outrageous, violent, sexy, strange, pathetic, heroic ... in a word “dramatic”.’

The main thing is to make your story so compelling that people want to simulate you again. Forget being good: what does morality mean in a simulated universe anyway? Instead, be interesting — be Hitler, Jesus or Princess Diana, because it magnifies the chances that you will be reincarnated the next time the universe boots up, or be brought back when the audience decides your character is too interesting to kill off.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about all these arguments is how drily respectable they are. Martin Rees, the British Astronomer Royal, is a fully paid-up member of the multiverse club. His main argument is that ‘our’ universe appears to have been suspiciously fine-tuned to allow the existence of life, the so-called anthropic principle. Change any of the basic parameters even slightly — the strength of the Strong Nuclear Force, or the gravitational constant — and you end up with a dull universe that is either a sea of radiation or a black hole.

There are those who see here the hand of god. Others say that the anthropic principle is just a special case of selection bias. Think of a very fat, very short man who walks into a shop looking for a suit. If it’s a small shop, he would be right to be surprised if he found a suit that fitted. But if the shop was big and had thousands of suits, of almost all conceivable dimensions, there would be no surprise at all. Similarly, we should not be amazed to discover we live in a universe that can contain life if there were a lot of universes to choose from.

Some accuse the multiversers of technical-mysticism, of putting their faith in claims that are fundamentally unfalsifiable. To confirm string theory, for example, would require a particle accelerator the size of Betelgeuse. But those who argue that this ‘isn’t science’ are on the back foot. It is just possible that the Large Hadron Collider will detect direct evidence of the extra dimensions needed by string theory, for instance, and provide hints as to whether ‘our’ gravity is the weak remnant of a force operating at far greater strength in another universe. This could happen within the decade, not in some theoretical Star Trek future. Meanwhile, better telescopes could resolve the issue of whether our universe is really ‘flat’ and infinite.

We should not be surprised by the multiverse. Every time we have taken a look at the world around us, it has expanded. Copernicus realised that the Earth was not the centre of creation. Edwin Hubble realised that the Milky Way was just one galaxy among billions. Now we suspect that ‘reality’ is, in fact, something so magnificently vast that we struggle even to comprehend the parameters of how to describe it. Brian Greene finds this amazing and, clearly, rather wonderful.

So, from my own position of profound befuddlement, do I. But I also find it rather troubling. There are things missing from the multiverse: an intelligible place for consciousness, for one. Then there is the sense that, in a world where all possibilities become certainties and anything that can happen does happen, moral purpose is even more elusive than in the old-fashioned singular universe. If your evil twin is out there (which, in an infinite ‘flat’ universe, he or she certainly is), what does it matter what you do in your bit of eternity? For half a millennium science has been chipping away at the idea that humanity is central and unique. The multiverse replaces the chisel with a wrecking ball.

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Comments

  • http://www.facebook.com/mt.coast MT Coast

    Nice synopsis of theories!

    • Daniel Gill

      I find that it is insinuating that people have no emotions . The biggest danger of secularism is the suggestion of an industrial mechanical universe that cares nothing about human emotions. Scientists believe in a sort of empathic genocide. They never seem to want to account for it.

      I suggest the radical supposition that what lies at the root of Lovecraftian Cosmicism is purely an emotive paradigm. there is abundant emotive causes for what happens in his stories.

      • G

        There is a small number of highly vocal people who, in their zeal to oppose all things religious, promote the "cold dead universe" meme. They do not speak for science, nor for the majority of scientists, who are in fact motivated by a deep respect for the areas of nature they study, and a deep desire to understand things as they are.

  • http://www.facebook.com/luke.schwab Luke Schwab

    Ethics in a multiverse is an idea that I have tossed around. Is there anyone working on that? Technically I should feel responsible for where I have ethically failed in this universe but if I know that in some other universe "I" did the right thing what would be the implications? Good read thanks!

    • http://www.aeonmagazine.com/ Sam Dresser

      Luke, I thought the same thing when I read this piece. Gives you a woozy, vertiginous feeling that every possibility is an actuality - an idea I dislike only because I don't like the feeling of it (a terrible reason for sure). I also was wondering what sort of scholarly work has been done on the multiverse's implications on ethics. I haven't found very much, but perhaps these two bits I've come across will whet your appetite for more: http://12tuesday.com/consequentialist-ethics-in-the-multiverse/ and http://www.scribd.com/doc/75998363/Morality-in-a-Branching-Universe-%E2%97%8F-Kristie-Miller-%E2%97%8F-paper.

      The question to me seems to be basically one about the nature of the self, as you imply. I wonder about the possibility of the other being correlating with me in another universe - a Sam Dresser working for Aeon, etc. - actually being me. I guess it would, because we would be identical (and indiscernable) in so many ways, except for the fact that we occupy different spatiotemporal points (as I understand the theory). But that's surely a major sticking point in the possibility of a causal connection, which seems to be a bear minimum for a self.

      I also wonder if Nietzsche's talk about the Eternal Return - act as if you are to live your life an infinite amount of times - has any bearing upon this mess. I suppose my basic feeling is that even though there's some possible universe out there in which I'm the king of Djibouti, it doesn't really affect my immediate moral choices in this one. Makes your head spin!

      • Scott Preston

        Speaking of Nietzsche... it is perhaps not so much the Eternal Return that represents this (turtles all the way down, as it were) but the "bridge" to the transhuman in Zarathustra. What forms the bridge in order for human beings to cross over from the 'all-too-human' to the transhuman, which we can consider another 'probable world'? It is force of intent, or what Nietzsche calls, instead, 'will', even as 'will to power' -- the will to actualise or realise.

        Eternal Return was only Nietzsche's will to realise and actualise a version of ever-lasting life. Unfortunately, I don't think Nietzsche understood the difference between eternity as timelessness and eternity as foreverness.

        • http://www.aeonmagazine.com/ Sam Dresser

          Scott, I think you're probably closer to the mark than I am in focusing on the will to power than Eternal Return.

          The will to power as I understand it is to actually will obstacles that inhibit actualizing some desire. Nietzsche sees power as the essence of pleasure, I think. So to satisfy our desire for pleasure we must exercise our power. And since power is the actual striving, the overcoming of resistance and obstacles - that activity itself and not the realizing of a desire - exercising power means that there must be obstacles and resistances to overcome. If there aren't we can't realize our desire for pleasure. Dr. Poellner sees the will to power as a second-order desire in this way, and I agree with him.

          So I think you're quite right to say that the will to power bears upon the idea of forming a bridge because there can be no greater resistance to overcome than trying to (literally) cross into another world. In the active striving to do that, you're always exercising the will to power. Pretty interesting stuff.

    • G

      I'm working on ethics as derived from empirical observations and the theories that account for them: the perennial fool's errand of seeking to derive 'ought' from 'is.' Oddly enough, some of it works pretty well.

      If it turns out that one or another variety of multiverse theory is correct, then that will have to be taken into account. But one needn't postulate a multiverse to suggest that the ethical systems of intelligent animals will vary widely: one only needs a reasonable sample of different types of intelligent life. A multiverse would only increase the range of possibilities, or entail the repetition of them, like patterns on a quilt, as it were.

      One thing is clearly true: there would have to be an ethical universal against destroying one's habitat. Intelligent life that violated that principle would destroy itself and fail natural selection, thereby removing itself from existence. Intelligent life that persists, does so in part because it observes a prohibition against destroying its habitat. (Even today with the ecological crises on Earth, there is a large plurality of humanity that strongly holds this ethic: whether they prevail over those who care not, remains to be seen.)

      If you want to get in touch, post a reply to this and then we'll arrange to get in touch via email.

      • sheila

        What would be the purpose behind the Multiverse theory , this is the question that remains, and so and what about time that would in turn be something we could never figure out because it is the same, there would be non beginning and end, flat, cycle, bubble, reverse and forward, those are the things I am curious about . as in we were and remain and will be , who's to say , and then will we ever know , darn brain ' knock, knock...

  • Daniel Gill

    Scientists must explore the taboo within the arenas of empathy and feelings. There is evidence that, as the work by Rupert Sheldrake suggests, that organisms literally feel out their growth and evolution.

    Although elements out of the Chaos suggests pure potentiality, we must not make the mistake that all things in this world are random. What rises out of Chaos does so often because it touches our feelings.

    The world also possesses music, and art. Those touch the feelings. There is near conclusive evidence also from the work of Rudolf Otto that the Holy is a purely emotional paradigm.

    • G

      Cognitive science & experimental psychology have been working on emotions for well over a century. Presently we are learning about the neurochemical correlates of emotional states. Empathy is a difficult subject for reasons having to do with how it is detected and measured, and having worked on this myself, it's far more complex than one might anticipate.

      However let's also be careful about jumping from empathy to reiki. The fact that science hasn't gotten viable answers to certain things yet, isn't good grounds to hop over the fence to la-la land. The best synthesis is for ancient wisdom to provide inspiration and ethical guidance, and science to provide the most accurate descriptions of nature.

  • Saturday Club

    I am struck by the parallels between these scientific speculations and the personal experience of dream and psychedelic states. 'There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy' - doesn't sound like this applies to these theories!

    • mercyWraith

      I am actively trying to do research on the multiverse, the string theory, and weather or not dreams are proof of this...not much out there.

  • Ken Weiss

    Really, we have to liken this stuff to either religion or marketing. Exciting, pleasing, mystifying, yes. But a reach far too far. The better way, as historic precedents show to date in the history of science, is to do our best to understand reality in realistic terms. Instead of inventing wholly implausible infini-verses, we simply don't understand the one we actually live in.

    There are long traditions of imaginary scenarios for reality, not least being religions, but including mind/body duality and many others, the multiverse being just a recent, high-tech, complexity-spangled attempt.

    Of course it could be true in some sense, but jumping to those explanations rather than something simpler goes against many valid and proven caveats about science.

    • http://profiles.google.com/rjvg50 Kirk Holden

      Your simulation will not go viral.

    • Scott Preston

      "is to do our best to understand reality in realistic terms"

      You do realise, of course, that you've uttered a tautology? So, of course, you can never, in those terms, escape the parameters of the belief system about what constitutes "real" or "The Frame of the World", as Newton once called it.

  • Scott Preston

    "....where do we fit in?"

    I should think the answer is obvious, as it is implied in the very notion of "probable selves" living in "probable worlds". If all potentialities (probabilities) are actualised simultaneously across all probable worlds, then the agency for this must be consciousness itself. It makes no sense to say that in some world Hitler's intents have triumphed when those intents were frustrated and blocked in this probable world, or that a man called Hitler never actually formed the intent with which his name in this probable world is associated. The key here is intent or intentionality. And if that is the case, it is not true that these probable worlds are inaccessible to our awareness and perception. Intentionality itself would be the Ariadne's thread leading across the boundaries of these probable worlds.

  • Andy

    I think it's shortsighted to say we live in a multiverse and then try to fit it all within something orderly like a computer out there somewhere with a man, presumably, who made it all.

    It's a mistake to think this is all orderly just because it makes sense to us. Something random experiencing randomness could seem exactly like this seems.

    Maybe it is shaped like something on the outside, but we can never get outside of it, ourselves, to see it. There is no way to tell where all of this is, what it really looks like. We can only imagine it, and it imagines it is us. But it is simply randomness, creating infinite random events.

    • Steve

      What are you talking about??

  • http://www.facebook.com/frogisis Jon Lyons

    Is anyone playing with the idea that a lot of these multiverses might be isomorphic to each other? If we had a god's-eye view, how would we actually tell an infinitely repeating quilted multiverse from a colossal but finite one that simply loops back on itself? Or, given the non-locality of certain quantum phenomena, from a block of Borgesian state-space of all possible universes? Or, taking that non-locality to the farthest extreme, how confident could we be that an event a googolplex lightyears away in a flat universe is in fact a different event from an identical one a single Planck length (or whatever) away in another braneworld?

    My gut has long since gone with Max Tegmark and the mathematical universe idea on this issue, but I haven't fully ditched the idea that our laws of physics might still *actually be* the only logically consistent ones, and that the apparent fine-tuning is an illusion. Or put another way, that our universe is *already* what all self-consistent mathematics put together looks like from the inside. But then again, maybe not.

    But even the mathematical universe idea isn't too different from the simulation argument, the only real difference being that the simulation is at the highest level naturally-occurring. ...Which it still would be, or something like it, even if we were living in a literal simulation, because everything in our universe would *actually* be a special case of the laws of physics in the "higher" universe, since it's really only a different perspective on the physical workings of their computer, which are determined by whatever the ultimate laws happen to be.

    I wish I could say otherwise, but I don't think the ethical implications are even all that interesting... Like 7 being the most common roll of a pair of dice, most universes in which you exist are just going to feature you muddling through as best you can, and the one you're perceiving is probably among them.
    But I think that perception itself opens up a lot of interesting speculation. Are you one consistent individual, or actually jumping among frozen instances of yourself in different universes according to which brain state is most probable, etc. etc.

    Of course, if there is a real multiverse, at least one version of me out there already knows the right answer to all this. Lucky bastard.

    • Steve

      "but the fact that it works so well as an explanatory framework might be hinting at something"

      How?

      Sounds like a bunch of words to me bud

    • Steve

      "Like 7 being the most common roll of a pair of dice, most universes in
      which you exist are just going to feature you muddling through as best
      you can, and the one you're perceiving is probably among them."

      In an infinite universe where all probabilities happen an infinite number of times, versions of our lives where we just muddle through occur an infinite amount of times, holding true for the inverse, where versions of our lives where we don't just muddle through also occurs an infinite amount of time. Meaning one scenario is not more probable than the other. The probability of things occurring in the multiverse in a specific way would have a ratio of infty:infty = 1:1

      Your use of the word "most" and "probably" are a paradox. Its both infinity possible and impossible that i am muddling through life right now as i am. I think anyway.

      A die does not have infinite sides.

  • http://www.livinginthehereandnow.co.za/ beachcomber

    Beam me sideways, Scotty ...

    I seem to recall reading somewhere that although there could theoretically be many universes, the one which we occupy (call it HOME) is the only one which continues to exist due to the laws of thermodynamics. So although we can imagine (with sufficient training) any reality, for it to exist in a state other than one of mathematical information requires energy and our universe (with us in it) has for some glitch been the only one able to contain this in a specific spacetime continuum. So multiverses keep being born and die every nanosecond in a sort of a spacetime foam.

    That's not to say that other big bang universes don't and aren't happening 'now' but they are not in our HOME and unrelated to the events in OUR universal spacetime continuum.

    Another interesting take from the mystical aspect is given in Alexandra David-Neel's book "Magic and Mystery in Tibet." University Books Inc., 1965 where she describes the making of a 'tulpa', a thought form which appears in this reality. This was only achieved with the input of considerable mental and as a consequence, physical energy.

    And this from New Scientist's article discussing these theories, specifically from
    The Perimeter Institute, Waterloo, Ontario a few years back.
    "Fotini Markopoulou's vision of the universe as a giant quantum computer might be more than a useful analogy: it might be true, according to some theorists. If so, there is one startling consequence: space itself might not exist.
    By replacing loop quantum gravity’s chunks of space with qubits, (quantum computer bits which in theory can be 0 and 1 at the same time) what used to be a frame of reference - space itself - becomes just a web of information. If the notion of space ceases to have meaning at the smallest scale, Markopoulou says, some of the consequences of that could have been magnified by the expansion that followed the big bang. “My guess is that the non-existence of space has effects that are measurable, if you can only see it right. Because its pretty hard to wrap your mind around what it means for there to be no space", she adds."

    Another researcher in the field of Quantum Gravity is Carlo Rovelli at the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille, France:
    "Essentially we have calculated Newton’s law starting from a world with no space and time.” he says. Newton’s law of gravity describes the attractive force between two masses separated by a given distance. However, it is not so simple to measure this separation when space has a complex quantum architecture of the sort in loop quantum gravity, where it is not even clear what is meant by distance. This has been the biggest obstacle to showing how Newton’s Law can emerge from quantised space.
    The naive way to measure length in quantised space is to hop from one quantum to another, counting how many steps it takes to reach the final destination. According to loop quantum gravity, however, the fabric of space seethes with quantum fluctuation, so the distance between two points is forever changing and can even take several values at the same time." New Scientist - 12 August 2006

    • sheila

      Walla I love this , and yes you are right, wrapping our head around the space is hard to imagine for most, true.. that is what I think as well, compressed, no space and time , it is one, therefore we will never be able to measure something we cannot contain." just saying.

  • Lee

    Everybody wants to be the next Einstein, while we still don't have cold fusion or high density capacitors to replace batteries or,the sheer number of credible UFO sightings would at least give one an idea that there is a better than 50/50 chance that gravitational propulsion might be real, how about the majority of physicists do that, rather than postulating we are all In Wonderland.At least to me it seems pretty senseless to keep deliberately crawling into a house of mirrors dreaming, knowing you will never come up with anything real. If you want to write Science fiction go for it in the mean time there's a lot to get done that's moving at a snails pace.Plus show some guts it also seems that a lot of advanced technology is not making it to the markets because it is a threat to corporate interests or challenges the status quo so this dog chasing his tail routine seems to be a pretty good dodge.

    • Doug Doakes

      Yes, yes!

    • Luiz Felipe

      No, science fiction is hard because there is need to be self concise. Reality isnt, it appears. Reality is matemathically concise, but not in the way people think. Yes, we are in the wonderland. but we are in this "part" of it, and we can make sense of it, and need to follow its rules, until we find a way to break it. If it is a computer simulation, then it must be hackable, we just dont have sufficient power yet.
      ps: sorry, my writing skill is poor.

    • TJ

      "Credible" UFO sightings? At the moment, there is no such thing as a credible UFO sighting.

  • ImInUniverse137

    My thoughts after reading this article: artistic license can be a good thing... just not when you are writing an article purporting to represent current scientific consensus. "...the multiverse [is a theory that has] overturned conventional cosmology in the last decade or two." Untrue. The Big Bang picture, with the inclusion of dark matter and dark energy, is so successful in its predictions that it is often called the "standard model of cosmology". The (various manifestations of) multiverse theory, on the other hand, currently does not make any testable predictions... it is more of an "idea" than a "theory." Moreover, the multiverse idea doesn't try to replace our cosmological picture... apples and oranges.

    This article is incredibly misleading, as it implies that the physics community has accepted the idea of the multiverse as fact, or even the most likely scenario. This is just not true. And also, the author writes, "...recent discoveries from telescopes and particle colliders...mean we have to discard this 'small' universe in favour of a much grander reality." This is just flat out *wrong*. There is absolutely no experimental evidence that suggests multiple/infinite/parallel universes. These are interesting ideas that are indeed discussed in the physics community... but, dear readers, these are just *ideas*. Of course, it would be wonderful if we could one day perform experiments to test these ideas.

    Mr. Hanlon, please be more careful in the future when writing scientific articles; popularizing science is a very good thing, but only when it is done accurately.

    Signed, a curmudgeony-sounding member of the physics community.

    • G

      Good to see that someone with physics credentials is sceptical of these multiverse proposals. I'm a sceptical layperson, whose primary critique of multiverse theories is that they are at present unfalsifiable. Once we get to a prediction that can be tested empirically, I'm all ears.

      Some of this stuff is clearly very interesting, but one must be careful to not accept ideas on the basis only of their emotional attraction.

  • Hibern

    Let's not get too carried away. None of this multiverse stuff becomes science until it is supported by experiment. So far, these theories are not amenable to being falsified via experimental testing. Historically, most conjectures of this type have ended up being discarded.

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  • M_J_Murcott

    The multiverse theory of space, or why we don't need dark energy and dark matter. - http://youtu.be/t80qywmnADM

  • Robert of Vashon

    So Einstein's statement that God doesn't play dice with the universe is correct...He just runs simulations.

  • Reddana

    I still think it is all First and Second Law.

  • http://zerodeadtime.com/ Graeme Voigt

    Possibly the greatest thing I've ever read! Beautiful.
    My mind is going crazy right now.

  • Chas…

    This reminds me of nothing so much as the conclusions the ancients came to by thinking about things rather than experimenting. Aristotle's physics is all wrong because he thought it up and accepted his hare-brained conclusions, rather than testing them against reality. These current-day physicists have no way to test their conclusions so their conjectures can and do become wilder and wilder. I personally would be surprised if any of these wild conjectures about the multiverse turns out to be true.

  • TJ Hollis

    The question I pose is how does a multiverse change ethics at all? When it comes down to it we all still have free will and whether you choose to come up with your own code of behaviour or take your morality from someone else's viewpoints you still have your own unique sense of 'right' and 'wrong'. Just because you may have an evil twin out there it does not mean that you change what your intended actions will be. In another universe there might be a version of me that is altruistic to the point of being a saint, but his actions - which are implied to be taking place simultaneously - do not stop me from being compassionate when I think it is appropriate or selfish and hurtful when I think it is appropriate. Even if these actions aren't happening simultaneously, I cannot view, measure or see the effects of my altruistic or evil twins so it comes back to me doing the same thing that they are doing and making judgements based on our own moral codes regardless of what anyone else is doing.

  • dirkbruere

    The most likely reason for this being a simulation is the possibility that we are living through a reconstruction of ancestors by our descendants. In a sufficiently large multiverse anyone can be reconstructed from arbitrarily small amounts of data.

  • sheila

    Ah but for the debate of knowing what if and how it applies still remains the Mystery , therefore why would we question if the hidden truths remain behind the question itself"

    as in the Purpose behind the theory of the Purpose. remains complex and too overwhelming for our Minds to consume the painful aspect of what is truth and does it exist"