Scientific American Article Puts the Multiverse in its Place

The multiverse — the notion that our universe is simply one among trillions— is currently in vogue in modern cosmology.   The multiverse is the subject of the best-selling books, The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, and The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene, as well as others by popular science writers, John Barrow and John Gribbin.  It is the topic of numerous articles in the leading scientific magazines, and has even caught the attention of  The Wall Street Journal, which has published an excerpt from The Grand Design, interviewed Brian Greene on the topic, and published John Gribbin’s review of The Hidden Reality.
As is so often the case, the difficulty is in determining whether this latest cosmological theory warrants our attention.  The answer is yes.

To begin with, the multiverse is important because it is the product of today’s scientific thought leaders, which is to say the people that write the textbooks, present the lectures, and give the interviews that tell us about our place in the universe.  So if you care about where science placed us in the grand cosmos you might want to spend a little time grappling with the multiverse.

The multiverse is science’s latest approach for explaining the undeniable order in the universe without having resort to God. Specifically, if a near-infinity of other universes exist, then the odds increase that one of these universes would have turned out to have the unique conditions necessary to support life, much like if you deal enough poker hands, one will come up to be a royal flush.  

A further reason we should care about the multiverse is that it reflects the scientific belief that the creation of the universe was a random event without cosmological meaning or purpose.  As Stephen Hawking writes in the Wall Street Journal Article, universes are just things that now and then spontaneously appear from nothing.  This is an important position because if the universe is just one of those things that now and then pops out of the vacuum, we are more likely to treat it lightly, and without the reverence due a miracle.

So in the face of all the hype over the multiverse, the article by George Ellis brings a needed dose of sense and reason to the concept.  Professor Ellis notes that the currently observable universe is 42 billion light years, what he calls the cosmic visual horizon. The multiverse is imagined to exist outside this cosmic horizon, with each variant universe possessing a different set of physical laws.

But how can one ever empirically prove the workings of an imagined universe that by definition lies beyond experience? He writes, “All the parallel universes lie outside of our horizon and remain beyond our capacity to see, now or ever, no matter how technology evolves.  In fact, they are too far away to have had any influence on our universe whatsoever.  That is why none of the claims made by multiverse enthusiasts can be directly substantiated.”  Nor can anyone prove the multiverse wrong since it lies beyond our ability to prove anything.

Brian Greene, in his Wall Street Journal interview, makes the argument that “if a theory offers the most accurate and complete predictions about our own universe and also requires the existence of other universes, then confirmation of its predictions gives us confidence that other universes are out there.”

The problem with this argument, as Ellis points out, is the bedrock principle known as Occam’s razor. This principle holds that a theory should be as simple as possible and that the fewer assumptions the better the theory.  Clearly, relying on an infinity of unknowable universes to explain features of our one known universe must be considered to be a flagrant violation of Occam’s razor.  A theory that explains our current universe without imagining a multiverse would be superior to one that does.  In the end, the multiverse may give materialistic scientists cover for a time, but the concept is so highly speculative and cumbersome that it is destined to gradually fade away.  All it will take is a theory that does not assume an infinity of other universes to explain this one.


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