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Worlds Without End

Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse

Mary-Jane Rubenstein
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Worlds Without End
    Book Description:

    "Multiverse" cosmologies imagine our universe as just one of a vast number of others. While this idea has captivated philosophy, religion, and literature for millennia, it is now being considered as a scientific hypothesis -- with different models emerging from cosmology, quantum mechanics, and string theory.

    Beginning with ancient Atomist and Stoic philosophies, Mary-Jane Rubenstein links contemporary models of the multiverse to their forerunners and explores the reasons for their recent appearance. One concerns the so-called fine-tuning of the universe: nature's constants are so delicately calibrated that it seems they have been set just right to allow life to emerge. For some thinkers, these "fine-tunings" are evidence of the existence of God; for others, however, and for most physicists, "God" is an insufficient scientific explanation.

    Hence the allure of the multiverse: if all possible worlds exist somewhere, then like monkeys hammering out Shakespeare, one universe is bound to be suitable for life. Of course, this hypothesis replaces God with an equally baffling article of faith: the existence of universes beyond, before, or after our own, eternally generated yet forever inaccessible to observation or experiment. In their very efforts to sidestep metaphysics, theoretical physicists propose multiverse scenarios that collide with it and even produce counter-theological narratives. Far from invalidating multiverse hypotheses, Rubenstein argues, this interdisciplinary collision actually secures their scientific viability. We may therefore be witnessing a radical reconfiguration of physics, philosophy, and religion in the modern turn to the multiverse.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52742-2
    Subjects: Philosophy, Technology, Religion, Physics, Astronomy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: How to Avoid the G-word
    (pp. 1-20)

    Although the idea of multiple worlds is hardly a new one, it has been bubbling up with increasing regularity over the past fifteen years. No longer merely the stuff of science fiction, the notion is now under consideration as a scientific hypothesis, with some of the earth’s most highly respected physicists and cosmologists suggesting that our whole universe—from our perspective, all thatis—might be just a negligible part of a vast, perhaps infinite, “multiverse.” At first, this idea was confined mainly to specialized journals and edited volumes, with the exception of a few crucial issues ofScientific American.¹...

    (pp. 21-39)

    In the beginning was chaos. This is as likely a story as any: cosmos from chaos, order from disorder, the whole world assembled from some formless flux. But what kind of a starting point is chaos, when chaos confounds all points? How do boundaries emerge from the boundless, things from the no-thing, information from the noise?

    The most ancient of Greeks addressed this problem by positing an organizing force internal to the precosmic flux. In Hesiod’sTheogony, for example, a primordial Chaos gives birth spontaneously to the earth, who in turn gives birth to heaven, through whom she conceives the...

    (pp. 40-69)

    The theory that there might be a plurality of worlds traces back to the Atomist philosophers of the fifth century B.C.E.¹ Against the Ionians’ single-material principles (water, air, fire, the indefinite), Leucippus and his pupil Democritus argued that the world is composed not of one basic element, but of microscopic, indivisible bits of matter called “atoms,” from the adjectiveatomos(uncuttable).² These atoms move eternally in a void (kenon) and at some indeterminate time and place collide haphazardly to form a vortex (dine) that is “cut off from the unlimited.”³ In this vortex, the atoms “jostle against each other,” “circling...

    (pp. 70-105)

    From the ashes of the mid-thirteenth century arises a familiar question: Is there one world, or are there many? Might there even be an infinite number of them? The author of the question is Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), and one almost wonders why he bothers to ask. Hadn’t the matter been put to rest by Plato, sealed by Aristotle, diagrammed by Ptolemy, and Christianized by Augustine? Hadn’t all the pluralizing dissenters been “hissed off the stage” or consigned to dust and ashes centuries ago? And yet here we find Thomas in theSumma theologiae, beginning as usual with the position...

    (pp. 106-141)

    It will perhaps come as no surprise that even the elimination of its most vocal proponent failed to do away with the cosmology of an infinite universe and its infinite worlds. To be sure, Giordano Bruno’s execution in 1600 encouraged a degree of caution for a number of decades, especially among Catholic scholars on the Continent, but for the most part the seventeenth century witnessed a veritable explosion of treatises concerning the existence of other worlds.¹ This explosion can be attributed in part to the exceedingly public nature of Bruno’s trial and execution, which arguably circulated Bruno’s heretical cosmology more...

  10. 5 BANGS, BUBBLES, AND BRANES: Atomists Versus Stoics, Take Two
    (pp. 142-176)

    The century and a half that followed Kant’s uncelebratedNatural Historywas a time of almost total multiversal dormancy. This dormancy was both marked and reaffirmed by the publication in 1796 of Pierre Laplace’sExposition du système du monde, which ordered the Kantian chaos into what became known as the “nebular hypothesis,” according to which a hot, rotating nebula produces a sun and its planets.¹ What the next generations took this to mean, although Laplace (1749–1827) himself waffled on the matter,² was that the far-off nebulae were at worst just clouds of gas and at best “potential star-clusters” of...

    (pp. 177-206)

    The most widely known and popularly dramatized multiverse scenario—the one that sendsFamily Guy’sStewie and Brian through an endless series of alternative Quahogs—stems from the Many-Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics, often abbreviated MWI. Initially posited in 1957 by an American graduate student named Hugh Everett (1930–1982),¹ the MWI is an alternative to the Copenhagen Interpretation, associated with Niels Bohr (1885–1962) and Werner Heisenberg (1901–1976), who were among the first to account for the bizarre behavior of matter at subatomic scales. One of the central laws of quantum mechanics is the principle of “complementarity,” according...

  12. UNENDINGS: On the Entanglement of Science and Religion
    (pp. 207-236)

    At first blush, it looks as though the boundary between “science” and “religion” is clear when it comes to the multiverse. Just as the Atomist philosophers did 2,500 years ago, modern multiverse theorists proclaim an infinite number of worlds in part to avoid the conclusion that this world was somehow “designed” for us. If an endless number of all sorts of universesactuallyexist, the scientists reason, then it does not matter how improbable or razor’s-edgy our fundamental parameters might be. The random generation of universes throughout infinite time and space ensures that even a cosmological constant as absurdly small...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 237-304)
    (pp. 305-328)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 329-344)