Multiverse Mania makes the big time this week, with a cover story Welcome to the Multiverse by Brian Greene in Newsweek. While the title indicates that the Multiverse is here and part of our scientific world-view, the subtitle is a bit cagier: “The latest developments in cosmology point toward the possibility that our universe is merely one of billions.”
The article is pretty uniformly a promotional piece for multiverse mania, although buried fairly deep in the piece is something a bit more skeptical:
because the proposal is unquestionably tentative, we must approach it with healthy skepticism and invoke its explanatory framework judiciously.
Imagine that when the apple fell on Newton’s head, he wasn’t inspired to develop the law of gravity, but instead reasoned that some apples fall down, others fall up, and we observe the downward variety simply because the upward ones have long since departed for outer space. The example is facetious but the point serious: used indiscriminately, the multiverse can be a cop-out that diverts scientists from seeking deeper explanations. On the other hand, failure to consider the multiverse can place scientists on a Keplerian treadmill in which they furiously chase answers to unanswerable questions.
Which is all just to say that the multiverse falls squarely in the domain of high-risk science. There are numerous developments that could weaken the motivation for considering it, from scientists finally calculating the correct dark-energy value, or confirming a version of inflationary cosmology that only yields a single universe, or discovering that string theory no longer supports a cornucopia of possible universes. And so on.
I don’t see how we’re anywhere near finding such a version of inflation or getting rid of the string theory landscape, so the only hope of getting any evidence against the multiverse seems to be to calculate the cosmological constant. The multiverse thus looks to be pretty much impregnable and immune to any conceivable scientific challenge. A few years ago, pieces like this would hold out hope that the LHC would discover something encouraging for the multiverse, but now the LHC isn’t even mentioned. The only possible positive evidence suggested is seeing remnants of bubble collisions in the CMB, but the very likely eventuality of not seeing such a thing doesn’t count as evidence against the multiverse idea.
So, I fear Brian is right: Welcome to the Multiverse, physics is going to be stuck with it for a very long time…
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