Saturday, June 11, 2011

Like a bowl of Cheerios...


Went to the Adler Planetarium today.  Aside from having an enjoyable day doing this, it made me think.  Things often do that.
One of the Omnimax programs, Journey to the Stars, is the main culprit for my meditations tonight.  As Whoopi Goldberg read the narrative copy, she uttered a phrase that stuck with me the rest of the day: "edge of the universe."  
It has long been posited that our universe is infinite.  No definite end to it anywhere.  That, as has happened to so many other concepts in science, may one day be thrown out the window.  There might not be just one universe or even a few.  There may be thousands of them or even more than that.  That's right, a multiverse.

String theory accounts for the more experimental aspects of this hypothesis.  Now it's taken me quite a while to get my head even a little bit into String Theory as it is such an enormous departure from the science I was taught, but I'll try to offer a definition.  Basically, as I understand it, String Theory states that the universe is really composed of extremely small strings that vibrate in ten dimensions, dimensions we cannot yet even comprehend.  Physicist Brian Greene explains the multiverse applications thusly: 

"There are a couple of multiverses that come out of our study of string theory," Greene says. "Within string theory, the strings that we're talking about are not the only entities that this theory allows. It also allows objects that look like large flying carpets, or membranes, which are two dimensional surfaces. And what that means, within string theory, is that we may be living on one of those gigantic surfaces, and there can be other surfaces floating out there in space."

If I might take a stab at my own armchair postulating...with the enormous caveat that I am a near mathematical illiterate...I would like to offer my own concept of a multiverse model: a bowl of Cheerios.
"Dig if you will a picture" of a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios (or other flavor if you prefer) set before you in your breakfast nook on a bright sunny morning.  Now, imagine that the bowl of Cheerios is the whole of reality.  Each individual hoop of grain represents an entire universe.  Many universes inhabit this bowl and abut one another in the milk or membrane.  What is the membrane composed of?  I don't know.  Perhaps dark matter or dark energy, perhaps the membrane is what becomes exposed from the kreft of a black hole.  I don't know.
Now notice how far apart the Cheerios are as they float in the milk.  The distance varies.  A few are adjacent to one another, others may have a wider gulf of membrane between them.  This seems to dovetail with what theoretical physicists are saying about parallel universes in that certain universes may be millimeters away from ours while others are separated from us across vast swaths of space and time.  In still other cases, the notion of "location" might not even apply and would really end up being rather naive in application.
There may be certain universes that are truly parallel in that they are very much like ours.  These universes have same laws of physics, the same kinds of stars, et. al.  There may be yet other universes that are so bizarrely different that they would escape any and all understanding of cosmology that we have currently.  After all, even in our own universe, there still is much controversy over just what constitutes "basic reality."

Try this.  If you live in an urban or suburban area that suffers from light pollution, drive out to the nearest rural setting that is convenient.  If you already live in a small town, you're ahead of the game.  Pick a clear night and then stand outside.  Look straight up.  I mean tilt your head all the way back and gaze into the universe.  Ask yourself if whatever you're currently worried about is serious in comparison with the vastness of reality...and just how much more remains that we cannot yet see.

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