by Victor Greto
You could either feel awe-inspired or
small, listening to Max Tegmark's lecture at the
University of Delaware on Wednesday afternoon on the probability
of the existence of parallel universes mimicking or diverging from
Tegmark, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of
Pennsylvania, discussed the
multiverse (more than one "uni-"
verse) with a standing-room-only group of more than 50 budding
physicists and assorted philosophy, biology and science majors at a
UD Department of Physics and Astronomy lecture.
Of course, your reaction depends upon your point of view.
If you're still reeling from the counter-intuitive fact that the
Earth is not located at the center of the universe - let alone the
solar system; that our solar system is tucked away in some obscure
outer arm of a milky swirl of stars; and that our galaxy is but one
of a lot more hurtling at enormous speeds through icy and
indifferent space - Tegmark's theories that multiple versions of
yourself probably exist out there, somewhere, makes old-fashioned
common sense seem even more irrelevant.
"There may be at least a thousand
parallel universes out there," Tegmark told his audience, and
it's all based on the latest measuring capabilities and
mathematical equations devised by physicists in the past few
Tegmark has published many
articles about the subject in academic periodicals and more
mainstream magazines, including "Scientific American." Born in
Sweden, he earned a doctorate from the University of California at
Berkeley and post-doctorate degrees in Europe and at Princeton.
According to Tegmark, the most popular and simplest cosmological
model today predicts that there is another you not a short distance
from us doing - exactly or approximately, depending on those
unpredictable quantum mechanics - what you're doing now: eating
breakfast, riding in a carpool, or wrinkling your brow and rolling
Your alter ego thinks he or she's your true self, of course, just
like you do. Hearing that eerie "Twilight Zone" theme music yet? As
Tegmark argued, if space is infinite and the distribution of matter
is relatively uniform, then even the most unlikely events must take
place somewhere. In other words, there are an infinite number of
inhabited planets with people who not only look like you, but
have nearly the same sort of experiences.
That idea intrigued junior Stephanie Smith, 20, a physics
major who wants to work for NASA devising space travel
"I always wanted to be a child
prodigy," she said, after the lecture. "If there's another
20-year-old Stephanie out there, she may be a scientific child
prodigy because, maybe, she got the right toys when she was a
We "know" that the universe is infinite
and relatively uniform, Tegmark said, because cosmic microwave
background experiments have ruled out old ideas that the universe is
like a four-dimensional sphere or doughnut, implying that it's
actually rather simple and infinite. Maps of galaxy distribution
also have shown a uniformity in the distribution of matter.
So, evidently, the universe just goes on and on and on.
These are the kinds of ideas that got people killed just a few
hundred years ago, and not just because they are personally
disconcerting. In 1600, theologian-philosopher
Giordano Bruno was burned (by
the Vatican pope) at the stake
in Italy for heresy; among his ideas was a claim that there
were more worlds out there than anyone could imagine.
Last night, when he was done, instead of getting roasted alive,
Tegmark was applauded. After all, the mathematical elegance of the
possibility of a multiverse can be inspiring.
"I don't understand a lot of it,"
said Lauren McCulley, 18, also a physics major. "It's the
different possibilities that make it awe-inspiring."
There are at least three other
possibilities, Tegmark said.
How about an infinite number of inflating bubble-like universes,
theorized to help explain why certain phenomena, predicted by
physics to occur just after the Big Bang (the boom that
started our version of reality), didn't occur.
Or how about a
quantum theory view that the
multiverse evolves from a "wave function," without any split;
it's us, inside the wave function, who see only a tiny fraction of
Or how about a multiverse of infinite mathematical
"There has to be other universes,"
McCulley said. "It makes sense mathematically."
But pragmatically, none of this may make
a difference to you. You may be like the 18th-century critic Dr.
Samuel Johnson, who responded to one philosopher's theory on the
nonexistence of matter by kicking a large stone and shouting,
"I refute it, thus."
But it's not just metaphysics, Tegmark
said. It's based on testable criteria.
"If there's one thing you get out of
this," Tegmark told the students, "is that a theory can be
eminently testable even if it contains unobservable entities
Kicking a rock just isn't enough