Have you heard of Brian Greene? He’s a theoretical physicist at Columbia University and one of the world’s leading experts on string theory. He’s also written several books (including the Elegant Universe), was recently interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air, hosted a NOVA special, appeared on Stephen Colbert (twice!), and – that most notable of notables these days – he gave a TED Talk in 2008. Here’s a guy with an extremely agile mind, a math genius really, and a completely contagious speaker. Each time I’ve heard him interviewed, I find myself thinking – this is what we need more of! We need scientists, on fire with passion about their field, who can also explain their complex work in a way that laypeople can understand. After listening to Dr. Greene explain it, I think I might even have a glimmer of understanding about string theory.
Greene has a new book out now called The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. And here’s what he has to say with it…Recent discoveries in physics and astronomy, he says, point to the idea that our universe may be one of many universes, populating a grander multiverse (his term).
“Think of the universe as like a deck of cards,” says Greene (ok, he’s got me already). “Now, if you shuffle that deck, there’s just so many orderings that can happen,” Greene says. “If you shuffle that deck enough times, the orders will have to repeat. Similarly, with an infinite universe and only a finite number of complexions of matter, the way in which matter arranges itself has to repeat.”
Greene takes a quantum mechanics perspective on the possible existence of many worlds. Parallel universes and the theories that predict them. As he explains it, the math suggests that we are not alone, and that our “universe” (as we know it) ay not be alone either.
It struck me, listening to Greene, that it is very difficult for us to square up the concrete evidence we see in front of us – our Earth, our solar system, or universe (what scientists can measure with their tools and devices) – with the notion of parallel universes and the fuzzy, probabilistic theories that point to them. But maybe, just maybe, spending time in online virtual worlds could allow your mind to bend and streeeetch to accommodate that thinking? Time spent problem solving in the metaverse might deliver the mental plasticity that could better accommodate the idea of a multiverse?