Thursday, October 29, 2009
The Big Picture
Pondering the nature of the universe is usually a futile exercise. To be honest it's one I find fascinating and tedious. We humans get so caught up in the day to day machinations of living we rarely take a minute to consider all the big questions philosophers and physicists have been struggling with for centuries. Obviously we know more now than we ever have, but in reality we are barely one toe off the starting line.
The sheer size of the universe we can see (with our eyes and our telescopes) is so mind boggling that the possibility that billions more exist is almost incomprehensible. Or is it?
According to this interesting article on newscientist.com website:
It may not matter how many universes exist - just how many a single observer can tell apart.
According to quantum physics, observers affect the systems they measure. If observers are an integral part of the cosmic formula, then it may not matter how many universes exist - just how many a single observer can tell apart. If the observer is a person, that depends on how many bits of information the brain can process.
This says to me - puny humans...
But what if... What if you and I were drops of water sitting next to each other on deck of a boat, and we were both universes. Would it not be feasible that you and I could see each other? Now what if the boat was rocked by a wave and we dribbled into the ocean? Do we continue to be a drops? Who knows, but we certainly would not see each other as drops among the billions of other drops. Given this, is it conceivable that the multiple universes that physicists say must exist are intertwined in our universe like so many drops in the ocean? To my mind it's the only answer since we - puny humans - can scarcely comprehend the size of the single observable universe we find ourselves in.
How then can multiple universes even exist interspersed with our own? Hell, I don't know, but it would seem to me that they would have to be settled into different wavelengths or different dimensions - which may of course be one in the same.
Time and Space
In this fine article on the newscientist.com website space/time dimensions are discussed:
What is a Dimension?
With such a basic question, you might think we'd have a simple answer. Sadly, we haven't. Defining just what a dimension is turns out to be a surprisingly slippery problem.
The most intuitive description is the oldest one: the number of dimensions a system possesses is the number of independent directions you or anything else can move in. Up and down count as only one dimension because up-ness and down-ness are two sides of the same coin: the further up you go, the less down you are. The same connection exists between left and right, and forwards and backwards, but not between up and right, down and backwards, and so on. Thus, the geometers of Ancient Greece recognized, we live in a three-dimensional world. So far, so simple, but then things start to unravel.
Unravel indeed. The first 4 dimensions are doable (with time being recognized as the 4th). Six, eight, ten??? Spend 10 minutes or ten hours trying wrap your mind around the "string theory" and you will unravel. I try to think of simple analogies like the concept of TDM -time division multiplexing where multiple signals are given a precise time slice interval in a shared time pool to communicate with another end point. This circuit - think telephone circuit - can carry many simultaneous conversations over the same wire by giving each conversation evenly spaced intervals of time to talk. Each conversation is real enough and happening at the exact time as the others yet they are all isolated, unable to "cross over" due to laws of TDM. Could these conversations be compared to multiple universes? Why not?
That's why time, being the most ambiguous of the recognizable dimensions, makes a perfect slurry for multiple dimensions. If what we think of as time passed at a different rate for each of the "universes" would we, could we be sharing the same physical space as the others?
What is time really? You can't see it, you can't feel it, it doesn't exist as a physical entity. Time is a concept as much as it is anything, but we have no disillusions that its real. Is it merely a byproduct of the necessary function of quantum mechancis? Is time really as steady and constant as we believe it is? We can measure time before it passes and count on it getting here just as predicted? But, ask any teenager waiting to grow up - time takes forever. Ask any middle-aged parent hustling and bustling all year only to find it's Christmastime again - time flies. The pace of time is all about perception, right?
Time is a great paradox that has perplexed humanity since, well, since the dawn of time. The philosopher Kant proposed that space and time do not exist at all but are merely intuitions, perceptions imposed by our own minds. Einstein believed that space and time are in fact interchangeable.
Indeed many theories abound in today's metaphysics community.
One is multiple universes, or "the multiverse". A theory that says what we have been calling the universe is an infinitesimal fragment of a far grander, more elaborate sprawling cosmos - and as vast as our universe is, it is actually a tiny bubble of space surrounded by countless number of other bubbles, or what they call pocket universes.
Its been suggested that a majority of these other universes would not have been fine-tuned as is ours; most are sterile and unremarkable. Only the "Goldilocks" universes where things are just right, will intelligent beings rise up to ponder how remarkably bio-friendly the universe is.
Continuing on that train of thought since the number of pocket universes is essentially unlimited, there are bound to be some that are not only inhabited, but populated by highly advanced civilizations - with technologies powerful enough to create artificial consciousness. And what if we are a product of that technology? Think - "The Matrix"
There is another variant called the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum physics. It says that every quantum event in the cosmos creates multiple new universes. A new universe is created for every possible outcome of the quantum event. Every right turn you have ever made was also a left turn in an endlessly spawning cascade of universes. It's almost too strange to even contemplate. Honestly wouldn't the whole thing become a damn circle?
There is one thing all multiverse theories share in common: there's no physical/empirical evidence available to prove them. And therein lies the tedium. There are no right answers. Science will probably never prove or disprove any of it. Am I jumping to conclusions? Should I have faith in science to answer these profound questions? Or should I just believe in God?
Half of one, six dozen of another...