Bubbles of the Multiverse

The multiverse – a key ingredient to many a sci-fi film, however the topic has now become a fairly serious area of thought in theoretical physics. The universe we know and live in is characterised by key fundamental constants which are thought to be the same thorough-out. For example G, the gravitational constant, which quantifies the gravitational force of attraction felt between objects in the universe. Λ, the cosmological constant, behind the accelerating nature of the universe’s expansion. h, Plank constant, a constant central in quantum mechanics which defines the size of the quantum realm. c, the speed of light, 3×10^8 m/s, never more, never less. The list goes on… All these fine tuned constants together make our universe as we know it, they dictated its evolution and allowed life, consciousness and ultimately us to come about. If any of these constants had been changed just a little bit the evolutionary path of the universe would not have been the same and we would not have existed.

Now this suggests we are very very special indeed and it seems like a coincidence almost too hard to swallow that this universe developed with just the right conditions to create us, just by chance. This, my friends, is the problem of fine-tuning. Now there are ways to get around this, one of these being the idea of the multiverse. This being that there are a great many number of universes, all with different values of the constants and it is our section bias, our observance of only this universe that makes it seem so rare. This universe has the tuning that is compatible with life and hence allows us to be here, witness it and reflect upon it in the first place. This is, in essence, the anthropic principle. It’s all to easy to be consumed into a view that emphasises our rarity, but if there are in fact many of these universes and ours has the right conditions to allow life, it seems not so puzzling at all that we are here reflecting upon it. It’s a question whose answer is in the asking of the question itself.

This post will focus on the Multiverse as seen by the theory of Eternal Inflation. To possibly understand the theory of eternal inflation we must first understand the workings of normal inflationary theory. Now, inflationary theory came about to resolve multiple problems with the standard Big Bang model – however never-mind the workings of those now. Inflation represents a phase of extreme expansion of spacetime, the mechanisms behind its workings are less understood though it is thought to be linked to the phase transitions which occurred during the symmetry-breaking of the four fundamental forces early on the in the universe. From when they acted similarly, to when they broke away and adopted unique roles with different strengths.

Eternal Inflation Theory believes that this state of inflationary expansion continues forever and it is only in regions that certain quantum fluctuations occur. These can cause a limited region to drop out of the inflationary state, forming an bubble which continues to expand at a steady universe-like state. [Forgive me reader, I know ‘drop out’ is not a satisfactory  explanation but this is a hard topic in theoretical physics and I pretend not to properly understand the mechanics of it myself. This post is just to present the concepts behind what is now a cosmological theory which holds substantial ground.] So what we have is this material in the inflationary state with regions of quantum fluctuations that cause bubbles to drop out into normal-state like universes; expanding at a normal universe-like rate. Multiple 3D (working with only spatial dimensionals here) universes arising within a fabric of unknown dimensionality.

These bubbles are thought to continually form out of the expanding inflationary state and one of these many bubbles is our bubble, our universe. So from our point of view, if we were able to travel far enough out we would encounter a transition, we would ‘leave’ our 3D bubble and enter an area of inflationary-state like matter. And if we could have the power to zoom out to an even further vantage point we would see multiple bubbles like our own separated by distances increasing at an inflationary rate!


Now who is to say the workings of life, the laws of physics, the nature of matter is the same within each of these bubbles? Yes they arise from the same inflationary-state but the initial conditions of each universe may well be influenced by the locality surrounding the region and the nature of the quantum fluctuation. The physics is unclear whether the value of fundamental constants, masses and charges of particles is a product of initial conditions, i.e. locally dependent or arise from the physical laws dictating the arena in the inflationary-state. If it is this way, then yes we can expect that these different bubble universes have different physical constants, different evolution histories and as such the vast majority may not have developed in a way to allow life. So, the values for the fundamental constants may be a totally random product of the locality of the bubble. If there are millions of these bubbles, the statistical argument for there being one that has the constants that allow the state of evolution such that grows to welcomes life, makes the phenomena seem not so rare. And of course we are only in this bubble because it allowed life in the first place, it’s not like we had a choice of which bubble to grow up in and we magically chose the 1 in a million (figure made up) bubble that allowed life. We are here because we can be.

Now the eternal inflation multiverse theory gets a lot of stick because it is most likely untestable. A key pillar of the scientific method is that theories should be empirically testable/falsifiable in order to hold weight and as such critics say the multiverse is non-scientific. However to me this resounds loudly with the sound of human-arrogance. Why should a theory be ruled out because we as human beings – tiny 3D creatures who have only been around for a blip in the lifetime of the universe – be equipped with the tools to experimentally test a theory, for it to be considered credible?! It seems ludicrous to me. The physics is strong, the mathematics is strong, the predictive power of the theory is strong, it is based off solid reasoning – it may well hold weight. Moreover perhaps one day we will be able to probe far (and it would be very far) enough such that we can detect the inflationary-state past the edge of our bubble, though this remains as with all too many things, uncertain.

All there is left to say is the Multiverse Theory, based on eternal inflation, leaves us feeling all that much tinier than before. We may no longer be just one tiny planet in a galaxy with thousands of planets, in a universe with billions of other galaxies – we could now be merely a bubble of a universe in a sea of many other bubbles. I hope this leaves you with the feeling that mankind is not special as it believes itself to be – we just happened to exist in a smidgen that allowed our particular form of consciousness to exist and with the lack of competition reaching our tiny corner we proclaim ourselves remarkable.

35 responses to “Bubbles of the Multiverse

  1. Science, as with mathematics, involves not only what is resolvable, but those hazy areas wherein the reasoning is acceptable but yet to be proved or even indicated. I am suspicious about extended distances discovering anything as we are dealing with multidimensional factors and no matter how far you travel on the surface of the Earth you will never encounter another planet. Our four dimensional universe is an expanding sphere and one cannot depart from that surface.

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    • Thanks very much for your thoughts Jiisand! Yes as 3D beings we would not be able to physically depart (unless we can have the Tesseract from Interstellar!) but we may be able to probe the extra dimensions using advanced experimental equipment, with theoretical breakthroughs to guide our search!

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  2. I attended a symposium that explored analogs of Moore’s Law (that processor power grows exponentially) in other scientific disciplines. The particle physicist, reflecting on the trend from Ptolemy to the inflationary multiverse, observed that we appeared to be following a “Moore’s Law of human irrelevancy.” The Laboratory Director was not amused.

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    • Very amusing, the theory may hold not truth but I think it extremely imperative we keep thinking and theorising anyway! In which case I agree with the director – not irrelevant at all!

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      • There are interesting problems at tractable energy scales. Scientific American had an article on the application of the Standard Model to calculation of the properties of the proton. It’s a miserable failure. The QCD theorists tend to complain that “it’s just hard.” I tend to the suspicion that getting the proton properties right (for one instance) will probably have implications that make current theorizing about the multiverses appear to be pretty close to science fiction. In fact, I almost got Leonard Krauss to admit to that…

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      • It’s the movement Mekhi …and the way the blobs kind of shrink and disappear at one end to expand and form another blob at the other …a constant mesmerising motion …well that’s what I like about them anyway:D:D:D
        I LOVE your blog …but I always have to try to condense your and Joseph’s posts into an analogy that makes sense to my simple mind

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  3. Although the multiple universe concept is interesting and perhaps has some possibility, a vaguely similar idea is that this universe is much larger than we perceive. The general acceptance is that the universe we live in is four dimensional although some more advanced ideas propose that a further extension of seven dimensions that are so small we cannot perceive them is useful in explaining some phenomena. Perhaps I am wrong but these extra extensions still maintain a single time line from the past to the future. There are many science fiction stories of time itself being composed of more than a single dimension so that what might be seen as parallel time lines permit variations of this time line. In effect, this does not indicate other universes, merely that this universe is far more immense than we perceive with what is labeled as parallel versions of this universe. Frequently the assumption is that these parallel versions are forbidden territory but, as we see within our familiar three dimensions, slight variations from moment to moment are almost undetectable in change so perhaps our individual paths to one side or the other in our progresses through time may not be straight at all so that each one of us lives in a slightly different version of our familiar universe. I can think of no way to check this.

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    • Hi Jiisand – oh yes a similar theory in terms of our relative size. The multiverse theory is just something quite different in the essence of there being this inflationary-state like structure still in existence. Yes the idea of extra ‘curled up’ dimensions additional to the 4 of space & time is very interesting -and there are amazing developments in string theory working with this framework. Ah back to my favourite theme of time – yes Kip Thorne the renowned theoretical physicist in ‘The Science of Interstellar’ comments on how time could be traversable in different directions (just like that of space) for ‘bulk beings’ beings who can manipulate extra spatial dimensions. However this is all very extreme theoretical physics and unfortunately the greatest minds alive cannot think of a way to check this either.

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  5. We could assert that those constants dictated evolution and of course we can always slip in that ‘ who is to say ‘. I like the phrase we are here because we can be it’s a mind blower. Mathematics can go anywhere that is why physicists worry about proof, but did not Godel shake the foundations of mathematics when he proved that some things cannot be proved?
    Joseph don’t belittle us humans and look though a telescope the wrong way . I call this Carl Sagonism an overwhelming desire to pretend we are a mere nothing.
    Professor Brian Cox seems to think is is very unlikely that intelligent life exists anywhere in our galaxy so like Fermi we must ask the question why not? Who is to say that there are not millions of planets with unintelligent life to employ your own phrase?
    Consciousness is one thing but self consciousness is quite another problem and Professor Penrose believes it is connected to quantum mechanics.
    ‘The Brain is wider than the sky,
    For put them side by side ,
    The one the other will include
    With ease , and you beside.’

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kertsen, sorry I can’t say I quite understand your point here. Are you saying you believe we as a species are much more special than the viewpoint taken in the stance of my article? I don’t at all believe we are a ‘mere nothing’ – the chain reaction of events that allowed life to come about on this planet is remarkable, as are the things we have achieved. However I do believe we occupy an unimaginably small place in the universe, a universe which contains billions of other Earth-like planets – perhaps we often forget this and as such overestimate our uniqueness.

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      • Mekhi I expect you and I largely agree on the facts even some of the more speculative ones. It’s not the facts that ruffle my feathers it’s the propagandist presentation of them. If while walking on Bognors stones beach I pick up a stone and declare there are millions like this one it would be true, but it would also be true to say this stone is unique. Facts can be represented in different ways ; by talking about Earth-like planets you are propoganderising potential earths . People get the idea that millions of planets are definitely buzzing with life out there.
        You are also suggesting that size and duration are connected to importance : how’s this for a bit of propaganda.
        The human brain is probably the most complicated thing in the galaxy if not in the entire universe.
        DNA is far more important than the sun since it contains the secret of reproduction.
        I could trot this stuff out endlessly. Hubble makes astronomers drool as they see the hand of God.
        Richard Dawkins praises the blind watchmaker as if he had it all planned.
        I think it’s important that we don’t read into facts philosophy in the same way we must feed into philosophy non existent facts.

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    • Hi dave – in quantum mechanics, observation is thought to collapse the wave-function of a particle or system – which represents all possible states of the system – such that it then assumes a definite state. So i’m not quite sure what you mean here by the link to the multiverse which is a cosmological theory? Could you try explain a little more?

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      • I presume, theoretically speaking yes, however there would have to be a great leap in theoretical physics & cosmology to get to this stage. The inflationary state like matter is thought to be a state of n dimensions (greater than our 3 of time + 1 of space) and if we could find a way to evidence the existence of these other dimensions this could be the first step to understanding our universe as a sub-dimensional bubble. However I must confess the level of this physics is far beyond me so please don’t take my word on this!

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  7. Loved this ~ it is always interesting to see how physicists explain such possibilities, and in this short post you summarize it well, you’ve a gift for writing. The most exciting pieces of your post for me was your comment of how some people shrug off this theory as it is untestable. It seems a very shallow thing to do, as if the physics and mathematics are strong along with the predictive power of the theory, it is an important test and the more we discover in mathematics and nature, the stronger the theory will become. To me, this is how we must test. There is nothing quite like getting lost in thought of all that could be out there…and the answers within us as we understand more of nature/mathematics/physics. Cheers!

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  8. I’m not a religious person, but in light of some of the concepts here and in so much other theoretical thinking, I have to wonder… maybe its a human weakness falling back onto the concept of a God or some Divine Maker/ Great Designer, but surely it can’t be discounted? Certainly one can understand such thinking, if not subscribe to it. Its much easier to accept Reality as something that Makes Sense rather than the chaotic random universe that seems to confound our rational thinking or attempts to fully understand it. I also find it interesting, your comments about science and untestable theory… some untestable scientific theories might be matters of faith just like any religion.

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    • Yes I completely agree, it can be much more comforting and easier to accept reality as something that makes sense and has a logical point or cause to it. However I don’t think we can just go with this view because it is ‘easier’ – the scientific approach is hard but rewarding when we make breakthroughs in our understanding. Furthermore perhaps fully understanding the universe is beyond us currently but as long as we keep building on our theories we continue to advance. Thank you very much for stopping by!

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  13. As the universe is assumed to be expanding, Could these bubbles / galaxies in vast space be just particles / cells ? atoms / DNA strands of the great Mahapurush (supreme god as described in the vedas?….could the exploding supernova’s be the death of cells within his body ??…..Is the great absoulte growing old with the supposedly dying universe ?? or it it an illusion (maya ??)……
    According to Advaita Vedanta Brahman is the highest Reality.That which is unborn and unchanging,and “not sublatable” and cannot be superseded by a still higher reality.
    Other than Brahman, everything else, including the universe, material objects and individuals, are ever-changing and therefore maya. Brahman is Paramarthika Satyam, “Absolute Truth”,and
    the true Self, pure consciousness … the only Reality (sat), since It is untinged by difference, the mark of ignorance, and since It is the one thing that is not sublatable”
    Advaita Vedanta philosophy considers Atman (soul) as self-existent awareness, limitless and non-dual. Advaita school asserts that there is “spirit, soul, self” within each living entity which is fully identical with Brahman – the Universal Soul.This identity holds that there is One Soul that connects and exists in all living beings, regardless of their shapes or forms, there is no distinction, no superior, no inferior, no separate devotee soul (Atman), no separate God soul (Brahman).The Oneness unifies all beings, there is the divine in every being, and that all existence is a single Reality, Each soul, in Advaita view, is non-different from the infinite.
    To Advaitins, human beings, in a state of unawareness and ignorance of this Universal Self, see their “I-ness” as different than the being in others, then act out of impulse, fears, cravings, malice, division, confusion, anxiety, passions, and a sense of distinctiveness. Atman-knowledge, to Advaitins, is that state of full awareness, liberation and freedom which overcomes dualities at all levels, realizing the divine within oneself, the divine in others and all living beings, the non-dual Oneness, that Brahman is in everything, and everything is Brahman

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  14. I’m not sure I want to imagine universes operating on different laws. It would seem simpler that, given infinity, there would be big bangs going on all over the place like pop corn, each one unique, but all playing by the same rules.

    And, given eternity, there’d be plenty of time for life to evolve someplace in most of them.

    Another thing I wonder about. How can the expansion be accelerating? And one of the things I imagine is that part of our universe may be heading down a really big black hole. After all, objects accelerate as they fall toward a source of gravity. But I’m not sure that being pulled into a black hole would produce an even acceleration, unless there were black holes surrounding our universe.

    Or, perhaps simpler, all of the multiple universes out there are pulling upon each other by their respective gravities…hmm…I guess it wouldn’t matter if it was a universe or a black hole that was pulling, because its the same gravity, just dispersed in one case and condensed in the other.

    Ultimately, there would be an exchange of matter as the expanding universes began to overlap their edges. And the edges might coalesce into new big bangable black holes.


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