Monday, November 17, 2008

Science's Alternative to an Intelligent Creator: the Multiverse Theory

A cool article from Discover Magazine. The whole idea of the multiverse has been around for years -- I remember a literary science fiction (sort of) novel that played with that idea 20 years ago. It's always been an idea that intrigues me -- the possibilities are brain-boggling.

Science's Alternative to an Intelligent Creator: the Multiverse Theory

Our universe is perfectly tailored for life. That may be the work of God or the result of our universe being one of many.

by Tim Folger

published online November 10, 2008

computer simulation of multiverse

Computer simulation shows a view of the multiverse, in which each colored ray is another expanding cosmos. Courtesy Andre Linde

A sublime cosmic mystery unfolds on a mild summer afternoon in Palo Alto, California, where I’ve come to talk with the visionary physicist Andrei Linde. The day seems ordinary enough. Cyclists maneuver through traffic, and orange poppies bloom on dry brown hills near Linde’s office on the Stanford University campus. But everything here, right down to the photons lighting the scene after an eight-minute jaunt from the sun, bears witness to an extraordinary fact about the universe: Its basic properties are uncannily suited for life. Tweak the laws of physics in just about any way and—in this universe, anyway—life as we know it would not exist.

Consider just two possible changes. Atoms consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons. If those protons were just 0.2 percent more massive than they actually are, they would be unstable and would decay into simpler particles. Atoms wouldn’t exist; neither would we. If gravity were slightly more powerful, the consequences would be nearly as grave. A beefed-up gravitational force would compress stars more tightly, making them smaller, hotter, and denser. Rather than surviving for billions of years, stars would burn through their fuel in a few million years, sputtering out long before life had a chance to evolve. There are many such examples of the universe’s life-friendly properties—so many, in fact, that physicists can’t dismiss them all as mere accidents.

“We have a lot of really, really strange coincidences, and all of these coincidences are such that they make life possible,” Linde says.

Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us.

Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multi­verse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.

The idea is controversial. Critics say it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non­religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life.

“For me the reality of many universes is a logical possibility,” Linde says. “You might say, ‘Maybe this is some mysterious coincidence. Maybe God created the universe for our benefit.’ Well, I don’t know about God, but the universe itself might reproduce itself eternally in all its possible manifestations.”

Read the whole article.

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