Time And The Egg

I unlock my office door and there’s Vinnie in the client chair flipping a coin from hand to hand. If my building ever switches to digital locks he’d take it as a challenge. “Morning, Vinnie.”

“Morning, Sy. Been reading your multiverse series and something you said bothered me.”

“What’s that?”

“Back when you wrote up your anti-Universe idea that some other group had come up with first—”

“Don’t remind me.”

“—you mentioned how time going backwards makes for negative energy, like that’s obvious. It ain’t obvious to me.”

“Okay … Ah. What word keeps coming up in our black hole discussions?”

“Geez, frames again? Universes ain’t black holes.”

“Don’t be so sure. Suppose there’s a black hole Event Horizon that encloses our entire Observable Universe. An Event Horizon’s diameter depends on how much mass it has inside. Astronomy’s given us an estimate of how much normal matter our Observable Universe contains. I adjusted that number upward to account for the expected quantity of dark matter plus dark energy’s equivalent mass. When I plugged that grand total into Schwarzchild’s formula for the diameter of an Event Horizon, the result was about seven times wider than what we can observe. We could be inside a huge black hole but we’ll never know either way.”

“Whoa! Wouldn’t we notice a drift towards the singularity at its middle?”

“Not if we’re reasonably far out or if the drift rate is tiny compared to the slow chaos of intergalactic space. Mind you, it took us centuries to develop the technology that told us we’re inside the Milky Way and two‑thirds of the way out from the core.”

“We used frames for thinking about going really fast or being outside a black hole. Now we’re inside one or maybe not. How’s frames gonna help us with that?”

“Well, not the inertial frames where we compared relativistic observers, but the idea is similar. A traveler in an intense gravity field experiences slower time in its inertial frame than a distant partner does in theirs. Clocks appear to run weirdly if they’re compared between separate frames whose relative velocities are near lightspeed.”

“Yeah, that’s what we said.”

“Now picture two observational frames, one here in our Universe and one in the anti‑Universe if there is one. Time in the two frames flows in opposite directions away from the Big Bang between them. The two‑frames notion is a convenient way to think about consequences. Negative energy is one.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere. So give.”

“Well, what does energy do?”

“It makes things happen.”

“Negative energy does, too, considered from inside its frame. Looking from our frame, though, negative energy makes things unhappen. This spoon on our table has gravitational potential energy relative to the floor, right?”

“Yeah, you push it over the edge it’ll fall down.”

“But looking from our frame at a similar situation in the anti‑Universe running on anti‑time, an anti‑spoon on its floor has negative gravitational potential energy. We’d see it fall up to its table. Make sense?”

“Gimme a minute.” <pause> “Kinda hard to visualize but I’m starting to get there.” <longer pause> “Alright, you know I hate equations but even I know about Einstein’s E=mc². That is a square so it’s always positive so if E is negative then the mass gotta be negative, too.”

“From our frame all mass in the anti‑Universe looks negative. Negative mass would attract negative mass just like positive mass attracts positive mass here. Gravity in the anti‑Universe would work exactly the same way as our gravity does, so where’s the problem?”

“Gimme another minute.” <more pausing> “Suppose that spoon was an anti‑egg. You’re sayin’ when it goes splat over there, we’re gonna see it unsplat? Unsplatting uses up entropy. How about the ‘Entropy always increases‘ rule?”

“Right on the unsplat, wrong on the other. The full statement of Thermodynamics’ Second Law says that entropy never decreases in an isolated system. You can’t get much more isolated than being a separate Universe — no inputs of energy or matter from our Universe or anywhere else, right? From our frame, it looks like the anti‑Universe flipped the Second Law but that’s only because we’re using the wrong clock.”

~~ Rich Olcott

A Matter of Degree

“Wait, Sy, you said something about my matryoshkacascade multiverse, that the speed of light might not match between mama and baby Universes. How can that be?”

“Deep question, Susan. The answer is that we don’t know. Maybe gravitational stress at a supermassive black hole’s singularity is intense enough to birth a new Universe inside the Event Horizon, or maybe not. Suppose it does. We don’t have theories strong enough to determine whether the speed of light inside there would or would not match the one we have out here.”

“Talk about pregnant questions.” <sips latte> “Ah! Here’s another thing. Both my matryoshki and your bubbly multiverse are about spreading Universes across space. Neither one addresses the timeline splits we started talking about. Maybe I decide on noodles for lunch and another me in a different Universe opts for a sandwich, but how about one me that splits to follow parallel paths right here? Could a multiverse work that way?”

“Another deep question. Timeline splits require a fivedimensional spacetime. Want to talk about that?”

“Just a moment. Oh, Al, can I have another mocha latte, please, and add a dash of peppermint to it.”

“That’s a change from your usual recipe, Susan.”

“Yes,” <side glance my way> “I’m splitting my timeline. Thanks, Al. Ok, Sy, let’s go for it.”

“It’s about degrees of freedom.”

“I like freedom, but I didn’t know it comes in degrees.”

“In certain contexts that’s a matter of geography, law and opinion. I’m talking Physics here. For physicists each degree of freedom in a system is a relevant variable that’s independent of other specifications. Location parameters are a prime example. On a Star Trek vessel, how does the Captain specify a heading?”

“When they know where they’re going she’ll say ‘Set coordinates for‘ wherever, but for a course change she’ll say ‘some‑number MARK some‑number‘. Ah, got it — that’s like latitude and longitude, two arcs along perpendicular circles. Two angles and a distance to the target make three degrees of freedom, right?”

“A‑k‑a three dimensions of space. How about time?”

“All you can do is go forward, no freedom.”

“Not quite. Conceptually at least, you can go forward and back. Timewise we’re moving along a line. That’s a one‑dimensional thing. Combine time and space as Minkowski recommended and you’ve got a four‑dimensional spacetime. Relativity may serve us time at different rates but we’re still trapped on that line.”

“Ah, now I see why you said five dimensions. High school geometry — you’d need a second time dimension to angle away from the one we’re on. Ooo, if it’s an angle we could do time‑trigonometry, like the sine would measure how different two timelines get divided by how long it took to get there.”

“Cute idea, Susan, but defining time fractures in terms of time would be a challenge. I think a better metric would be probability, like what are the odds that things would be this different?”

A rustle of satin behind me and a familiar voice like molten silver. “Hello, Sy, I read your posts about multiverses so I thought I’d drop by. You’re Susan? Hi, my name’s Anne.”

“Um … hello.” Anne is kind of breath‑taking.

“Hi, Anne. It’s been a while. Funny you should show up just as we’re getting to the idea of a probability dimension.”

“Mm-hm, how ’bout that? Sorry, Susan, but time‑trig won’t work. I’ve got a better idea for you. Sy’s physicists are so used to thinking thermodynamically. Entropy’s based on probability, isn’t it, Sy? The split‑off dimension should be marked off in units of information entropy.” <giggle> “You haven’t told Susan your twenty‑dimension idea yet, have you?”

“Anne, you’ve always been too fast for me. Susan, the Physics we have so far still has about twenty fundamental constants — numbers like the speed of light — whose values we can’t explain in our best models of how things work. Think of each as a coordinate in a twenty‑plus‑four-dimensional hyper‑Universe. The Anthropic Principle says we and my entire bubble Universe happen to be at the twenty‑way intersection where those coordinates are just right for life to exist. Each of your matryoshki Universes may or may not be there. “

“Lucky, aren’t we?”

~~ Rich Olcott

So Many Lunches

<shudder> “I don’t like Everett’s Many Worlds multiverse, Sy. When I think of all those A‑B entanglements throughout space I just see history as this enormous cable with an exponentially growing number of strands and it keeps getting thicker and more massive. Besides, that’s all about observations at the micro level and I don’t see how it can build up to make two me’s enjoying our different lunches.”

“Most physicists agree with you, Susan, although there have been entire conferences devoted to arguments for, against and about it. His proposal does solve several known problems associated with other interpretations of quantum mechanics but it raises some of its own. To my mind, it just tastes bad. How about another multiverse idea?”

“Is it as cumbersome as that one?”

“Well, it still involves infinity, but probably a smaller one. I think the best way to describe it is to start with black holes. Each one has a region at its geometric center where spacetime is under such stress that we don’t have the physics to understand what’s going on in there. You with me?”

“So far. I’ve read some of your posts about them.”

“Cool. Anyway, one conjecture that’s been floating around is that maybe, especially for the supermassive black holes, the energy stress is so high that Nature relieves it by generating a new blister of spacetime. The blister would be inside the Event Horizon so it’s completely isolated from our Universe. Visualize one of those balloon artists who twists a patch on the surface of a blown-up balloon and suddenly it grows a new bubble there.”

“Like yeast budding new yeastlets?”

“That’s the idea, except these spacetime buds would be rooted inside our Universe like a yeast cell’s internal vesicles rather than budding from the cell’s surface. Because it’s isolated, each bud acts as an independent Universe.”

“But Hubble has shown us a trillion galaxies. If there’s a supermassive black hole at the center of nearly every galaxy…”

“Yup, lots of Universes. But it gets better—”

“I see where you’re going. Each baby Universe can have its own collection of black holes so you can have a cascade of Universes inside Universes like a matryoshka doll. Except the people in each one think theirs is the size of a whole Universe. If there are people there.”

“All of that’s possibly true, assuming there are baby Universes and they have the same physical laws and constants that we do. The speed of light could be different or something. Anyway, I was going to a less exotic scheme. The Observable Universe is the space that contains all the light that’s been directed towards us since the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. Thanks to the expansion of the Universe, it’s now a sphere 93 billion lightyears in diameter. Think of it as a big bubble, okay?”

“Mm-hm. You’re thinking about what’s outside that bubble?”

“Mm-hm. Of course light and information from outside haven’t had time to get to us so we have no chance of observing what’s out there and vice‑versa. Do you agree it’s reasonable to assume it’s all just more of the same?”


“Well then, it must also be reasonable to assume that our observability bubble is surrounded by other observability bubbles and they’re surrounded by more bubbles and so on. The question is, does that go on infinitely far or is there an outermost shell?”

“By definition there’s no way to know for sure.”

“True, but it makes a difference when we’re thinking about the multiverse. If there’s only a finite number of bubbles, even if it’s a big number, then there’s a vanishingly small chance that any of them duplicates ours. No copies of you trying to decide between noodles for lunch or a sandwich. If the number is infinite, though, some cosmologists insist that our bubble in general and you in particular must be duplicated not just once but an infinite number of times. Some of you go for noodles, some for sandwiches, some maybe opt for pizza. All in the same consistent Universe but disconnected from each other by distance and by light’s universal speed limit. Does that count as a multiverse?”

~~ Rich Olcott

Noodles or A Sandwich?

“Wait, Sy, your anti-Universe idea says there are exactly two um, sub‑Universes. Even the word ‘multiverse‘ suggests more than that.”

“You’re right, Susan, most of the multiverse proposals go to the other extreme. Maybe the most extreme version grew in reaction to one popular interpretation of quantum theory. Do you know about the ‘Many Worlds‘ notion?”

“Many Worlds? Is that the one about when I decide between noodles for lunch or a sandwich, the Universe splits and there’s one of me enjoying each one?”

“That’s the popular idea. The physics idea is way smaller, far bigger and even harder to swallow. Physicists have been arguing about it for a half‑century.”

“Come again? Smaller AND bigger?”

“Smaller because it’s a quantum‑based idea about microscopic phenomena. Doesn’t say anything about things big enough to touch. Remember how quantum calculations predict statistics, not exact values? They can’t give you anything but averages and spreads. Einstein and Bohr had a couple of marquee debates about that back in the 1930s. Bohr maintained that our only path to understanding observations at the micro‑scale was to accept that events there are random and there’s no point discussing anything deeper than statistics. Einstein’s position was that the very fact that we’re successfully using an average‑based strategy says that there must be finer‑grained phenomena to average over. He called it ‘the underlying reality.’ The string theory folks have chased that possibility all the way down to the Planck‑length scale. They’ve found lots of lovely math but not much else. Hugh Everett had a different concept.”

“With that build‑up, it’d better have something to do with Many Worlds.”

“Oh, it does. Pieces of the idea have been lying around for centuries, but Everett pulled them all together and dressed them up in a quantum suit. Put simply, in his PhD thesis he showed how QM’s statistics can result from averaging over Universes. Well, one Universe per observation, but you experience a sequence of Universes and that’s what you average over.”

“How can you show something like that?”

“By going down the rabbit hole step by step and staying strictly within the formal QM framework. First step was to abstractify the operation of observing. He said it’s a matter of two separate systems, an observer A and a subject B. The A could be a person or electronics or whatever. What’s important is that A has the ability to assess and record B‘s states and how they change. Given all that, the next step is to say that both A and B are quantized, in the sense that each has a quantum state.”

“Wait, EACH has a quantum state? Even if A is a human or a massive NMR machine?”

“That’s one of the hard‑to‑swallows, but formally speaking he’s okay. If a micro‑system can have a quantum state then so can a macro‑system made up of micro‑systems. You just multiply the micro‑states together to get the macro‑state. Which gets us to the next step — when A interrogates B, the two become entangled. We then can only talk about the combined quantum state of the A+B system. Everett referred to an Einstein quote when he wrote that a mouse doesn’t change the Moon by looking at it, but the Moon changes the mouse. The next step’s a doozy so take a deep breath.”

“Ready, I suppose.”

B could have been in any of its quantum states, suppose it’s #10. After the observation, A+B must be an entangled mixture of whatever A was, combined with each of B‘s possible final states. Suppose B might switch to #42. Now we can have A+B(#42), separate from a persisting A+B(#10), plus many other possibles. As time goes by, A+B(#42) moves along its worldline independent of whatever happens to A+B(#10).”

“If they’re independent than each is in its own Universe. That’s the Many Worlds thing.”

“Now consider just how many worlds. We’re talking every potential observing macro‑system of any size, entangled with all possible quantum states of every existing micro‑system anywhere in our Observable Universe. We’re a long way from your noodles or sandwich decision.”

“An infinity of infinities.”

“Each in its own massive world.”

“Hard to swallow.”

~~ Rich Olcott

The Futile Search for Anti-Me

“Nice call, Sy.”

“Beg pardon?”

“Your post a couple weeks ago. You titled it ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once.’ That’s the movie that just won seven Oscars — Best Movie, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress… How’d you predict it?”

“I didn’t, Susan. I wasn’t even trying to. I knew the movie’s plot was based on the multiverse notion. That’s the theme for this post series so it seemed like a natural cultural reference. Besides, that post was about the Big Bang’s growth in a skillionth of a second from a Planck‑length‑size volume out to our ginormous Universe and all its particles. ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once‘ seemed like a nice description of what we think happened. A mug of my usual, Al, and I’m buying Susan’s mocha latte.”

“Sure, Sy. Nice call, by the way. Have a couple of scones, you two, on me.”

“Thanks, Al, and thanks, Sy. You know, I’ve noticed the multiverse idea cropping up a lot lately. They used it in the Spiderman franchise, and the recent Doctor Strange pic, and I just read it’ll be in the next Flash movie.”

“Oh, it’s an old writer’s ploy, Susan. Been around in one form or another since Aristophanes invented Cloudcuckooland for one of his Greek comedies. Small‑screen scifi uses it a lot — Star Trek used it back in the Kirk-Spock shows and DS9 based a whole story arc on the idea. Any time an author wants to move the action to a strange place or bring in some variation on a familiar character, they trot out the multiverse. Completely bogus, of course — they may sound all science‑y but none of them have anything to do with what we physicists have been arguing about.”

“You mean your anti-Universe won’t have an evil version of you in it?”

“I certainly don’t expect it to if it even exists. Suppose an anti‑Universe is out there. Think of all the contingencies that had to go just right during 13½ billion anti‑years of anti‑quark‑soup and anti‑atomic history before there’s an anti‑planet just like Earth in just the right environment around an anti‑star just like ours, all evolved to the level of our anti‑when, not to mention the close shaves our biological and personal histories would have had to scrape through. I’d be amazed if even anti‑humans existed there, let alone individuals anything like you and me. Talk about very low probabilities.”

“You’ve got a point. My folks almost didn’t survive the war back in Korea. A mine went off while they were working in our field — another few feet over and I wouldn’t be here today. But wait, couldn’t everything in the anti‑Universe play out in anti‑time exactly like things have in ours? They both would have started right next to each other with mirror‑image forces at work. It’d be like a pool table show by a really good trick‑shot artist.”

“If everything were that exactly mirror‑imaged, the anti‑me and I would have the same background, attitudes and ethics. The mirror people on those scifi shows generally have motives and moral codes that oppose ours even though the mirror characters physically are dead ringers for their our‑side counterparts. Except the male evil twins generally wear beards and the female ones use darker eye make‑up. No, I don’t think mirror‑imaging can be that exact. The reason is quantum.”

“How did quantum get into this? Quantum’s about little stuff, atoms and molecules, not the Universe.”

“Remember when the Universe was packed into a Planck‑length‑size volume? That’s on the order of 10‑35 meter across, plenty small enough for random quantum effects to make a big difference. What’s important here, though, is everything that happened post‑Bang. The essence of quantum theory is that it’s not clockwork. With a few exceptions, we can only make statistical predictions about how events will go at microscopic scale. Things vary at random. Your chemical reactions are predictable but only because you’re working with huge numbers of molecules.”

“Even then sometimes I get a mess.”

“Well then. If you can’t reliably replicate reactions with gram‑level quantities, how can you expect an entire anti‑Universe to replicate its partner?”

“Then <singing> there can never be another you.”

~~ Rich Olcott

Too Many Schrödingers

Cathleen takes back control of the conference software. “Thanks, Jim. OK, the final contestant in our online Crazy Theories contest is the winner of our last face-to-face event where she told us why Spock and horseshoe crabs both have green blood. You’re up, Amanda.”

“Thanks, and hello out there. I can’t believe Jim and I are both talking about parallel universes. It’s almost like we’re thinking in parallel, right?”

<Jim’s mic is muted so he makes gagging motions>

“We need some prep work before I can talk about the Multiverse. I’m gonna start with this heat map of North America at a particular time. Hot in the Texas panhandle, cool in British Columbia, no surprise. You can do a lot with a heat map — pick a latitude and longitude, it tells you the relative temperature. Do some arithmetic on the all numbers and you can get average temperature, highs and lows, front strength in degrees per mile, lots of stuff like that.

“You build this kind of map by doing a lot of individual measurements. If you’re lucky you can summarize those measurements with a function, a compact mathematical expression that does the same job — pick a latitude and longitude, it tells you the value. Three nice things about functions — they take up a lot less space than a map, you can use straightforward mathematical operations on them so getting statistics is less work than with a map, and you can form superpositions by adding functions together.”

Cathleen interrupts. “Amanda, there’s a question in the chat box. ‘Can you give an example of superposition?’

“Sure. You can superpose simple sine‑wave functions to describe chords for sound waves or blended colors for light waves, for instance.

“Now when we get to really small‑scale thingies, we need quantum calculations. The question is, what do quantum calculations tell us? That’s been argued about for a hundred years because the values they generate are iffy superpositions. Twenty percent of this, eighty percent of that. Everybody’s heard of that poor cat in Schrödinger’s box.

“Many researchers say the quantum values are relative probabilities for observing different results in an experiment — but most of them carefully avoid worrying about why the answers aren’t always the same. Einstein wanted to know what Bohr was averaging over to get his averages. Bohr said it doesn’t matter, the percentages are the only things we can know about the system and it’s useless to speculate further.

“Hugh Everett thought bigger. He suggested that the correct quantum function for an observation should include experiment and experimenter. He took that a step further by showing that a proper quantum function would need to include anyone watching the experimenter and so on. In fact, he proposed, maybe there’s just one quantum function for the entire Universe. That would have some interesting implications.

“Remember Schrödinger’s catbox with two possible experimental results? Everett would say that his universal quantum function contains a superposition of two component sub-functions — happy Schrödinger with a live kitty and sad Schrödinger with a disposal problem. Each Schrödinger would be quite certain that he’d seen the definite result of a purely random operation. Two Schrödingers in parallel universes going forward.

“But in fact there’d be way more than two. When Schrödinger’s eye absorbs a photon, or maybe doesn’t, that generates another pair of universes. So do the quantum events that occur as his nerve cells fire, or don’t. Each Schrödinger moves into the future embedded in a dense bundle of parallel universes.”

Cathleen interrupts. “Another question. ‘What about conservation of mass?‘”

“Good question, whoever asked that. Everett doesn’t address that explicitly in his thesis, but I think he assumed the usual superposition math. That always includes a fix‑up step so that the sum of all the pieces adds up to unity. Half a Schrödinger mass on one track and half on the other. Even as each of them splits again and again and again the total is still only one Schrödinger‑mass. There’s other interpretation — each Schrödinger’s universe would be independent of the others so there’s no summing‑up to generate a conservation‑of‑mass problem. Your choice.

“Everett traded quantum weirdness for a weird Universe. Not much of a trade-off, I think.”

~~ Rich Olcott

Worlds Enough And Time Reversed

Cathleen unmutes her mic. “Thanks, Kareem. Our next Crazy Theory presentation is from one of my Cosmology students, Jim.”

“Thanks, Cathleen. Y’all have probably heard about how Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics don’t play well together. Unfortunately, people have mixed the two of them together with Cosmology to spawn lots of Crazy Theories about parallel universes. I’m going to give you a quick look at a couple of them. Fasten your seat belt, you’ll need it.

“The first theory depends on the idea that the Universe is infinitely large and we can only see part of it. Everything we can see — stars, galaxies, the Cosmic Microwave Background — they all live in this sphere that’s 93 billion lightyears across. We call it our Observable Universe. Are there stars and galaxies beyond the sphere? Almost certainly, but their light hasn’t been in flight long enough to reach us. By the same token, light from the Milky Way hasn’t traveled far enough to reach anyone outside our sphere.

“Now suppose there’s an alien astronomer circling a star that’s 93 billion lightyears away from us. It’s in the middle of its observable universe just like we’re in the middle of ours. And maybe there’s another observable universe 93 billion lightyears beyond that, and so on to infinity. Oh, by the way, it’s the same in every direction so there could be an infinite number of locally-observable universes. They’re all in the same space, the same laws of physics rule everywhere, it’s just that they’re too far apart to see each other.

“The next step is a leap. With an infinite number of observable universes all following the same physical laws, probability says that each observable universe has to have twins virtually identical to it except for location. There could be many other people exactly like you, out there billions of lightyears away in various directions, sitting in front of their screens or jogging or whatever. Anything you might do, somewhere out there there’s at least one of you doing that. Or maybe a mirror image of you. Lots of yous in lots of parallel observable universes.”

“I don’t like that theory, on two grounds. First, there’s no way to test it so it’s not science. Second, I think it plays fast and loose with the notion of infinity. There’s a big difference between ‘the Universe is large beyond anything we can measure‘ and ‘the Universe is infinite‘. If you’ve been reading Sy Moire’s stuff you’ve probably seen his axiom that if your theory contains an infinity, you’ve left out physics that would stop that. Right, Cathleen?”

Cathleen unmutes her mic. “That quote’s good, Jim.”

“Thanks, so’s the axiom. So that’s one parallel universe theory. OK, here’s another one and it doesn’t depend on infinities. The pop‑science press blared excitement about time‑reversal evidence from the ANITA experiment in Antarctica. Unfortunately, the evidence isn’t anywhere as exciting as the reporting has been.

“The story starts with neutrinos, those nearly massless particles that are emitted during many sub‑atomic reactions. ANITA is one kind of neutrino detector. It’s an array of radio receivers dangling from a helium‑filled balloon 23 miles up. The receivers are designed to pick up the radio waves created when a high‑energy neutrino interacts with glacier ice, which doesn’t happen often. Most of the neutrinos come in from outer space and tell us about solar and stellar activity. However, ANITA detected two events, so‑called ‘anomalies,’ that the scientists can’t yet explain and that’s where things went nuts.

“Almost as soon as the ANITA team sent out word of the anomalies, over three dozen papers were published with hypotheses to account for them. One paper said maybe the anomalies could be interpreted as a clue to one of Cosmology’s long‑standing questions — why aren’t there as many antiprotons as protons? A whole gang of hypotheses suggest ways that maybe something in the Big Bang directed protons into our Universe and antiprotons into a mirror universe just like ours except charges and spacetime are inverted with time running backwards. There’s a tall stack of maybes in there but the New York Post and its pop‑sci allies went straight for the Bizarro parallel universe conclusion. Me, I’m waiting for more data.”

~~ Rich Olcott