Saturday, December 1, 2012

Multiple Multiverses of Science and Imagination

I haven’t read Brian Greene’s 2011 book, The Hidden Reality, but according to an online post which includes a summary of this work’s explanation of the most current thinking by theoretical physicists on the subject of multiple universes—a.k.a. “multiverses”—a.k.a. parallel universes—there are not only physicists who believe more than one universe is possible, as a collective whole they have proposed nine different types of multiverses. Although naturally they disagree among themselves concerning which of these, if any, has any valid possibility to really exist.

Of course, in the classical understanding of the word it’s a contradiction to speak of anything other than one universe, since the word by definition embraces all of material creation throughout all space and time. But what’s meant by more than one universe is that we human beings may be isolated in one possible reality, in which we would only be able to see a certain amount of the “total universe.” All that we could possibly detect with our senses—or even the best of scientific instruments, even imaginary futuristic ones—is confined to our “local” universe. Theoretically, others could exist.

Science fiction writers like to play with the idea that these differing universes somehow interact, even though by definition they can’t—or else craft a story set in a separate universe entirely, without making any reference back to our own world. I make specific suggestions on how these theories of different universes can apply to science fiction as I mention the different categories, so let’s look at Greene’s identification of nine types of multiverses (note the explanations of these types are my mostly own and any errors are solely mine):

Inflationary Multiverse – According to standard cosmic theory, the big bang caused the universe to expand, or inflate, from a single point. If that inflation exceeded the speed of light (as some physicists think happened), space could approach infinity in size, but we would not be able to see all of it. That’s because the speed of light is only so fast and therefore some parts of the cosmos would have expanded away from us so far that light from that area would never reach us. So each area of what is really one continuous universe would be isolated in separate bubbles and each of these separate bubbles would in effect count as a separate universe. Each of these universes would share the same dimensions and laws of physics we have and if there were some means to travel much faster than the speed of light, in theory we could visit other “inflationary multiverses.” If the number of these multiverses were infinite, it stands to reason that everything that can exist in them, does exist somewhere. Which would indicate there is another world out there “far far away” that mimics everything as it unfolds on Earth as we know it. If the universes are in fact infinite in number, there would actually be an infinite number of everything, including an infinite number of possible planet Earths…a story featuring other universes of this type requires some kind of near-infinite speed drive (perhaps based on the hypothetical particle the tachyon), which perhaps could have an explorer zoom out to the edge of known space and back…but accidentally enter an entirely differently “universe,” in which everything is either blatantly or subtly different than it was before.

Quilted Multiverse – Another view of the big bang says our universe would have expanded into separate pockets, as in the inflationary multiverse theory, but in a way that creates distinctly separated regions of space that occupy separate dimensions. Between these separated universes would be regions with no light between them, though light from all the separate “patches” in the quilt would be able to enter the void between them and would be in fact rushing to meet one another. In theory, a very much faster than light vessel could travel to these other regions, but it’s unknown what effect the interactions between pieces of this separated-by-distance and dimension multiverse would have with pieces of our own. The idea of a quilted universe embraces the infinity as I understand it and therefore also would imply duplicate Earths “far far away” much more than does the idea of an inflationary multiverse, so stories of finding another Earth in a quilted multiverse would seem natural. But also this framework of universes of differing dimensions, in which divergent multiverses can actually impact each other as light from each expands into one another, raises the hypothetical possibility that some sort of extraordinary effect would happen at the boundary between universes. Perhaps even whole universes would explode…

Brane Multiverse – As touched on in my previous post on Angels in Other Dimensions, String theory (which is not embraced by all theoretical physicists) leaves open the possibility that our universe occupies just one 3-dimensional brane, while other branes of other dimensions could have whole other universes contained within them. In this case, other multiverses could well have a differing number of dimensions—there could be less, as in the classic story Flatland, or somehow more. The characteristics of each of these universes might be wildly different from one another and there would seem to be no way for residents of differing branes to interact—though I speculated in my Angels post that perhaps the world of spiritual beings could form an exception to that…

Cyclic Multiverse – For those that embrace the idea that the universe is composed of vibrating strings (String Theory), that some of these strings can occupy three dimensions (String Theory “branes”), and that these branes could be infinitely large—all ideas that can’t be either proven or disproven, at least at present—then the next step is to imagine what happens if two separated branes collide. There’s a theory that such interactions could create a new big bang every time it happens, allowing the possibility that new big bangs occur on a cyclic basis, generating a new universe inside a brane each time. Again, the inhabitants of these universes would seem to be separated from one another forever, in this case more by time than by space. Although in theory something outside the branes could see within them and interact with them. My first thought of creatures that can pass outside of branes would be those inhabiting a supernatural role of some kind, though one could imagine multidimensional aliens who are masters of the cyclic universes…who may in turn, aware or unaware, have a supernatural Maker greater than them...

Landscape Multiverse – If you think of inflationary multiverses occurring within the confines of Brane Multiverse or Cyclic Universe-style branes, String theory makes it possible that many of these separate universes could have fundamentally different physical laws that we have in our universe. For example, the speed of light in another of these universes could be more or less than the speed of light in our own, or the amount of energy contained in matter, instead of being e= mc2, could equal e = m + c, or c (the speed of light) could cubed instead of squared or something. Again, travel between different universes of this sort would seem to be impossible. If you could travel to a universe with a fundamentally different laws of physics, most likely you’d be dead before you knew where you were. Life of any sort we understand depends on a precise balance of physical laws...though it might be interesting to have a story in which creatures from a universe of differing physical laws find a way to thrive in our own universe…creepy monsters are the first sort of thing that comes to mind…

Quantum Multiverse – The Many Worlds Intepretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics: has an interesting way of dealing with the strange nature of the smallest particles of matter and energy (quanta), which by repeated experiments seem to indicate that quanta have the disturbing habit of occupying more than one place at the same time—unless directly observed, in which case they will “pick” one place to be, as if they knew they were being watched. The Many Worlds Interpretation (a.k.a. “Quantum Multiverse”) states that this is because quanta in effect still inhabit all the possible places they could once be observed—only not in our universe. In other words, each possible choice happens, each in a separate universe, each quantum decision generating multiple universes at a shot, uncounted trillions of quantum decisions per second causing the number of universes to continually increase in an unimaginable froth. Where these universes are supposed to physically be located is unanswered by this theory, so it’s impossible to even guess if we could ever travel to another one of them. But note that each of these multiverses would share the same physical laws as our own. Also note that according to the theory, every possible choice that ever could happen, actually has happened in one of these quantum multiverses—every possible choice occurs somewhere—which is why this notion is a darling of science fiction writers (there would be, for example, multiple universes in which Nazi Germany won WWII). Personally I think this is far from the simplest view of quantum mechanics, but some physicists readily embrace it. For a uniquely Christian view of quantum multiverses, see my previous post on Greg Mitchell’s Rift Jump.

Holographic Multiverse – According to the holographic principle, there would be a physically-equivalent parallel universe that exists on a distant surface (i.e. the edge of the universe), in which everything about our universe is precisely duplicated—we are just a holographic projection of the real thing or vice versa. This notion is an odd one and as stated would allow just one other universe, in which physically there is a second copy of everything—yet all the second copies would be just like us in every way. Perhaps a “mad scientist” type would seek a way to enter the second copy of the universe as a way to retrieve a lost loved one, even though this doesn’t make sense according to the theory. Or better yet, someone comes from the second universe to our world seeking a lost love…

Simulated Multiverse It’s been suggested that technology will advance to the point where a fully realistic simulation of the universe could be possible, including each particle of everything. If it’s becomes possible to do that, who’s to say it hasn’t already been done and we aren’t in such a simulation right now? And if you allow that there can be one such full 100% detail simulation of the universe, perhaps there could be more than one, or as many as you like. Travel from one of these other “universes” to the next would simply involve the simulation programmer (whoever that would be) moving you from one simulation to another…a Grace Bridges story I blogged about (in A Vision of the Real and Unreal), could be expanded to embrace a multiverse-engaging tale.

Ultimate Multiverse – The ultimate multiverse would say that all possible variations of the different types of multiverses discussed above, all of them, exist somewhere. So multiverses would come in many different types and flavors, in some sort of infinity times itself infinite times combination. A book series exploring such a setting could perhaps be called something like, “The Infinite Universe of Universes.”

To wrap this up, it’s interesting to note that the majority of the theoretical physicists generating these notions don’t embrace a belief in an infinite God—yet they find it easy to believe in various versions of infinite universes that self-create. They see an infinite intelligent God as unbelievable, in part because He has never been directly observed, but a system that’s equally infinite, but without any purpose or plan, yet still containing the complexities of life, is believable. Even though the ideas of multiverses are in general chaotic, messy, and improbable—and never have been directly observed.

In my view, there is no inherent contradiction between multiple universes and a single God who created them. Yet a simple reading of Scripture implies there is just this one world we inhabit, surrounded by the heavens which the Psalms describe as God having “stretched out.” I personally don’t have a hard time imaging that God could have created more universes than just our own (which we simply haven’t been informed of yet), but my hunch is that the infinite Creator would not have seen any need to make another infinity. My gut instinct on the matter is that even if there really are multiverses, they are finite in quantity…which is why, when I had the chance to create my own version of a gateway between worlds (universes really) of science fiction and fantasy and history in The Crystal Portal, I wrote the story so that there were only a limited number of universes on the map of worlds discovered by my protagonists near the end of the novel…



  1. Fascinating stuff, Travis. And, hey! Thanks for the shout-out! That was a nice surprise :)

  2. Thank you, Greg. Thanks for the good interview on Rift Jump!