A direct link to the above video is at http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=V6D3CgF8_qk
Frank Wilczek, winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics, has just published a new book on the latest thinking in physics and cosmology called "Lightness of Being". To quote from the recent review of this book in New Scientist Magazine:
Again and again, new revelations come from the scientific community that confirm the basic ideas I've been putting forth - that there is a place where everything fits together, where every state exists simultaneously outside of our 4D spacetime, an enfolded zero or "nothing", and that is where our universe or any other comes from. As Wilczek suggests, and I have been saying as well, this is also where the missing 96% of our universe, the dark matter and dark energy which pervade our reality, comes from as well.
...if the Higgs boson is not responsible for most of the mass around us, what is? The answer, Wilczek tells us, is empty space.Still, the idea that all familiar mass - our desks, chairs, bodies - comes from energy crystallized out of nothing is rather mind-bending. And it leads Wilczek to wonder...is space and time themselves a condensate that similarly crystallized from nothingness in the earliest moments of the big bang?
So this time around, I'd like to continue with ideas introduced in my previous blog, "Dreaming of Electric Sheep".
Here we are, out in timelessness, the underlying fabric that is "outside the system": the place where past, present and future have no meaning. This is the perfectly balanced symmetry state that physicists talk about as being where our universe comes from - and the phrase they commonly use is that our universe came about as a result of the breaking of that symmetry. As we mentioned in "The Big Bang and the Big Pie", the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics is about to be awarded to scientists who described the mechanism for how our universe spontaneously arose from this broken symmetry. Symmetry-breaking is often used to explain why our universe is composed mainly of matter rather than antimatter, and the fact that our universe is so far out of balance in this way is often described as being one of the major unexplained mysteries of modern science.
What does symmetry mean, exactly? It means that things are balanced. Every possibility has an opposite possibility. Every plus has a minus. What may not be immediately evident about symmetry, though, is that when you take all of those positives and negatives contained within perfect symmetry and add them together, you end up with a big, beautiful number - zero.
Zero, then, is not empty, it's full - full of every other possibility, perfectly balanced and assembled in that underlying symmetry that our universe or any other universe comes from - zero is where it all starts, and zero is where it all ends. Because it's the source of everything else, that zero has many names in many different ways of thinking - but right now, let's call that zero the "omniverse".
What happens within this omniverse, this zero, when things become out of balance? Most of the time, the results are quite inconsequential, and balance is soon restored. Down at the quantum level, physicist John Wheeler described how there's a constantly bubbling chaos, a random noise of particles and energy that continually pop in and out of existence - a "quantum foam", as he called it, and this quantum foam continues to be part of the background for our universe or any other.
But as we travel around within all the different variations contained within this zero--this underlying set of all possible states where past, present and future all exist simultaneously--occasionally we'll come across a surprisingly large deviation, where the information that is contained within this zero is pushed in a very interesting way in one direction or another, creating a large move away from the perfect balance of where we started. Here's something amazing then: from this perspective, out here within the timeless background of the omniverse, when we look at one of these interesting deviations we're looking at the entire life of a universe as one simultaneous shape. This could be a universe where nothing much ever happens, or it could be a universe that quickly flies apart into maximum entropy. It could be our universe, with its unique values for gravity and the speed of light; or it could be some other universe with a completely different value for its fine structure constant. It could even just be an interesting pattern of information, an idea, that doesn't actually coalesce into a universe at all! Still, no matter what we're looking at, it's something that defines a shape that represents a break from symmetry at one extreme, and a return to symmetry at the other.
Now let's think about this in terms of our own universe. That break from symmetry, from down here in spacetime, looks in one direction to be our highly ordered big bang, and in the other direction looks to be the end of the universe. Right at this very instant, we're someplace within that shape, and all of the other possible positions within that shape represent all of the possible timelines that could have or will have occurred for our universe right from one edge of its existence, right from one edge of this shape, to the other.
(And what's "before" the big bang, and "after" the end of our universe"? Thinking about timelessness, we can see that both are the same thing - in either case, we're talking about being back within that beautiful enfolded "zero", that perfectly balanced symmetry, the omniverse.)
But still, what does all this have to do with something as complex as our own universe? What would cause a larger, more complex deviation to occur? There needs to be some sort of logical pattern, an ordered causality that moves from one state to another, creating steps that allow us to move further and further away from the balancing point. For our own universe, that logical causality happens because our universe is constrained by a set of locked-in physical laws that allow these different states to be stacked upon each other, moving us far away from that underlying perfectly balanced symmetry state, all the way out to that very first yes/no selection pattern that quantum computing expert Seth Lloyd invites us to think of as the beginning of our universe.
Here's a way to think about that: let's dive right into that forest of all possible states for all possible universes contained within the omniverse. No matter where we begin, the most likely result is that the place we start to observe will appear to be random information, and we won't be able to see very far at all. But as we move around and look at this data from different angles and starting positions, every now and then we'll see places where the "trees" within our forest happen to align, and we'll be able to see further, or we'll see coherent patterns. For something as complex as our own universe, we're talking about an exceedingly unlikely set of alignments to take place within the data: but because we're talking about underlying selection patterns that exist outside of time and space, the word "unlikely" ceases to have much meaning. No matter how unlikely a pattern might be, if it's a pattern that could possibly exist at all, then that pattern already exists within the timeless background of the omniverse.
Let's go back to that perfectly balanced zero that we started from. We can think of this as a vast plain representing every possible expression of matter, energy, and information. That "quantum foam" we talked about, then, is really the quantum equivalent of a series of coin tosses: tiny little deviations one way or the other, particles and antiparticles, waveforms that are pushing towards the positive or the negative. Baby universes that quickly pop in and out of existence, then, would be (on a much larger scale, or course) like those areas of grouping and symmetry order that we would see within 100 tosses of a coin.
Traveling around within this omniverse of all possibilities, we'll occasionally find coherent structures that represent a potential universe, and if we then look more closely at the dimensions below, we'll find the wave function for that particular universe and all of the possible states for that particular universe, and each universe will have unique characteristics as defined by its position within the omniverse.
Our own universe, then, is constrained by its basic physical laws, which appear to not have changed over the life of our universe. Physicists talk about the big bang as being the "most ordered state" for our universe, and how everything from there on has been a move from more order to more entropy. Now, we've just been looking at a way to see how our universe is the result of a push towards a large amount of grouping order, and the arrow of time that we are experiencing now is the result of a return to symmetry order - but here's the hardest part to wrap our minds around: where this is all occurring is outside of time and space, and it all occurs simultaneously.
A number of the great minds of the twentieth century tried to get us all to visualize this place where, as Einstein liked to say, "the distinction between past, present and future is meaningless". As we're imagining the omniverse, what we're thinking about is the timeless place where our universe, and all of the possible parallel universes resulting from chance and choice for our universe, and all of the other possible universes and their own wave function of possible expressions all enfold together - into a beautifully balanced zero which is not empty, but full, of all the other possibilities.
To finish, here's a video for one of the 26 songs I've attached to this project: this is me sitting at my old piano in my living room, singing a song about the extra dimensional patterns that create our reality, and how sometimes we might be able catch a glimpse of those patterns in our day-to-day life. The song is called "From the Corner of My Eye".
A direct link to this video is at http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=2f8IBDXv_xI
Enjoy the journey,
Edit: A few months later another related blog was published: Imagining the Omniverse - Addendum
Next: New stuff at the store