Friday, December 12, 2008

Elvis and the Electrons

A direct link to the above video is at

With this project, we've been spending a lot of time talking about Everett's Many Worlds Interpretation, and used the often-quoted example that if there are countless parallel universe versions of our own universe, then there must be versions of our universe out there in which it's 2009 and Elvis is still alive.

We've also talked about the surprising idea that electrons are point-like particles, which means they have no size and no dimension. Everett's Many Worlds Interpretation is also known as the Theory of the Universal Wavefunction, and there are ways to tie these two ideas together - electrons have no size and no dimension because they are part of a universal wavefunction, and any particular "now", any particular one-planck length wide "slice" of spacetime, we observe a tiny piece of the wave function and call that an electron, or a point-like particle.

In the entry "Imagining the Omniverse", we talked about Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek's new book which says all matter and energy comes from empty space. We talked about how this idea seems easily related to John Wheeler's idea of a "quantum foam", an underlying background which is churning away with particles that are produced and immediately disappear - and we also imagined how an underlying symmetry state could produce such an effect in recent entries like "Dreaming of Electric Sheep" and "The Big Bang and the Big Pie".

Now, I'd like you to look at a clip from a BBC documentary I just came across that actually ties these related ideas together in a manner very similar to where I've been heading with all this. The name of this clip, which comes from a documentary called "Parallel Universes", is called "Do Disappearing Electrons Prove That Elvis is Still Alive?".

BBC has disabled embedding for their YouTube movies, so you'll have to click on this link to watch this three minute clip:

The point this documentary segment makes is that some theorists use the Many Worlds Interpretation to explain where those particles that come into and disappear out of our universe are going when they disappear - they are then appearing in some of the other versions of our universe that are what we are trying to imagine with the branching fifth dimensional timelines found within my way of visualizing reality. And yes, this video clip actually has someone who looks like Elvis putting in a cameo, showing him in one of those other universes where he got off the pills and is still alive and kicking right now.

Physicist and astronomer Milo Wolff has an interesting website about The Quantum Universe. Click here to see a page from that website which explains the wave structure of electrons and provides an interesting animated graph showing how waves interact to produce the electron's observed properties.

All of this ties back to the central idea of this project- our observed universe is just a tiny slice of a much larger pie which some scientists are now calling the omniverse. As we imagine the higher-dimensional structures that create our observed reality, we are dwarfed again and again by the immensity of what we are trying to visualize here. But ultimately, that's what I find so uplifting about this as an exercise as well - because out of all those universes that could have been, and all of those parallel universe versions of our own universe, isn't it amazing that we're in this one very particular universe, right here, and right now?

To finish, here's a bit of a tongue-in-cheek song about how amazing our world is, and how no matter what we want to define as the place it all comes from, we have to arrive at something that just "is". Otherwise, as we discussed in the blog entry about Poll Question 22, we are stuck with there being "turtles all the way down".

A direct link to this video is at

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

Next: Auras, Ghosts, and Pareidolia

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