In the second half of the fourteenth chapter of Darwin’s Watch, it’s time to talk about the multiverse! If you’re intrigued, then join Mark in reading The Science of Discworld III.
Whew, this was… a lot. This might be the first chapter of the book (or at least this HALF of the chapter) that felt like it went over my head. Not all of it, as there were a few points that stuck more than others. At the start of the multiverse section, I felt prepared for the ride, and I had a decent understanding of mathematical possibilities vs. physical possibilities. That made sense to me! Maybe something was mathematically sound, but, like in the example with a traveling particle and it being a “quasi-intelligent entity, it isn’t physically possible or does not describe our physical reality. For the most part, I feel like the authors make a decent case that much of the multiverse theorization goes too far, despite sounding cool and interesting. And it’s all so hard to parse because, as repeated multiple times, we can’t test any of these hypotheses. Like the whole universe splitting theory, where every possible permutation of what could or can or does happen splits off into an infinite (ha!) number of parallel worlds. How could we ever test that? (Help, this is making me think about That Movie that just came out and the concept of alternate timelines.)
I was mostly understanding the criticism of Tegmark’s theory of the four levels of universes, and then I started to lose the thread, so to speak, around that fourth level of universe. The coin toss example helped a LOT, admittedly, and I was back on track! You can’t say that all possibilities are real because you’re positing something that literally cannot exist because of certain constraints… like ALL EXISTING TIME. So, Tegmark has some cool ideas, but they’re untestable and describe a physical reality that, as we understand it, cannot exist.
And then we get to string theory and I… uh… it’s a lot. Like… way more than I think I can understand? I’m re-reading what the authors describe string theory as, and I don’t quite get it. But from that point, things only got more complicated. There are “branes,” and then the book starts talking about TEN dimensions and the concept of vacuum energy….
You ever have someone talk to you about something you know they care about and is deeply interesting to them and they’re really nice and you just smile and nod your head because you don’t want to be rude and tell them, “Hey, what the HELL are you talking about?” Yeah. That. Because I was pretty lost towards the end here. The main point was easier to take away, that there is a very tiny space in which our universe can exist, but, over a long span of time, it’s pretty inevitable that it would have come to be. We have no idea how “long” it was before the Big Bang and how long other forces took to swirl into the seemingly fitting universe we live in now. Our consciousness is not that long, and neither is our history. But the Goldilocks valley, as its referred to here, is a “dead certainty.” Well, even if it turns out to be wrong, but for now, this might be our understanding of things. And I don’t know if in the fifteen or so years since this came out, there has been an important update!
Anyway: my brain hurt a little more than usual after this half of the chapter. I TRIED.
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