Physics breakthrough: Number of parallel universes in existence ‘certainly a lot’

Physics made some of its most vital progress in the 20th century, when scientists like Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger, and Robert Oppenheimer changed the way we think about the world around us. Many of the theories and practices born during the period have made their way into popular culture.  Films, books and art now widely contain things like black hole theory, wormholes and, perhaps most enticing, the Many Worlds theory.

Erwin Schrodinger, the theoretical physicists best-known for his quantum mechanical “Schrodinger’s cat” paradox first suggested the idea, academically, that parallel universes exist. 

Although he didn’t use such terminology, choosing to explain it during a 1952 Dublin lecture as reality in several different histories, “not alternatives but all really happening simultaneously”.

It wasn’t until 1957 that what we know today as Many Worlds was floated, by Hugh Everett as part of his Princeton Ph.D thesis. 

Theoretical physicists have since voraciously pursued the idea that all possible outcomes of quantum measurements – all probabilities – are physically realised in multiple places, rather than just here.

Sean Carroll, an American theoretical physicist, has become the 21st century’s best known proponent of the theory.

His book, Something Deeply Hidden, explores the chances of such realities. 

He gave his verdict on how many parallel worlds he believes to be in existence at any one time during an interview with the science YouTube channel, Veritasium.

When asked how many times he believed every action split, creating a parallel world, he said: “The short answer to this is we have no idea how many world’s there might be.

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“I think it’s embarrassing that we don’t have any idea.

“But, it’s certainly often, it’s certainly a lot. 

“The universe branches whenever a quantum system in superposition becomes entangled with its environment. 

“You have atomic nuclei in your body, they are radioactive – they decay.

“At 5000 times a second there’s a radioactive decay in your body. 

“Every one of those either decays or doesn’t, you can think of it as a superposition (two states of existence at once). 

“Once it decays, it interacts with what’s around it, it becomes entangled, and the universe branches – its wave function.

“So branching is happening many many times a second just because of radioactive decays in your body.”

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The idea is that if radioactive decay is prompting a superposition, then how many other countless things prompt superpositions in everyday life. 

It appears to be an endless likelihood. 

Yet, Prof Carroll goes on to explain that whether those decays are happening infinitely often is an impossible question to answer. 

This means that it is unclear whether, if true, the branching terminates or continues to infinity.

Despite there being a potential for the branching to be finite, there is still “huge” room for many alternative realities to come into effect.

Schrodinger’s cat first promoted this idea, presenting us with a cat inside a box that can be both alive and dead at the same time, or any number combination of different possibilities of being both dead and alive.

The thought experiment is at complete odds with perceptions of how the world works. 

Prof Schrodinger’s experiment says that when we observe a system, we force it to make a choice; when you open the box with the cat inside, it emerges dead or alive, but not both.

It was created to illustrate problems presented by one version of quantum mechanics known as the Copenhagen interception. 

Professor Brian Cox has previously said the Many Worlds idea offers a sensible and plausible alternative to what was previously accepted.

Speaking to the BBC’s Life Scientific programme in 2014, he said: “That there’s an infinite number of universes sounds more complicated than there being one.

“But actually, it’s a simpler version of quantum mechanics. 

“It’s quantum mechanics without wave function collapse… the idea that by observing something you force a system to make a choice.”

For decades, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, which allows for only one universe, dominated particle physics.

It is now being shaken up by the Many Worlds theory.

Yet, until evidence is provided, scientists will continue to disagree about how the facts of nature and probability should be interpreted, with many more to come in the future. 

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