Physicist Brian Greene’s new book just came out, and it’s exceptional. If you want the skinny on what hidden realities there might be behind and beyond our own, you can safely set aside the Bible and just read Brian Greene.
And damn he writes well: clear as a bell, smooth as silk, and, eh, . . . [you can just add your own third positive clichéd phrase here].
The following are the central questions he discusses:
- Do all possible quantum worlds happen? In chapter 1, Greene calls this “the tantalizing Many Worlds approach to quantum mechanics . . .” and he goes into detail on the subject in chapter 8.
- Is space infinite or bounded? If space is infinite the implications are astonishing and he has a mind-blowing chapter (chapter 2) on what he calls the “Quilted Multiverse” where, beyond our own event horizon (the distance light has been able to travel since our Big Bang), there may well be other universes with their own event horizons. If space is infinite, these other universes are also likely to be infinite in number (as in kingdoms that have no end, amen). And here’s the kicker: given that they would be bounded by the speed of light, there would only be so many possible positions for the atoms in them to configure. This means that, if the number of universes are infinite, there are an infinite number of universes that duplicate this one exactly—right down to you reading this blog right now. (Talk about Nietzsche’s revenge in eternal recurrence!). Which one of them would contain the real you? All and none, grasshopper.
- What version of parallel worlds comes out of inflation theory? This discussion appears in Chapter 3; it’s a bit complicated, but worth the effort. The bottom line: inflation may not be a one-off thing that just happened early on in the universe; it may be going on elsewhere, in far-flung regions of space. This means that other universes as large as our own may be out there based on inflationary physics alone. What we call “the cosmos” may just be our stretch of the inflationary rubber band, with other inflationary stretches beyond us. And, like us, intelligent beings in one of these other inflationary stretches would have the (mistaken) impression that their universe represented the whole of the cosmos.
- What’s the latest news on string theory? I haven’t read these chapters yet (string theory is discussed in chapters 4, 5, and 6), but from what I gather in the first chapter, if string theory can unify the laws of nature, then there are a number of kinds of parallel universes that might be derived from it, and Greene discusses each of these in turn.
- Can we test multiverse hypotheses? (Chapter 7.) Again, I’m not this far into the book, but here’s Brian Greene’s teaser from the introductory first chapter: “Can we test these [multiverse] ideas? If we invoke them to solve outstanding problems, have we made progress, or have we merely swept the problems under a conveniently inaccessible cosmic rug?” Sounds like the question frequently asked of Intelligent Design advocates, doesn’t it?
- Do we live in a holographic universe? (Chapter 9.) I’m trying to read the chapters in order, but this is the chapter, I confess, that I’m salivating to read. I’ve obsessed on this particular question in a number of blog posts (see here and here for examples) and tried to get my head around its boggling implications (see here), so I’m looking forward to Brian Greene’s take on the subject.
- Do we live in somebody else’s universe? (Chapter 10.) This also seems like an especially intriguing chapter: do we live in the matrix of somebody else’s intelligent design? How might we know? Presumably this chapter won’t disappoint.
Okay, that’s my overview. I do offer one caution: this book has the potential of making you feel small and out of control. It’s having that effect on me. The Hidden Reality is Copernicanism with a vengeance. And free will seems to be out the window in any of these scenarios. Greek tragedies meditating on fate (such as Oedipus) and John Calvin’s Institutes seem deserving of a read before Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount,” any of Sartre’s books, or Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Maybe these latter examples should simply be thrown away. The fountainhead appears very far from the self. If we do live in one of the multiverses that Greene describes (or even in more than one of them—a logical possibility!) you’re not at the center of anything and you don’t ultimately determine who you are or what you will become. Sorry.
Okay, here my sermon endeth. I’m only about 60 pages into the book. Back to reading. More anon.