‘Our Mathematical Universe’: A Case for Alternate Realities

Posted by on April 22, 2014 in Sci-Tech, Science with 0 Comments

Nytimes | April 21st 2014

numbers_math_free_energyZooming through a Stockholm intersection on his bicycle one morning, 18-year-old Max Tegmark never saw the truck that hit him. The blast of a horn, the screech of tires and a sickening thud followed in quick succession, extinguishing a young life filled with promise.

It never happened, of course. As the adult Dr. Tegmark, now 46, relates in the opening pages of this provocative new book, young Max swerved at the last instant and continued on to school — and an academic career that eventually took him to the faculty of M.I.T. and the top ranks of the world’s cosmologists.

But wait: That fatal accident did happen, Dr. Tegmark writes. Yes, he came through unscathed that day, but he was also killed, and he was severely injured, and slightly injured. He endured every possible outcome, happy and unhappy, that can befall a bicyclist who encounters a speeding truck.

If you find this far-fetched, you are hardly alone. The idea of parallel universes, in which events diverge from those in our own reality, is usually the domain of science fiction. But Dr. Tegmark is a scientist, not a novelist, and he makes a powerful case, leading us step by logical step from well-established mainstream science into ever stranger territory.

Each step along the way seems entirely reasonable, so that by the time we arrive at Dr. Tegmark’s “multiverse,” in which all that can be is, we are left to wonder: Can this be right? And if not, where did we go wrong?

He starts the journey in the ancient world, when Greek scholars used brilliantly creative geometrical methods to estimate the circumference of the earth, the size of the moon and the distance to the sun. From there he moves through the discoveries that established the universe as it is known to scientists today: our solar system, the Milky Way, the innumerable galaxies all racing away from one another as the universe expands and expands. He argues that there is no reason to think the Big Bang was a unique event, so one should assume countless other universes. This is science writing at its best — dynamic, dramatic and accessible.

But then things get stranger. Dr. Tegmark narrows his focus to the building blocks of matter, the elementary particles governed by the laws of quantum mechanics. The position of a particle at a given time is described by its “wavefunction,” but this provides only a probable distribution of locations, not an absolutely determined one.

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