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The Complexities Of Thinking About Parallel Universes

By James Donahue

Writers of science-fiction and esoteric matters like to talk about parallel universes and envision how life forms can magically move from the present universe to another, somewhat like our own but different, by simply getting into a machine and pushing a button.

I have been guilty of suggesting that aliens freely visit our world by shifting from their universe to ours in those strange UFOs and then going back again. After our misadventures with space exploration, it seemed a more plausible explanation for alien visitation than believing another race of beings could, or would travel light miles from other galaxies or constellations to visit Earth.

Within the last century physicists and mathematicians have developed a string theory that makes the concept of parallel universes more plausible. The concept is plausible, at least mathematically. From a reality standpoint, the probability of our ever finding a way to easily travel from one universe to its twin appears to be out of our grasp.

The string theory suggests that, at its core, the universe we live in is composed of subatomic strings within a closed loop, or circle. According to the theory, everything in the universe can be explained in terms of these microscopic strings, or loops. To get a grasp on this, think of the tiny atom with protons and electrons in motion around neutrons, much as planets spin around our sun and millions of solar systems spinning around in a constellation and each constellation spinning about within a galaxy, and so on.

It all seems to work in remarkable order, and yet when the mathematicians and physicists start working out all of the complex equations, based upon the string theory, they come up with a remarkable number of possibilities for parallel universes, all similar but all uniquely different from our own.

One article by Margaret Wertheim quotes physicist Joseph Polchinski as estimating as many as 10 to the power of 60 solutions to these equations. That would count out to a million billion billion billion billion billion billion possible universes. I think there would be a lot of zeros in a figure like that.

Wertheim quotes Stanford University physicist Andrei Linde who she says has developed a theory of "eternal inflation." He suggests that there exists an "infinite bubbling sea of universes, each as real and concrete as our own.

"In Linde's theory, each universe is a unique bubble of space and time equipped with its own laws of physics and its own cosmic history. These other universes may differ wildly from our own, possessing different kinds of matter, different kinds of forces, even different numbers of dimensions," she wrote.

Then there is Lee Smolin, a specialist in quantum gravity at Perimer Institute in Canada, who suggests that baby universes constantly "bud" from older universes from the heart of black holes.

Of course there is the belief among the occultists that each human, possessing a piece of the soul or God within them, generates his or her own universe from mere existence and thought. We all live in our own unique universe that overlaps and interacts with the universes of the people we come in contact with each day. We also believe that we have the mental ability to shape and change our universes as we choose.

I enjoy carrying this concept one step farther. That is to say that each time we make a choice in life, we are, in effect, splitting our universe into two parts. In one universe we take the left road and in the other universe we turn right. We consciously follow the choice that we make and continue on that path. But in the new universe, there is a clone of ourselves following the other path and living out its consequences.

With somewhere between six and seven billion people on this planet, all actively generating multiple new universes every day, it is conceivable that Polchinski's impossible number of parallel universes, calculated from the string theory way of looking at things, might be quite right.