OK, bear with me a bit, today. Some of you may not be interested in this topic at all, but I’ve thought about it a lot and, well, it’s my blog. 🙂
In yesterday’s post on the New Scientist ad, I referred to the multiverse concept in a couple of derogatory ways. The first was that it is often used as a multiverse-of-the-gaps to help explain our existence when nothing else known by science will. I touch on this in my upcoming article in the next Tomorrow’s World magazine. And that topic is worth exploring in another post, perhaps, since there’s a lot to be said, though I wouldn’t say all of it rises to any level above mere blogworthiness.
The other derogatory reference, though, was to the “science-killing ‘all things happen somewhere’ multiverse.” This sort of multiverse (and there are many flavors of multiverse theories–a consequence of being supported my little more than imagination) is one I would have enjoyed spending more time on in the TW article, but there just wasn’t space to do so. In fact, a good bit of the back and forth between me and editorial was about trying to say well what little I could say in the space we had (and, as usual, editorial’s help was tremendous).
Before going into it, let me explain a bit of background. What is the “multiverse” concept? Loosely defined, it is the idea that all we normally think of as “the universe” is really just one of many universes. In some theorizations, there are virtually infinite universes. Such ideas have long been the playground of science fiction, comic books (greetings, fellow citizens of Earth-616!), etc. However, such ideas are now also very popular among the halls in which actual scientists walk. (Not necessarily because they are good ideas, but these days that isn’t necessarily a requirement in academia.)
I say “some theorizations” because physicists and others have imagined a variety of ways in which multiverses could exist. The versions that have my attention here are those such as the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics or Max Tegmark’s Ultimate Ensemble (UE).
The first of these, MWI, essentially posits that any time there can be a different “choice” made, the universe “splits” into multiple varieties in which each possible outcome is realized. For instance, in a given moment a uranium atom may randomly decay or not decay. If MWI were true, this would mean that two universes are generated in that moment by this one fact: one where the atom decays and one where it does not. In like manner, all possibilities are assumed to be realized in some universe “somewhere.” For instance, if you are flipping a coin, in one universe it is heads and in another universe it is tails. Both universes are taken to exist in reality. Take to the extreme, in one universe you would be be an Olympic champion and in another you would be an infamous mass murderer. Again, all possibilities are taken to exist in a virtually infinite collection of universes. (I should add that some would say a literally infinite collection of universes.)
[And, yes, shocking number of scientists do believe that this is the way reality truly is, Olympic champion-you and mass murderer-you and all. If you’d like to read more, check out New Scientist‘s “Life in the Multiverse” in its Sep. 27, 2014 issue, available online as “Multiverse me: Should I care about my other selves?” Even if most of the article is only available to subscribers, the first few paragraphs shown in the preview should be enough to illustrate what I am talking about. (The ridiculous “dinosaur” statement made by David Deutcsh in that article just about exploded my brain with its inanity.)]
The other idea above, Max Tegmark’s “Ultimate Ensemble” idea is something I have discussed before. It considers mathematics to be the ultimate reality and that all mathematically possible worlds/universes actually do exist–again, a virtually infinite number of realities. [It’s no shocker that Dr. Tegmark is featured in the New Scientist article I mentioned parenthetically just above.] And, again, the implications of UE are just as vast as those of MWI: That all possible realities are realized–that all things that can happen, however improbable, do happen in some universe somewhere.
How the idea that we live in not just a universe but a multiverse is often used as a God-substitute is discussed in the Tomorrow’s World article. For this post, I’d like to focus on how such ideas destroy science.
I don’t mean that they destroy science in a conventional sense, such as “Wow, these ideas are widely accepted with virtually no evidence to accept them–that’s not very scientific!” Though this is true (and discussed in the TW article), the damage done to science by such multiverse concepts is much deeper and more profound.
For instance, consider how many twins have been born in the history of man. It is, surely, a whole bunch. (“Whole bunch” being a technical term, representing an amount much bigger than “a smidgen” but less than “a bazillion.”) In each case, both twins have eventually died since, so far, life has proven to be 100% fatal since Adam and Eve. (Yes, Jesus rose again, but He did die first!) In some cases, one twin outlived the other by quite a long time–years and years. In other cases, the twins may have died very soon one right after the other. Certainly, throughout history, it has been a mix.
In the latter case, when those things happen they get our attention. For instance, say one twin of a pair dies at 9:52AM on a Wednesday and the other one dies at 9:56AM on the same day, even though each one lived in different places and died of completely different causes. Those who knew of the deaths might remark “Wow, what a coincidence!” Others, due to the fact that they were twins, might be tempted to invoke some sort of “cosmic hand” coordinating such effects.
Now, consider the implications of multiverse hypotheses in which all possibilities, however improbable, happen somewhere in some universe out of the infinite number of universes available (in fact, it happens, by some accountings, an infinite number of times). In these multiverses what was once improbable becomes inevitable.
If that is the case, then somewhere there is a universe (actually, many universes) that that looks remarkably similar to ours–is just as real as ours–and, yet, in which every pair of twins throughout history have always died within five minutes of each other. Every single pair. Throughout the centuries–throughout the millennia–every time a twin has died, his or her brother or sister has died within the next five minutes.
I’m not saying there would be a cause for this–it would simply be a cosmic “roll of the dice.” Given the laws of probability and nothing else, the odds against such a thing would be staggering, of course! Why would one twin dying of pneumonia in Texas cause, in any way, the other twin being in a car accident in New York within the next five minutes?
Surely there would be some causal connections in some few cases. Some twins share, for instance, inherited, fatal diseases. Still, the odds that they would die within five minutes of each other would be small. Further still, the odds that every single pair of twins have ALL died within five minutes of each other throughout history would be phenomenally small! Virtually infinitesimal.
Yet, the probability would not be zero.
And, hence, according to these multiverse ideas, there would be universes–perhaps many, many, many universe–in which this happens: where, literally every pair of twins mankind has ever produced has always, without fail died within five minutes of each other.
How would scientists react in those universes? They would explore the phenomenon, looking for causes. They would discover lots of things, surely, in genetics, sociology, etc. They would, perhaps, even “discover” things they consider to be possible causes for the “Twin Death Law” of their universe. And, yet, there would be no cause. The only “reason” for the phenomenon would be that their universe just happened to be “one of those” where such a thing happens.
In fact, imagine the first pair of twins in one of those (again, possible infinite number) who do not die within five minutes of each other. One dies and the other continues to live. Wouldn’t scientists pour over the remaining individual, analyzing everything they can–biologically, sociologically, quantum mechanically (“Are twins like entangled particles? Were these decoupled somehow?”), whatever–trying to desperately find out why these two were a rare, previously unknown exception to the “Twin Death Law.”
And, again, there would be no cause. No real reason. No underlying physical law other than dice rolling and random happenstance. The scientists will never discover an underlying “cause” because there is none.
Actually, the use of twins might be introducing an element that hides the absurdity. Imagine that, rather, it’s a universe in which everyone named “Marty” dies on their 36th birthday. Again, highly improbable, and, yet, according to these theories, something that does happen somewhere because its probability is not actually zero. Again (or, perhaps, “Again²”), everything that can happen does happen somewhere according to these theories. What could be discovered about this very real phenomenon in such a universe? What could scientists discover about the connection between the name “Marty” and death on birthday #36? there would be nothing to discover. No cause at all. Just random happenstance–and, yet, a very real phenomenon that could not be denied.
Some would begin to make predictions: “Well, your name is Marty, so you’re going to die tomorrow on your 36th birthday.” Those predictions, in a subset of those universes, would always be true. The “Marty dies at 36 Law” would be a reality. In other universes, there would be one rare exception. In other universes, there would be two exceptions. In others, there would be three, etc. New studies would be initiated to discover why these Marty’s didn’t die at 36. Maybe they would discover “reasons” in some cases — for instance, in some of those universes, the Marty’s that survived 36 were those who chewed Double Bubble bubblegum every day before the birth of their second child. (Or whatever.) In other universes, no “cause” could be found, and research would continue. Regardless, there would be no real cause whatsoever. Just relentless probability.
Actually, the problem is worse than this. According to quantum mechanics, the probabilities of many weird things are not zero, even though they are remarkably small.
For instance, the probability of a 747 filled with lemon Jello spontaneously forming 500 feet over my head isn’t necessarily zero. It’s low. Way low. (For an estimation of the probability of you, personally, randomly experiencing quantum tunneling (think “teleporting”), take a look at this. And note what it says at the end: “Almost impossible.”)
Way low. But not zero.
So, in extreme multiverse scenarios in which all things that can happen do happen, it does happen. (…he types, as he looks out the window nervously.) In fact, if there actually is an infinite number of universes in which all quantum particle possibilities are realized, there would be universes and earths in which such lemon Jello-filled 747s rain down on the earth daily. (Bring an umbrella.) Imagine looking for causes behind that. Yet, again, these is no real “cause.” If the reign/rain of 747s began on July 12, 2011 in that universe, would some poor scientist have to get on the news to tell the public, “Well, it looks like we’ve picked the short straw, and–for no real cause whatsoever–our universe is just one where Jello-filled 747s rain down from the sky at random in some strange quirk of quantum mechanical probability. Hopefully it will stop one day. Really, the odds are that it will stop immediately, yet (Wow, I just heard another one land down the street)… Anyway, I know the dramatically improbable keeps happening every day, and that none of this should really be happening, but–well–whatever.”
And, really, I don’t think that is the worst of it.
In our own universe, there are a number of things for which we don’t have good explanations, yet which seem to be very real phenomena–experienced repeatedly and consistently. With each observation, the probability that what has been observed is just chance gets smaller and smaller. Yet it never, really, becomes zero. And in some universe, somewhere, such things happen to innocent protons, neutrons, puppies, whatever, purely by chance and not by real “cause.” How do we know that ours isn’t one of those? How do we know that what we’re observing is truly the effect of some underlying cause? How do we know that the unexplainable correlation that has caught our attention in the data of our particle colliders or our beakers and test tubes is truly not a result of being part of an infinite multiverse in which, however improbable, that persistently observed correlation, in experiment after experiment, is random and uncaused, even though it seems as though there should be a reasonable cause. I’ve focused on twin deaths, Marty deaths, and spontaneous Jello-filled 747s, but there are more reasonable-to-the-mind possibilities. How can we guarantee that, in our universe, we’re experiencing an actually caused correlation in the laboratory, versus the possibility that we’re just living in “one of those universes” where these things happen? We can’t use probability, since–if everything that can happen, no matter how improbable, does happen somewhere–the utility of probability has been hobbled in an infinite multiverse.
This has been long and rambly, I know. And the ideas expressed are probably faulty and poorly expressed. (Again: blog.) But at their heart are real concerns.
Those who invoke the “multiverse” to explain away the improbability of our existence and the existence of our universe actually explain away much more–they explain away virtually every improbable event conceivable. After all, if the explanation we give is “Well, it had to happen somewhere in an infinite multiverse,” that explanation works for everything that could possibly occur at all, ever.
And when an infinite number of universes exist in which even the most improbable things can occur, deceptively indicating nonexistent underlying causes or laws (or hiding actual underlying causes or laws), it seems to be that science would be dead.
Thankfully, in the real world, the actual evidence of an infinite multiverse is non-existent. (David Deustch’s adamant claim otherwise in the earlier referenced New Scientist article is, in technical terms, hooey.) Even the more reasonable bases for conceiving of a multiverse of different universes–such as inflationary cosmology–have no experimental confirmation, yet. Not that cosmologists haven’t tried: You can piece together the history here and here, or access the original studies if you are so inclined (e.g., here, here, and here). The results so far? Not very promising for “multiverse” adherents, but not conclusive (read: “Hope springs eternal”).
And, as I have mentioned before, the multiverse is no solution to the improbability of mankind’s existence. Really, it is a no-win scenario, even for those who want to rid themselves of a Creator. All the best, current theorizing–even augmented with multiverse ideas–still points to a Creator and Designer behind it all. Narrowed by actual, current evidence, even the illusion of escape fades away.
But now I’m getting off track. My point was to address, IMHO, how the concept of infinite multiverses as popularly advocated–in which anything that can happen, however improbable, does happen–kills science. And I may have done so poorly, but at least I’ve gotten it off my chest. That’s got to be good for something. 🙂