The idea of a multiverse as we conceive of it was first mentioned by Nobel Prize-winning Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1952, who warned a lecture hall full of people that this may “seem lunatic”, but perhaps his equations did not show mere alternative versions of history, but alternatives all happening simultaneously. For this week’s question, Austin wants to know about the multiverses paradox: if every alternate timeline happens, and anything that can happen does—somewhere—then wouldn’t there be a universe that could not support the idea of any other universe existing? All multiverse hypothesis are as yet unverified by experiments, so it’s all up in the air. But if we ever want to find out, the way to do it is by supporting space exploration, because the more we find out about the cosmos, the closer we get to knowledge about our own origins and the greater our capacity grows for multiverse experimentation. Bill Nye’s most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
Austin: My name is Austin Bogner and I have a question about the multiverse. So if there does exist an infinite amount of universes, then mathematically there’s a 100 percent chance that there exists at least one universe out there in the multiverse that cannot support the idea of any other universe existing except for that one particular universe. And my question is: doesn’t this create a paradox in the multi-universe idea?
Bill Nye: Austin, you are asking a fabulous question about multiverses. The answer for me is: clearly I don’t know. This is to say, is it just a question of definition, that there is one universe and within it are subverses or multiverses? Or is it actually: everything that we know and see and can detect is nominally replicated at some other dimension or some other space beyond space that we are only able to imagine?
And the only reason we think that they might exist, these multiverses beyond space time, is because there’s no reason to exclude them. Like there’s no reason they couldn’t exist.
These are wonderful questions. I’ve seen many talks on this. I’ve gone to symposia about this. And I don’t know the answer.
However, we have the Spitzer space telescope. We have Hubble space telescope. We’re going to have James Webb space telescope. And these instruments along with ground-based telescopes are peering farther and farther into the past, looking at light that came from the Big Bang and the unknowable time, the Planck time, getting back that far.
And so what came before that? Is that even a meaningful question? Is it just our perception and the nature of our perception of time that limits our ability to understand what might be beyond our universe or not?
These are wonderful questions, but here’s what I’ll say: When you get a chance support space exploration, because learning more about the cosmos tells us more about ourselves and tells us more about where we all might have come from—And then ultimately, “Are we alone in all this?”, in the cosmos or in this universe or beyond. Whoa. That’s a great question man.