January 15, 2014
Several science magazines have been running articles recently on the multiverse. It exists, they say. Ours is not the only universe. And the multiverse is infinite. That conclusion seems to arise from the difficulty in imagining what could lie beyond the boundaries. We all wondered, growing up, what was at the edge of the sky. Humans don't react well to infinity, but we also have a problem building a wall around the cosmos.
The aspect of all this that's especially intriguing is the premise that, in an infinite universe, every possibility occurs somewhere. That there's a place where Attila was a nice guy, trying to spread democracy; where Hitler made a name for himself as an artist and World War II never happened; where Liberace made his name playing the guitar; where we never met our closest friends; where we lived in a world without books.
Several years ago, I was having dinner with George Zebrowski and Pamela Sargent in New York. I don't recall how we got onto the subject, but George at one point found himself explaining why an infinite universe implies that every possibility occurs somewhere. "It's not me saying this," said George, "it's the physicists." I couldn't get my head around the concept, and I refused to believe that a majority of physicists could think differently than I did. (So much for the open mind.) But it just wasn't possible that the three of us were sitting on another world, having the same discussion, except that we were on different sides of the argument. I understood the theory, and I still do. I just couldn't bring myself to believe it had any connection with reality. Nor was I willing to accept the notion that any serious physicist thought otherwise.
I remember thinking that such a notion implied there was a universe where we were having the same argument and I was right. Which seemed to contradict the whole notion. Although I suspect George would have maintained that such a universe was not among the possibilities.
I've wondered periodically how it happened that the child born to my parents turned out to be me. I don't know any way to ask that question that makes sense. But how was it that I didn't show up in India, or the Philippines, or the UK? Why wasn't I born during the Roman era?
Now I know the answer: Somewhere out there, all those possibilities are occurring. Just as they are for everyone reading this. Infinity. Without limit.
I attended Catholic school, where the nuns used the term a lot. I don't recall the application, exactly. But I can tell you I had no clue what the implications were. None of us had.
Anyhow, it looks as if George was right. At least about the physicists.
The size of the Milky Way came up during lunch yesterday. And no, I didn't introduce the subject. But Jack Kraus, who'd been my boss in Chicago thirty years ago, had watched a science show describing the immensity of the cosmos. If a giant explosion were to occur at the core of the Milky Way, we wouldn't see it for 28,000 years. And the Milky Way is more or less a galaxy of average size.
There are millions of galaxies in the universe. And now physicists are saying that our universe is only a bubble in a vast sea of bubbles.
My head is starting to hurt.