The Multiverse: A Theory of Desperation
By Regis Nicoll
We shouldn’t be here. And, if any one of dozens of parameters had been different by a smidgen, we wouldn’t be.
For instance, the formation of stars, planets, and matter itself hinges on the relative masses of the proton, neutron, and electron, and on the relative strengths of the electromagnetic and gravitational forces. The habitability of Earth depends on precise values for the sun’s size, mass, and intensity; the Earth’s size, tilt, orbit, and rotation; and the distances from the sun to the Earth and Earth to the moon, as well as the size and number of Earth moons. The viability of a biological gene—the smallest thing nature can “select” in the Darwinian struggle for survival—is determined by hundreds to hundreds of thousands of base molecules arranged in a particular sequence. And that’s just for starters.
The chance of all these properties coming together in the “just-right” proportions for our arrival is, objectively speaking, against all odds. As physicist Steven Weinberg puts it, “This is the one fine-tuning that seems to be extreme, far beyond what you could imagine just having to accept as a mere accident.”
Indeed, it could lead the rationally inclined person to reasonably conclude that the whole thing is staged, something of a set-up job. But not so fast.
Making the improbable, inevitable
Turning rationality on its head, the philosophical naturalist starts with a bit of Sherlockian logic: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Then, after defining the “impossible” as anything supra-natural, he concludes that life is not improbable, it’s inevitable—our existence is Exhibit “A.” Clever.
His favored explanation as to how is the “multiverse,” a supercosmos consisting of an infinite number of universes where anything can and does happen, somewhere. As he spins it:
Out of the pre-cosmic nothingness, a blast of energy suddenly appeared, setting off an explosion of cosmic “bubbles” (think what happens when you pop the top on a dropped bottle of soda). By a singular event called “inflation” (think anti-gravity), each bubble ballooned at a rate faster than the speed of light into a separate universe with its own unique physics.
In short, our Big Bang was one of many “bangs” produced from nothing by nothing, resulting in a multiplication of universes guaranteeing the actualization of every imaginable and unimaginable outcome, including the appearance of beings who can dream all this stuff up.
The tale has undeniable flair, but with problems aplenty, not the least of which is an air of contrivance that oozes desperation.
Technically speaking, the theory includes exceptions to thermodynamics (mass-energy conservation) and special relativity (the inviolability of light speed); phenomena (inflation and other universes) that have never been observed or replicated; and untestability, such that if another world did exist with its own unique set of physical parameters, it would be undetectable with instruments constrained by the distinctive parameters of our universe.
Collectively, these novel devices and exceptions violate Occam’s Razor, a cardinal principle of science that holds that when various solutions are offered to a problem, the simplest is the preferred. What’s more, for a scientific theory, the multiverse makes no predictions, has no technological cash value, and holds no promise for the betterment of man or the planet…
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