Physics, Earth & Space Icon Physics, Earth & Space

As if the Multiverse Wasn’t Bizarre Enough … Meet Many Worlds

Denyse O'Leary


In 1957 physicist Hugh Everett suggested the “Many Worlds” hypothesis as a proposed interpretation of quantum mechanics. He suggested that the universe constantly splits into different futures each time a subatomic particle goes one way as opposed to the other. Everett thus promptly exited theoretical physics.
However now, some hope that combining Everett’s “many worlds” theory with the multiverse will strengthen current cosmology. New Scientist‘s Justin Mullins explains:

Two of the strangest ideas in modern physics — that the cosmos constantly splits into parallel universes in which every conceivable outcome of every event happens, and the notion that our universe is part of a larger multiverse — have been unified into a single theory.

In other words, not only is there an infinite number of universes, but they come into existence every time you turn right instead of left.
Today, such ideas come thicker, faster. We are told, “Our cosmos was ‘bruised’ in collisions with other, never-observed universes. Or we are living in a giant hologram.* Alternatively, a University of Washington team enterprisingly suggests that maybe the universe is fine-tuned because we are living in a computer simulation, one constructed by super-intelligent descendants who have gone back in time. Science writer Ray Villard offers:

Before you dismiss this idea as completely loony, the reality of such a Sim Universe might solve a lot of eerie mysteries about the cosmos. About two-dozen of the universe’s fundamental constants happen to fall within the narrow range thought to be compatible with life. At first glance it seems as unlikely as balancing a pencil on its tip. Jiggle these parameters and life as we know it would have never appeared. Not even stars and galaxies. This is called the Anthropic principle … We are also living at a very special time in the universe’s history where it switched gears from decelerating to accelerating under the push of dark energy. This begs the question “why me why now?”

Before anyone attempts to offer an alternative to the Sim, he advises:

Biblical creationists can no doubt embrace these seeming cosmic coincidences as unequivocal evidence for their “theory” of Intelligent Design (ID). But is our “God” really a computer programmer rather than a bearded old man living in the sky?

Science-Fictions-square.gifVillard implies that only Biblical creationists think that fine-tuning points to a First Cause. That’s a fiction he needs; his proposed alternative is even more bizarre than his caricatured mash-up of creationists and advocates of intelligent design.
Never mind, Lee Smolin and colleagues aim to take relativity to a whole new level, with space-time in their sights: “They say we need to forget about the home Einstein invented for us: we live instead in a place called phase space.” Which, we are told, is a “curious eight-dimensional world that merges our familiar four dimensions of space and time and a four-dimensional world called momentum space. Smolin, incidentally, does not think that there is a scientific method, just scientific ethics and that laws of nature can evolve over time, in Darwinian fashion. Physics now bows to Darwinian theory, where once it was the reverse.
The eternal cyclic universe is also back. Perimeter Institute cosmologist Neil Turok informs us:

I’m exploring the idea that the singularity was not the beginning of time. In this new view, time didn’t have a beginning, and the Big Bang resulted from a collision of branes, sheetlike spaces that exist within a higher-dimensional reality. These collisions might happen repeatedly, creating an eternal, cyclic universe.

Indeed, we are told, time flows backward. Thinking it travels exclusively forward “may be not just an illusion but a lie … ” Discover‘s Zeeya Merali says. Max Tegmark suggests, “Perhaps we will gradually get used to the weird ways of our cosmos and find its strangeness to be part of its charm.”
“Time need not end in the multiverse,” burbles science writer Amanda Gefter, as if time or anything else would mean anything in a multiverse. Others suggest, maybe the universes are a wave function. And our own universe may exist inside a black hole. Not to worry, our “original” universe will eventually be populated by “a near-infinite number of advanced, virtual civilizations” featuring “autonomous, conscious beings.”
And there is the usual, indeed endless, moralizing: Tegmark proclaims, “We humans have a well-documented tendency toward hubris, arrogantly imagining ourselves at center stage, with everything revolving around us.” And cosmologist Raphael Bousso at the University of California, Berkeley, accuses the science community of the sin of “lying to ourselves,” by refusing to assume that the “many worlds” theory may be true. Lack of clear evidence has, apparently, nothing to do with it.
By the way, there is life after death: Some clever beings might survive our universe’s predicted demise, provided they develop suitable technologies. Apocalypses are also on offer: Stephen Hawking doubts humans will survive another thousand years without escaping Earth.
And God is back too, but not like you remember him. Agnostic physicist Paul Davies explains:

Far from doing away with a transcendent Creator, the multiverse theory actually injects that very concept at almost every level of its logical structure. Gods and worlds, creators and creatures, lie embedded in each other, forming an infinite regress in unbounded space.

So God turns out to be just one more note of cacophony in the transcendent goofiness.
Remember, all this got started just to explain away fine-tuning.
We are told that we are “on the brink of understanding everything,” when our cosmology guarantees that we can understand nothing and there is nothing to understand anyway. Everything, you see, is true — for fifteen seconds.
* Some say the hologram universe originated in an argument Stephen Hawking had with other physicists.
Image credit: Stinging Eyes/Flickr.

Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she has published two books on the topic: Faith@Science and By Design or by Chance? She has written for publications such as The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, and Canadian Living. She is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist'€™s Case for the Existence of the Soul. She received her degree in honors English language and literature.