Parallel Universes-Do They Exist?

There is a fascinating story of a man who was caught by custom officials at Tokyo airport in 1954 because his passport showed that he came from a country called Taured in Europe that actually didn’t exist. His passport and other documents were real. The passport had proper stamps including Japanese stamps of his previous visit. After several hours, he was put up in a hotel with security but he vanished during the night, along with his belongings although two officers were placed outside the door of his room on the 15th floor. Was he a man who lived in unknown realms, who suddenly slipped into our universe? This is not a one-off incident; in fact there are many claims of such incidents happening around. People generally speculate that there are other universes, perhaps even with different versions of ourselves and histories. Could there be another planet like earth where people live like us? Space is so big and vast that one is forced to accept that if a planet like earth was possible to be created, why cannot there be another earth. An infinite universe would have infinitely many planets and on some of them, the events that play out would be virtually identical to that on Earth. The rules of probability also support this viewpoint.

There are number of cosmological theories that propose that the universe is not the only one universe. We live in a world which itself is one among many worlds, that exist in parallel to each other in different dimensions like pages in a book but without touching each other. In one page of the universe one might be reading, in another page of the universe one might be writing and in another universe one might be eating. The string theory calls this infinite number of universes as multiverse which all co-exist in some higher dimensional hypothetical space. These distinct universes within the multiverse are each with its own laws of physics commonly referred to as parallel universe, alternate universe or alternate reality. They were created in Big Bang-type events and some of them have been fine-tuned for life with all the stuff like stars, galaxies etc. These universes are all related to ours, they branch off from ours and ours branch off of others. The laws of physics may or may not be same and their histories may have developed differently. Within these parallel universes, our actions may have different outcomes and there could exist a replica of you and me. Species that are extinct in our universe may have evolved and adapted in others.

Parallel universe concept has been a staple food in science fiction, movies and philosophical debates from time immoral. It has been a fascinating connection between the fantasy world and earth where everything that is possible can be conceived to exist. The parallel universe actually happens within our own universe. We live in a reality with alternative possibilities and these different scenarios happen every time. It can be a reflection of your mind and consciousness. For example, imagination is the parallel universe of a writer. If he is not responding to you in this world, he is probably responding to someone in the imaginary world. Dreams are windows of going into another world. You are sleeping and you had a dream of chatting with a beautiful girl. You are sleeping in one world while you are chatting in the other world. Similarly you wake up in the morning and then think whether you want to take a coffee or a tea or just carry on without anything. At that very moment, the realities get split. In one universe you have taken coffee while in other you are enjoying your tea while in another one, you just carried on. So there will be three universes running. This is how a parallel universe works. The parallel universe can be right in our midst or nearby divided by a space-time but in the realm of an alternative dimension that we can’t see, hear or smell.

The idea of parallel universes seems bizarre, but physics has found all sorts of reasons to consider it a possibility. It has emerged on its own accord from the fascinating scientific findings of experiments based on quantum mechanics and string theory. Its idea was first evoked in 1954 to explain the erratic quantum behavior, such as how a particle can appear to be in two places at once. Hugh Everett III, an American physicist, a Princeton doctoral candidate, who proposed them, suffered such ridicule that he quit his physics. Everett’s theory was considered far-fetched for many years but became an interest when scientists found that it is theoretically possible. Quantum mechanics is a mathematical description that rules the tiny world of atoms and particles such as electrons, protons, photons etc which exist both as waves and particles. Much of quantum physics is weird and mysterious with confusing ideas that violate our common sense. For example, in our day-to-day lives a ball or any object can be at one place at a time but the same doesn’t happen to the subatomic particles which exist in a realm of possibilities before being observed. The very act of watching/observing the event; the things settle in a specific state, the reality is created. This character is known as quantum superposition.

The quantum superposition has been demonstrated by many thought and real experiments. A famous thought experiment conceived by Erwin Schrodinger in 1935 known as Schrodinger’s cat, in which a cat is locked in a chamber with radioactive triggered poison gas and then left for some time. As long as the door is closed, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead but when you open the box, the cat is either dead or alive. Like, a light bulb is both shining and not shining at the same time, but when we observe it, it is either shining or not shining. Until we observe the event, both the possibilities are running simultaneously, this is the crux how parallel universe exists. Every time we make a decision, our universe splits into quantum states and we call it different parallel universes. If you are running to catch a train there are two possibilities, either you miss or catch the train. In the Many Worlds interpretation, both events actually occur. If in this world you missed the train, there’s actually another world in which you caught the train. This is quite absurd and unacceptable. But quantum mechanics is the most successful theory which is reliable and gives precise predictions. We know that all modern day technological advances are based on quantum physics.

The concept of parallel universe is one of the most intriguing and enticing possibilities but a topic of great contentious debate. Many experts believe that it is more a meta-physics than a pure physics which is not observable and therefore not verifiable. It is a fabrication of reality invoked to keep people in the dark. However there are strong counter arguments. The quantum phenomenon that observation affects the reality doesn’t mean if we can’t see things, they don’t exist, after all, the bacteria, viruses etc can’t be seen but they kill us. The atoms do exist, even if they can’t be observed directly. To Copernicus, the universe was nearly the solar system but today the universe is the billions of galaxies, dark matter and energy. Same reasoning can be applied to parallel universes. If other universes exist, they may well be forever beyond the power of humankind’s observational instruments. The scientists have a strong data confirming the reality but the reality is not that simple. While the scientific quest for parallel universes and other dimensions continues, a time may come when it might be possible to test for their existence.

Dr Mohammad Amin Malik is Associate Professor , Higher Education Deptt,J&K