Multiverse rears again its many heads

My first essay in this blog (essay means a “try” and that’s what blog posts are) was a rant about the concept of the multiverse.  I’m not qualified to judge its scientific credibility; I’m entitled only to dislike it intensely, and also to suspect that at least some things said about it are logically impossible.

In this June’s issue of Scientific American, Yasunori Nomura, a highly qualified theoretical physicist, writes on “The Quantum Multiverse.”  “Many cosmologists now accept the extraordinary idea that what seems to be the entire universe may actually be only a tiny part of a much larger structure called the multiverse.”

The multiverse is thought to be a consequence of another extraordinary theory, called inflation, which was conceived in order to solve other problems about the cosmos.  Inflation is the expansion of the universe in its earliest moments at speeds far faster than that of light.  Alan Guth, founder of the inflation theory, has said that “in an eternally inflating universe, anything that can happen will happen; in fact, it will happen an infinite number of times.”

My rant about the multiverse arose from a suspicion that when scientists say that everything that can happen must happen, and must keep happening an infinite number of times in an infinite number of universes, they may, though brimming with theoretical skill and indeed theoretical imagination, be limited in this-worldly imagination.  Their idea of an incident may be, say: I decide to turn in to a certain shop for a cup of coffee; or, a cat rubs its left ear; or, a certain leaf falls; or, a certain cloud of gas condenses into stars; or, as in Nomura’s article, a particle jumps to location A rather than location B.  But let us take a more complex incident.

On page 161 of volume I of General Sir Percy Sykes’s History of Persia is described the way in which a captured rebel named Phraortes was mutilated over several days in 519 B.C. at the command of the emperor Darius.  I was going to quote the sentence, but I can’t bring myself to; just see what is the worst you can imagine.  My question is whether the good Alan Guth is content to believe that this exact sequence of agonies, and in addition the infinite variations branching from every moment in it, must be repeated, an infinite number of times.  An infinite number of times.  If every one of these ghastly sufferings is in a separate universe that we cannot get information from, does that make it any more tolerable?

June 26, by the way, is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, used by Amnesty International for actions aimed toward the ending of this human practice.

There is a more scientific difficulty for the multiverse theory: the impossibility of making testable predictions based on it, since we cannot get any information from the other universes.  This puts it outside the scientific method, which requires the ability to test by experiment.

Whereas the multiverse is accepted by “many cosmologists,” quantum mechanics, with its even more counter-intuitive description of what happens at the sub-atomic level, “has been confirmed by innumerable experiments.”

Nomura’s quantum-multiverse suggestion is a version of the multiverse that potentially (in a speculative way involving the curvature of space and future observations, presumably of remote galaxies) overcomes the difficulty about making testable predictions.  The suggestion is that the universes branch from each event at the quantum level.  (Unless I’ve misunderstood: every microscopic particle in the scene around you, including the air, and in your body, is, every time it undergoes a transition, causing a new universe to branch off.)  Since these events are probabilistic, the universes exist side by side in “probabilistic space” rather than in a continuous real space.

I read on in hope that this could mean something like: it’s all one universe really, every particle in it is really in about the same place, but quivers (at its microscopic level) in a sort of mist of quantum uncertainty.  I’m not at all sure that this is what Nomura means.

There is something I want to add because it hooks on (to Amnesty International, and to this date in June).

Ramadan ended on Saturday June 24.  After this month of fasting ends, Muslims feast.  Yesterday, June 25, I had to break off writing this about today, June 26, because we were invited to an end-of-Ramadan picnic.  It came about through an Amnesty International connection.

Years ago, in South Carolina, I got a phone call from Alireza Azizi, an Iranian and an Amnesty activist, living in California.  He told me of a Sudanese human-rights activist who had arrived near me and who ought to be invited to speak at an upcoming conference.  This was Abdul Mutaal Girshab.  He was a professor of textile economics, but had founded Amnesty groups – all five of them – in Sudan.  An astonishing feat, under the Nimeiri dictatorship.  But the Nimeiri dictatorship was mild compared with the military-Islamic regime that seized power in 1989, and that still rules.  Girshab and his family got out just in time (there was an attempt to lure him off the airplane as it stood on the runway).  He had permission to stay for a year in the U.S., and was teaching at Clemson University.  He came regularly to our group meetings in Greenville, and we were in awe of his will-power: his gentle insistence that we do more.  He had to move to London, and worked in Amnesty’s headquarters as director of Middle East Development.  We joked that he would get Saddam Hussein attending meetings.  I visited him and his wife and three children.  I managed to resume contact with him a few days ago.  He left Amnesty to work with or found other civic organizations in Sudan, especially the Regional Centre for Training and Development of Civil Society, and revisits the country even though it seems hardly safer for him – recently his organization’s office was raided and all its records confiscated.  Here are Abdul Mutaal and his wife Hadia (and a glimpse of Tilly) at the picnic in Regent’s Park.  The others present are all members of the extended family.

In another universe, even more of the family are in the picture, but in this one they are off scene to the right, playing a game of rounders.


9 thoughts on “Multiverse rears again its many heads”

  1. Guy,darn it,you mean to tell me that the whole multiverse postulate is really the figment of an overactive and very excitable imagination presented to some incredibly gullible people-that’s it!.And here I was hoping I had an Uncle Quark in some pinched off bubble leaving me a 100 billion quatloops when he died.

  2. I enjoyed this essay. And I enjoyed your calendar for many years and do so miss it. I want to thank you for educating me for all these years.

  3. The Multiverse idea is not a scientific idea precisely because of what you pointed out: it canot make testable predictions. At best, this is mathematical philosophy, but it’s not science.

    On another topic, your paragraph starting “On page 161 of volume I of General Sir Percy Sykes’s History of Persia is described the way in which a captured rebel named Phraortes…” seems very Borgian to me (as in Jorge Luis Borges).

    I really like how you started with the multiverse and meandered off to Ammnesty; thank you for your writings, please keep it up!

  4. Just think, Guy, in some of those multiverses, you’re a fan of President Trump and Brexit!

  5. Guy,

    John Goss, my friend and fellow member of the Roanoke Valley Astronomical Society, who is also now the President of the Astronomical League, recommended that I check out your multiverse blog. This essay leads me to several points:

    (1) I have enjoyed your annual artistic astro-metric calendars. I have your 2016 edition, as well as others. These large-format publications are all “keepers,” having a beautiful blend of science and illustrations.

    (2) I have not known about your other publications, but am not now surprised. You must be a polymath.

    (3) You may already know about my “” site. It has about 2,000 regular visitors from around the world. Lately, it has been the repository of my own emerging essays, which are of course ignored by astrophysicists wed to antique world views.

    (4) I have written on multiple occasions about the multiverse. The versions you reference are all faulty. There is indeed much to recommend about the right paradigm, and even some evidence. My 21st-century updating of the formerly popular push/shadow model of gravity works well with the multiverse. There are some weird math-driven models (such as infinite possible universes generating what you detest), that don’t stand up to better thought. You will find several of my essays under the section “Clark’s Web Pages” that correctly deal with these multiverse questions.

    (5) In addition to my astrophysical ideas, there are many more essays, and five books. You would also enjoy reading about (a) what I had to say about “Arp’s Loop,” (b) about life in dark planets, (c) about the problems with establishing viable Martian colonies, (d) about AI and what I call comphumans, (e) the new galaxy group that John and I discovered and discussed, “The Big Lick Galaxy Group”….. and on and on. I am currently working on three more essays, so the spigot is not yet dry.

    Hope you enjoy reading some of my stuff, especially the newer essays, such as the one on “Light Speed.” Just this morning I made a major improvement on my model of gravity, utilizing EM at extremely close distances to complement the multiversal push/shadow flows of various yin/yang particles. I also venture into philosophy and sociology with the essay entitled “My First Experiment.” I am finishing up an essay called “Saving Lives,” which explores this topic in ways most of us can’t imagine, and therein I reference my long-ignored 1974 book thesis, “The American Eutopia.”

    (6) I will add your “universal workshop” to my list of over 1,000 links. You deserve the widest possible readership.

    Clark M. Thomas

  6. Guy,

    A previous editor of Sky and Telescope wrote a scathing editorial about the overproduction of astrophysicists pouring out of American universities which necessitated make-work projects, studies, positions, et al. The output of this situation resulted in expansion of cosmological theories and searching for Earth-like planets beyond the Solar System. With government and private funding, results were based on expensive guesses and politics. And, the answers were usually hedged by the “need” for further studies… or, if further studies were not funded, the result would be universal destruction or the demise of civilization.
    When governments fund projects, it comes with a very high price-tag. We are seeing the end of the scientific method in government funded projects and studies.
    An excellent blog-post, Guy.


  7. I think physics has lost its way. We are required to have a “faith” in the math that goes WAY BEYOND any belief in “GOD”! Amazing….

  8. In your 2nd web log you used the term, “multiplicatio ad absurdum”

    I use similar logic to argue for intelligent design, as opposed to human existence beginning as random primordial chemical reactions.

  9. My own understanding of physics is rudimentary, but it never ceases to amaze me that people who couldn’t explain F=ma will accept, entirely on faith, the most outlandish physical speculations, e.g. that quantum mechanics means the universe exists only because we are here to observe it (and to change it through wishful thinking), or that our entire universe is just one of many in an infinitely elaborating multiverse. By putting “quantum” and “multiverse” in the same phrase, Nomura has accomplished a pop-science coup.

    Given that the multiverse speculation is not testable, I consider it neither true nor false.

Leave a Reply to Rick Scheithauer Cancel reply