Do we live in a multiverse?
The lifeguards at the pool are terrific people. That’s true despite the sign that’s posted there.
It says, “Lifeguards are responsible for your well-being. Please obey them at all times. Failure to obey the rules could result in great harm or even loss of life.” I cannot believe they would ever do that but am more careful now to do whatever they say.
Sometimes the signs do seem to point to our living in another world. Many scientists are saying that what’s out there might be not just the universe in which we live, but a multitude of universes. They call it a multiverse, where other worlds are not just different, they follow laws and norms that are so unique we don’t even have words to describe them. Like a pool with lifeguards who might … no, wait, now I get it.
The universe is expanding at an increasing rate, driven by what is called dark energy, which, though constituting about three quarters of the universe, remains a mystery as to its nature. It’s a multiverse of gigantic proportions and imponderable enigmas.
Sixty years ago, some thought that transportation and communication technologies would unite people. Since that time, though, people have become less alike rather than more so. Americans have become more polarized and more difficult to govern.
And as communications technology has become more global, people’s tastes have become more parochial, not less. Like the galaxies, our cultural universe seems to be expanding not uniting — like a multiverse of seemingly irreconcilable disparity.
It is said that corduroy pillows are making headlines. Some news of late creates furrows in brows, too. The crisis in Europe has worsened; the economy in China is slowing; and job growth in the United States is a puny 69,000. Governments seem unwilling to compromise. They’re in another universe.
The world’s bank of digital information is said to be growing at a rate of roughly five trillion bits a second. It contains personal information about our lives, like where we shop and what we buy, as well as lists of countless organisms for which we don’t yet have names, galaxies we have not yet counted, and a vast amount of details that make up what is called Big Data.
Taken together, it is a parallel universe of numbers and codes, of which no one knows the full extent or total content.
Do some things exist outside and beyond the reach of reason itself? Are there things for which we not only don’t have the answers, we don’t even have the right questions, and never will, since they’re totally outside the pale? If so, we probably shouldn’t even be calling them “things.”
So what can be our response? Author Jacob Braude once said we should “always behave like a duck: Keep calm and unruffled on the surface but paddle like the devil underneath.” We just keep trying to understand.
As Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” — or, we might add, dreamt of in your physics or mathematics or, today more than ever, in your politics or your economics.
There are questions for which scientists — and everyone else — have no answer, so they say they belong to another universe. Hamlet, in the end, was right: Some things are beyond our knowing. The next time my wife asks me why I left the pork chops out all night, I think I’ll tell her that.
“To be quite honest,” I’ll say, “Sometimes there are things for which we don’t have words.” Pork chops left out all night? Who can say? Like signs at the pool, they could point to the existence of other universes. Multiverse? That’s one way to put it.
(Tom Kozeny has worked as a teacher, counselor and in pastoral ministry. He can be reached by e-mail to email@example.com.)