The idea of parallel universes captures our imagination. Maybe it’s the appeal of imagining another world where we made different choices in our lives and we could be living with drastically different consequences. Have you ever had a feeling that you were making an important decision, where depending if you said “Yes” or “No” your life might continue in very different directions? Perhaps at that moment, your life split into two parallel universes, like in the movie “Sliding Doors.” Maybe another version of you is currently living out a parallel path to yours, and perhaps you get glimpses of it.
Science fiction and the popular imagination has a rich history of alternate universes, perhaps because scientists and philosophers over the centuries have proposed parallel universes in an attempt to make sense of the world they experienced. The philosopher Giordano Bruno with his revolutionary, heretical cosmology proposed an infinite-space multiverse that was way ahead of his time; he got burned at the stake in 1600. Plato proposed something akin to a parallel universe with his world of perfect forms. Even Einstein acknowledged the possibility of other Earth’s in parallel universes.
The further science explores outward to the stars or inward into the subatomic realms, the more our understanding of the universe becomes more like science fiction where other dimensional universes become more plausible. The field of quantum physics suggests that there may possibly be multiple universes existing side by side or one within the other. These ideas catch the minds of people and are used to explain phenomenal or mysterious qualities of our lives.
For example, Burt Goldman has created a self-help technique called “Quantum Jumping,” whereby he believes you can literally shift your consciousness to access other realities and change your life. He believes that a kind of quantum shifting is part of human consciousness and can be accessed through meditation. The physicist Cynthia Sue Larson has written the book, Quantum Jumps: An Extraordinary Science of Happiness and Prosperity, wherein she proposes similar quantum qualities are already part of our world. In her book she backs up her “radical new paradigm” of a holographic multiverse with lots of real world physics. They both claim that by accessing your quantum potentials you can be smarter, happier, more effective, and live a more prosperous life.
Many scientists claim this is the worst of new-age thinking because of how it appropriates science in irrational and unfounded ways. A quantum physicist might say that quantum tunneling and a quantum jump refer to phenomena that occur only at the quantum, sub-molecular level and have little relation to the gross matter of everyday human life. Yet, at the same time, experimenters are modeling quantum phenomena in larger and larger ways that are actually becoming observable in our physical world. Some of the bizarre quantum behaviors do hold up in the larger world. One study reported that two-thirds of physicists surveyed now believe that everything in material form—including us—exists in a superimposed state of many possible realities. People all over the world have experiences that might be best explained as involving alternate realities or parallel universes. People have had experiences of being in different times, having deja vu, or even dreaming that they’re living another life in another place. At the same time, in trying to explain the observable world, scientists are leaning more towards explanations that include parallel universes.
Support for parallel universes has been stirred up again with the discovery of gravitational waves in deep space. The Bicep2 telescope located in the Dark Sector Lab near the South Pole observed the first-ever direct evidence of primordial gravitational waves, which are like ripples in space-time. The presence of these waves was predicted by Einstein in his 1916 Theory of General Relativity and also supports Alan Guth’s theory of Cosmic Inflation. Cosmic Inflation refers to a rapid expansion that occurred in the first micro moments after the Big Bang some 13.82 billion years ago. This massive expansion in the first 10 to 36 seconds of our universe is proposed to account for the even distribution of all of the matter that we have in our universe. If inflation is true, then scientists suggest that parallel universes might be possible. This is because if the big bang happened, space-time may have expanded at different rates in different places forming what are called bubble universes.
Just to be clear, when we refer to the universe, we’re usually talking about the observable universe. There are different observable universes, depending on where you are. However, just the universe we can see doesn’t seem to account for reality as we know it. So the term multiverse comes into play in an attempt to account for all the possible universes. Multiverse normally refers to one of three hypothetical mathematical models, none of which has been firmly established as true. Yet these theories are at the leading edge of science and our conception of reality.
The first is Bubble Universes, also known as baby black hole universes. The basic idea is that there may be other parts of the universe that are so far away or inaccessible to us that we will never see them. The gravitational waves that were just discovered suggest the possibility of this kind of reality. There might actually be an infinite number of Bubble Universes, each manifesting in highly varied ways where the laws of nature are fundamentally different in each one.
Bubble Universes are often proposed to explain why our universe is so optimally designed for life as we know it. Scientists can’t explain why the charge of an electron, the strong nuclear force, or the gravitational constant are exactly as they are. If any of these constants were slightly different, the behavior of stars would be considerably different, and life wouldn’t have and couldn’t have evolved as we know it. Saying that our universe was perfectly created for life has made scientists very uncomfortable, as it seems to hint at a kind of creationism or intelligent design. The multiverse theory was proposed to counter this. Since each separate bubble might have slightly different laws of physics, we exist in the one that had the right universal constants to support life. There would also be an infinite number of other universes that didn’t evolve to be able to sustain life. Of course, the bias in this theory doesn’t account for life and consciousness as having any other role than being an ‘accident of nature,’ which is another unproven hypothesis.
The second hypothetical model for the multiverse is that of Membranes and extra dimensions. Since the mathematics of string theory doesn’t predict the right number of dimensions for the universe we observe, string theorists proposed the idea that what we think of as our universe is actually just a three-dimensional surface embedded in a larger super-universe which has nine dimensions. To visualize this, you might imagine the way each page of this magazine is a two-dimensional surface embedded in a larger three-dimensional world. If space had nine dimensions rather than three, there would be plenty of space for other three-dimensional surfaces like ours to be universes in their own right, but, like pages of this magazine, are all part of a bigger whole. These kinds of dimensional surfaces are called “Membranes.” It is proposed that these other dimensional Membranes might be very close to ours yet different in nature and normally inaccessible.
The third model is the Many Worlds theory of quantum mechanics. Physicists still don’t understand how the collapse of the wave function in quantum mechanics actually occurs. For example, when an electron is observed, all possible states collapse, and it becomes either a wave or a particle. The Many Worlds hypothesis makes an attempt to explain this by proposing that every possible state of the electron continues to exist. We only see one outcome because that is the universe that we occupy. In this model, every alternate possibility for the universe is real and they all happen in an ever larger, ever branching way, where every possible story happens.
The Many Worlds theory is similar to the Bubble Universes model by proposing that anything that can happen does, and we just happen to exist in the place where the necessary things happened that are necessary for us to exist. It’s also similar to the Membranes model in that all the multiple dimensions exist and are somehow close to each other.
It’s important to remember that though different schools of thought in mainstream science propose these theories, they are only theories until they are proven. Many people are highly skeptical of any multiverse theory because they are seemingly not provable and perhaps they’re a little too close to science fiction for comfort. The discovery of gravitational waves however, seems to be a step in the direction of validating the Bubble Universes theory. If our universe were one of many disconnected bubbles, and if it happened to collide with another bubble or membrane, then that collision should have had an effect that should be observable in the background gravity waves. The evidence of gravity waves moves the Bubble Universes theory a little ways out of the dangerous regions of philosophy and more into the realm of practical science.
The Many Worlds theory might also be more testable fairly soon, since experimenters are becoming increasingly able to manipulate and control ever larger quantum mechanical systems in their labs. These are experiments that approach the line between the quantum realm and our everyday experience. For example, researchers recently claimed to have created an experiment whereby an entanglement of 103 dimensions was created with two protons. This research has massive implications for quantum computing. With lots of funding available, research in quantum computing might move our understanding of the Many Worlds theory along quite rapidly.
On the human side, most scientists would say that possible parallel universes are mathematical ideas and not accessible to human experience. Yet many people over time have believed they had access to other dimensions. Some of the paranormal and mysterious phenomena that have been experienced are suggested to be a result of inter-dimensional communication. It has also been suggested that many of the strange beings—from UFO’s to Bigfoot to the little people—are all a result of a crossing of dimensional boundaries. Referring back to the membranes model of the multiverse, perhaps there are ways to leap across from one membrane to another, since they are actually side-by-side along another dimensional axis. In folklore, there are places where the “split between the worlds” is accessible, and the veil that separates universes is quite thin.
Then there is the interesting phenomenon of invention, whereby a person may dream about an object that doesn’t exist in our world and then bring it into creation. Some say our dreams are able to cross dimensions. Some kind of dimensional crossover might explain how revolutionary ideas sometimes occur simultaneously in the minds of inventors at different locations on the planet. Perhaps we dream of ourselves having a different life—living in a different home with a different wife and children and working a different job. This is a manifestation of the Many Worlds theory of quantum mechanics. Somehow, our consciousness, when freed from the body during sleep, might still be connected to all the possible permutations of one’s being in other parallel universes. In this case there is no collapse of the wave function—the Many Worlds theory—and an individual may be jumping from one dimension to another while dreaming because there is a similar, resonant body/mind in each dimension.
Most scientists would be skeptical that consciousness could bridge dimensions or, frankly, have anything to do with hard science. Yet some astrophysicists have proposed that dark matter and dark energy, which might constitute as much as 95% of the total content of our universe, might be substances that get their mysterious substance and tremendous energy from parallel universes. These substances, if you can call them that, seem to have properties that are otherwise unexplainable in terms of this universe. One thought is that all their energy comes from the mass of nearby universes and our consciousness is also connected in a similar way. Thinking back to the earlier analogy of the pages of a magazine representing the multiple membrane universes side by side, perhaps dark matter and dark energy are expressing the weight of these nearby universes.
In terms of our conscious experience, precognitive qualities of dreams might also be explained by the ability of the mind to jump from one membrane to the other, where one of the dimensions is time, and come back with information from one of our possible futures. In the Membranes theory, one of the nine dimensions might be time. Deja vu, then, could be parallel-universe phenomenon. Perhaps we have the sense of having had a particular experience or been in a particular place because in a different universe we have already had the same experience.
There are also real world examples that can’t be accounted for. In various times and places, people have claimed to have come from places not known to exist. In 1851, a man named Joseph Vorin came to the attention of German authorities. He said he was from Laxaria, in a country called Sakria. A similar incident took place in Tokyo, Japan, during the early 1990s: a man arrived on a flight with a passport from a country called Andorra. Japanese officials couldn’t find any record of the country, although the man said he’d been traveling back and forth between the two countries for years. By all accounts his passport was real and had customs stamps on various pages including stamps by Japanese customs officials from previous visits. The man said Andorra was in Europe, part of Spain, and had existed for almost 1,000 years. He carried legal currency from several European countries, an international drivers license, and spoke several languages.
Scientists are proposing we live in some kind of a multiverse, as a simpler way of explaining how our universe could be the way it is. Many scientists would argue that on a day-to-day basis, human beings have no way of experiencing other universes or dimensions. There are also physicists that might be more inclined towards accessible multiverses. There are individuals who’ve had experiences outside of time, or in a different space-time, and claim that parallel universes are real. Some people even claim there are ways to navigate from our three-dimensional world and access other dimensions in space and time. We might do this through a meditative state, at a sacred site, or when you’re dreaming. Perhaps your mind has quantum potentials and you have already jumped to another world, where only one little thing is different. How would you even know if you had?
Patrick Marsolek is a writer, dancer, facilitator, clinical hypnotherapist and the director of Inner Workings Resources. He is the author of Transform Yourself: A Self-hypnosis Manual and A Joyful Intuition. See PatrickMarsolek.com for more information.