The Big Picture


Slate's Jim Holt mulls whether there's more than one universe.

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  1. Wow, wasn’t expecting a post like that on Reason. Thanks for an interesting article Jesse.

  2. oh lingua franca, how i miss thee! oh well, i guess there’s still hermenaut… wait. feed. oh. the baffler.


    “…and you will know us by the trail of dead” 😀

  3. Bollocks! Why’d you have to dredge up this old bugbear. The multiverse is nothing more than “fad science”. Half-baked ideas that get endorsements from respectable people because they are sexy and have mass appeal. Awe-inspiring to the easily awed. I wish Holt included some links. I’m not familiar with Davies, but Gardner is usually pretty level headed. The counter arguments Holt presents are pretty lame, perhaps he mischaracterized them in the process of simplifying more solid logical constructs.

    Anyway, this kind of crap is why I always hated OMNI magazine. Every halfwit geek wannabe would read this bilge and think they’d done some “deep” thinking. If you want to read articles written in English about real science read Scientific America.

  4. So you are telling me you know there isn’t another universe? You mean, you can show me, using our current laws for this universe, that there cannot possibly be another universe? Wow, you are a truly smart person.

  5. Extra,
    No, that isn’t remotely what I said. What I’m saying, is that it’s a half-assed theory that gets way too much publicity because it sounds ‘cool’ or ‘awesome’.

    I did however stick my foot in my mouth by posting before reading the SA article posted by anon@8:57 That article is much better (mostly because it is much longer) than the SLATE article but essentially makes the same points. In both cases however the counter arguments are downplayed. I recall having encountered some devastating multiverse nay-saying. Propriety dictates that I provide links to such, but alas the hour is late and I am tiered. I wouldn’t know where to look for them either since I read these things in the days before the internet on an ancient technology, once used to transmit ideas, known as ink and paper.

    Therefore, you may think what you like about me for my previous post. I apologize for letting my arrogance get out of hand. (But I still say OMNI blows)

  6. Multiverse/s must be real because they are necessary for most sci-fi shows, books, etc. “Mirror, Mirror” anyone…?

  7. …a few “years” ago…

  8. Bottom line of it all:

    SO WHAT!?

    So you go off on a highly speculative game of introspection, a la the Buddha sitting under the tree. But in the end, it is the very choices you make right here, right now that matter and that have any meaning.

  9. Actually, things do not necessarily repeat themselves in an infinite universe. This can be demonstrated by a simple thought experiment involving a transfinite number such as pi. Construct a simple universe that contains only a shaft on which are mounted three discs and a mechanism to rotate the discs. Each disc contains a mark on its edge, and initially all of the marks line up. If the mechanism rotates the discs at a ratio of 1:1/2:pi, all three marks will never line up again, even if the discs are rotated for an infinite time. This can be demonstated mathematically.

  10. He said “shaft.”

  11. fredH,

    Excellent point! I’m not a mathematician, but it seems that this would work for any combination of numbers in which A) at least one is irrational, and B) the others are not rational multiples of the requisite one irrational number.

    I think that this relates back to my earlier post regarding degrees of infinity. I’m not sure, but the irrational numbers may outnumber the rational ones and may constitute a higher degree of infinity.

    Now I wish I could remember that reference (but it was years ago, in book (maybe an Asimov science book?))……………………….

  12. It’s tough for the hardwired logic circuits in the brain to get past Xeno’s paradox too, but freshman Calc. easily disproves it. There is no way to say whether there is another you or not.

  13. Actually I have seen quite a few claims for the existence of experiments which could demonstrate whether the universe splits a la Schrodinger’s cat or not. We’re not quite down to the signal to noise ratio yet (and no, this would still be above the level where h-bar starts mucking up the measurement possibilities) but within the next few years we’re probably get there.

    Scientific American used to be much better than it is now, sadly. I thought Omni had pretty pictures but that was about it. If you want the real stuff I’d start looking in Phys. Rev. A. and review articles in scientific journals.

    from a former condensed-matter theorist.

  14. A little plug here for ‘Discover’ magazine. It feeds the science to those like me who have no intention of becoming educated enough about science to seriously read ‘Scientific America’.

    Better pictures, too.

  15. Xeno was some Greek dude who discovered this mathematical problem:

    If you travelling from point A to point B, you necessarily must travel half of the distance to point B before travelling all of the distance. Now from that point you must again travel half of the remaining distance. If you continue to do so (travel half of the distance) you will never reach point B.

    I think this paradox is at the crux of the mysterious digital/analog relationship, but it is a strong argument that reality is digital*, meaning that it has a smallest unit. This is because one DOES get to point B, thus at some point we must pass an “unhalvable” point.

    *Digital refers to a system where data exists in absolute, discreet values.

    If one can prove that there exists a smallest unit, then that proves a digital reality. The discussion of Xeno’s Paradox goes a long way towards the proving that a smallest unit (of geometry) must exist.


  16. Fred, does that mean that if a clock rotates it’s hands at a ratio of 1:1/2:pi, that such a clock would never have the correct time twice a day — even if the hands are rotated for an infinite time?

  17. Alive wrote:
    “So you go off on a highly speculative game of introspection, a la the Buddha sitting under the tree.”

    What a sad attitude! Scientific speculation is fun and for “alive” minds.

  18. I think I had a neutrino shower this morning. I’m tingly all over.

  19. For the most part I agree with Warren’s assessment of the article. It did “lean” in favor of the fantastic and only offered tastes of a reasoned oppositional opinion. It’s writen like the writer got done writing all the “fun” stuff and then under the crushing weight of his own “journalistic integrity” had to offer the mandatory if un-enthused counter argument simply out of obligation.

    The multiverse concept and all it’s related and implied ideas rest on a simple understanding that anything that has any probabilty of occurring – will in fact occur an infinte number of times within the context of infinity. Since you “occurred” at least once – in an infinte Universe there must be an infinate number of “yous” in existence.

    That’s also the problem. “Infinity” – outside of being a handy tool of cognition – is not necessarily real. Simply because we can speculate with a degree of certainty that there’s more Universe than our observable ability currently allows us to know is not in itself “proof” or even a point in support of the reality of an infinite Universe.

    But the point that must not get lost in all this is that even within an “infinite” Universe – there’s still only 1 EVERYTHING or Universe. That events (galaxy formation/life etc) repeat an infinite number of times at varied rates across the stretches of infinite space does not “create” other EVERYTHINGS. The Universe is everything that IS. Therfore there can be nothing OUTSIDE it – BEFORE it or AFTER it. There is only 1 everything. Even if space is infinte and there’s an infinte number of “ME” – we’re all part of the same EVERYTHING – the same Universe.

  20. I read somewhere that there are different degrees of infinity. Aleph Null infinity refers to “normal” infinities like the number of real numbers or integers on the number line. Aleph One refers to much ‘larger’ infinities, like the number of curves in a plane. Aleph Two refers to the number of surfaces in a space, and so on. Does this help anyone? 🙂

  21. Hmm. Unless I read the article incorrectly, it seems despite this ground-breaking revelation, scientists have still not discovered the cure for cancer.

  22. Not in this universe.

  23. Ah, the pachinko machine multiverse: all the possibilities and moments co-exist, “frozen” forever, and it is merely our consciousnesses that fall through from point A to B, giving us the illusion of linear travel through time and space from birth to death. Whichever way we fall from peg to peg, and where we pop out at the end, is somehow up to us, the manisfestation of our free will.

    Man, freshman year in college was a blast. That was 1975. What took physics so long to catch up with ganja?

  24. At the end of the first paragraph Holt asks whther or not this is something we need to form an opinion on. Answer: NO. End of article.

  25. That should be “whether”. Sorry.

  26. Warren wrote:
    “The multiverse is nothing more than “fad science”.” and “If you want to read articles written in English about real science read Scientific America.”

    But, the May issue of Scientific American has an article by the physicist Max Tegmark asserting that parallel universes almost certainly exist.
    Judging a scientific theory by the social dynamics of its expositors and the public does not seem very productive. Although, much can be gleaned from the cross fire from expositors and opponents, and in scientific debate we would expect people to change sides sometimes.

    For getting to the truth of the existance of multiple universes, I like the empirical approach with the prospect that in the next few years: “improved measurements of the microwave background radiation and of the large-scale distribution of matter may fortify or knock down two pillars of the multiverse: the infinitude of space and the theory of chaotic inflation.”

    I remember, a few ago, when stellar evolution theory was confirmed in its prediction of the production of neutrinos in supernova when that supernova went off in the Large Megellanic Cloud and a “neutrino shower” was detected. That was great!

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