Friday , May 24 2024
A spectacular trip through the weirdness of modern theoretical physics.

Book Review: The Hidden Nature of Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

Brian Green’s The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes And The Deep Laws of The Cosmos is a tour de force survey of the latest state of knowledge in physics about the structure of cosmos.

While often engrossing, it does cause the untrained reader’s eyes to glaze over as Greene patiently explains the more baroque aspects of the theories that underlie the idea of multiverses.

The deep dive sections are, however,  worth muddling through because they develop the logic of the nine multiverse theories that could be the ultimate frames of our humble existence.

Could is the keyword here. Greene is careful to point out that these are only possibilities, not facts.

Whether real or merely just interesting ideas, however, the concepts are quite fascinating if not startling in their implications: for example, there are possibly exact replicas of you and I somewhere out there, reading this review and having the same exact thoughts as you may be having right now.

Perhaps the most engrossing part of the book lies in chapter 10, where Greene develops and discusses simulated universes. He touches on the idea that we could be living in something like the vast simulated world presented in the hit film The Matrix.

We could never discover this, of course, from within the simulation, unless someone from the outside wanted us to. If that’s scary, imagine the possibility that everything you think you know isn’t actually real — it’s been manipulated by the simulation, including your memories.

In fact, if we’re in a simulation you may have just popped into existence a milisecond ago, your memories planted in your head by some cosmic programmer: The pictures of your high school graduation, for example, your marriage — the memories of you held by others — all pure fabrications.

The world as a thing outside of you may not exist at all — other people may be nothing but illusions of the simulation. But the most startling idea involves the theory that no computer hardware is required for a simulation  — we are math, this idea suggests, equations of unfathomable complexity.

And so is the universe. There is no switch to turn math “on,” to compute it, to run the algorithm, paraphrasing Greene, because mathematical existence is physical existence. Computer hardware is unnecessary.

In many ways these latest developments in theoretical physics are essentially postmodern, catching up to certain currents of thought in social science, such as social constructivism, which suggests that our reality is simulated by our use of language.

Our social reality is constructed through the process of reification, and thus is not a reflection of some fundamental reality. Richard Rorty wrote in Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, “Truth cannot be out there — cannot exist independently of the human mind…”

In other words, language is not a result of describing reality but creates the realities that we can know. If math is a formal language, then the reality we can know is limited to the flavor of math that we know. Rather than suggesting unbridled relativism in which nothing means anything, this idea suggests that we can build a better society — all we need do is change our language, the concepts and ideas that we have about our world, ourselves and others.

The reason why changing language is hard has to do with how the ways in which we use language creates centers of power that then resist new narratives which threaten to render them powerless.

At one point Green writes that some of this stuff would blow Newton’s mind. Indeed, it will certainly blow the mind of anyone (except perhaps for physicists and sci fi nuts) reading this book. This stuff is quite simply weird.

So much so that it enters uncomfortable territory for science — that occupied by theology. While Greene stays out of the theological implications of the multiverse ideas, it is quite obvious that a multiverse must contain God. Not a spiritual God of Christianity, perhaps, but a science fictional one, to extend the concept of a “science fiction religion” from D. G. Myers’ recent article  in The Commentary.

A physical God must exist in a multiverse as purely a matter of probability. It has to do with permutations of everything contained in the constituent universes of the multiverse. If the multiverse is infinite, then there are an infinite number of universes inside it, universes in which all that could have ever happened happened, is happening and will happen. So there are not only universes in which you’re president or king of the United States, in which Nazis won the Second World War, in which the Holocaust never happened — and where any other possible combination you can muster in your imagination of events and people also exist — but there are also universes of pure perfection, places in which there is no death, disease or evil.

The multiverse concept necessarily implies that heaven universes exist. As do hell realms. And if there is a perfect universe in all these infinite worlds of a multiverse, then it contains a perfect being, a whole lot of them, in fact, since there are an infinite number of universes in all, which suggests that there are endless numbers of good and bad places as well as oodles of everything in between. And if there are perfect beings, then they are surely the products of highly advanced civilizations, which may know everything. Thus there is a universe is out there in which its denizens know everything, have all the information. It’s all in the permutations of infinite possibilities.

There are certainly many great possibilities — many of which will make your head spin and even challenge your basic assumptions — out there as suggested by these theories, all of which make for great debate, which again has great utility for us even if not for physics — by thinking about different arrangements of what we do have we could start to question the narratives that we take for granted and so change our world into something better.

About A. Jurek

A Jurek is a Blogcritics contributor.

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