Are you from a parallel universe?

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

I love The Onion, and I love the A. V. Club articles they put out. These guys have a gift for talking about the raw matter of modern pop culture.  If you’re familiar with the A. V. Club, you know that their articles are not satire like The Onion; they are very similar to articles from Rolling Stone.

Just a little bit ago, I read an article on the A. V. Club called “How you spell “The Berenstain Bears” could be proof of parallel universes. If you don’t know who the Berenstain Bears are, you can check them out here. I admit, I myself thought they were the Berenstein Bears, BerenstEin instead of BerenstAin. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thought so. The A. V. Club says there is a “startling” number of people who remembered the name spelled the same way I do. Now, it could simply be that people have remembered it wrong…

…or that we have crossed over from a parallel universe.

Now, I’m as eager as anyone to entertain a novel idea. I’ve certainly revisited similar things (such as movie titles) after not seeing them for years, some of them being different from what I remembered. And there have been times I was absolutely sure I was right, even when I wasn’t. What better explanation than a parallel universe? And we all want there to be parallel universes, right?

It turns out that the laws of physics do allow for them, and even gives a rudimentary explanation as to their nature. It’s looking more like our universe is part of an even larger reality known as the multiverse. The multiverse contains an uncountable number of universes. What makes them uncountable is that even if we were to get some kind of number of universes that can fit in the span of the multiverse, there are higher dimensional spaces that account for what you’d call parallel universes. We can regard all the universes within the multiverse as parallel, but when used in a layman’s understanding, we think of universes that are similar to our own. This includes laws of physics (yes, there could be some variability), types of matter, and the presence of life. The very high number of universes that fit within the multiverse allows for there to be duplicates (yes, that’s really true), meaning that could be another physical universe, far, far from here, where a duplicate of you is doing the same thing you are doing right now (or not!).

Within this multiverse is another way there parallel universes could exist. On the quantum level, matter has a property called “uncertainty.” Quantum uncertainty is a real, measurable effect. And the implication of quantum uncertainty’s effect on macroscopic matter is that an object can have slightly different positions and motions all at the same time.

Quantum Uncertainty Diagram

The “interval” mentioned in the diagram is a range of values that the position or momentum can have. The position interval is an area of space where the particle/body can take, and in quantum mechanical terms, the particle/body is everywhere in that area. The momentum interval is a kind of a representation of the range of energies/velocities the particle/body may have. Like the case of the position interval, the particle/body actually is at every possible momentum within the interval.

Uncertainty is a large enough effect to become prominent in the behavior of an electron, and it is easy to measure. It is more difficult to measure in an atom, but experiments have been conducted to do exactly that. While the effect is present in a macroscopic body (like a baseball), it is much too small to be able to observe it.

How, you ask, does all this make parallel universes possible?

On the microscopic level, if a particle has a range of “choices” as to its location or its energy, then a range of outcomes is possible with things like chemical reactions or electronics. It can be the difference between an ion receiving an electron to balance its charges out and the ion remaining an ion because the electron has traveled past it. When you have this happening in all matter everywhere, an uncountable number of times each second, you’d better believe it will have a measurable effect.

On the macroscopic level it’s a little bit different. You don’t have a measurable change in outcome due to quantum uncertainty in the baseball–at least on intervals like seconds and minutes, even hours. Those small ranges in trajectory add up over time, and if you were able to keep the ball moving up in the air, without sharp changes in its motion over a period of days, the range of trajectories may even be measurable on macroscopic levels.

The thing is, we can’t observe all these trajectories; we can only observe one. If you understand the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat, you understand how a cat in a box, completely isolated from the outside world so that you can’t observe him in any way (sight, sound or measuring vital signs), can be simultaneously dead and alive at the same time. He actually doesn’t become only one or the other until you open the box and check on him. When you try to observe the action of a particle on the quantum level, it stops behaving by the rules of quantum mechanics and starts acting like the baseball–you only see it going in a single direction at a single speed. But just because you can’t observe the “quantum” alternatives to what you measure doesn’t mean those alternatives aren’t there–you just can’t observe them. That’s why the world looks to us like everything behaves more like baseballs than electrons. And that’s why you can only perceive what happens in your own “quantum” reality.

Caltech cosmologist Ranga-Ram Chary has proposed that a “bright spot” in the cosmic background radiation is actually an area of space where another universe has come into contact with our own. The European Space Agency‘s Planck telescope mapped out the cosmic background radiation (CMB) from 2009 to 2013 and Chary found, from the results, a “patch” of light in one area that was 4,500 times brighter than current models predicted. Chary proposed that this other “universe” is highly energetic, packed with energetic particles.

What Chary says may or may not turn out to be true. This bright patch may or may not be evidence of other universes in physical contact with our own. But this would not be related to the Berenstain Bears phenomenon. Chary’s parallel universe would occupy a separate, distant space than our own; there’s no “leaking” that would occur to move you from one universe to another. That could only be explained by the “quantum” parallel universes I explained earlier. I cannot think of any way that a person could move from one universe to another in this scenario (apparently, neither can the physics community), but quantum parallel universes exist in the same space as our own. So if you think you spell it Berenstein because you’re from a parallel universe, the quantum explanation seems to fit best.

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