Parallel Universes Don’t Provide Every Possibility

The idea of parallel universe is certainly an amusing one. Not only does it provide a rich and fertile field for storytelling, but it is alluring to wonder about what one’s life might be like under different circumstances (the whimsical “what-if crystal ball”). However, there is a misconception on what parallel universes would actually be like.

People think that the idea of parallel universes means that every possible outcome could exist. This is (theoretically) true, but to a limit. What is not true is that in a parallel universe you are the opposite gender, or that there is a universe in which people are dogs and dogs are people, or you are blue, or a chair, etc.

The idea of parallel universes comes from the idea that for every decision, there would be two or more possible choices. More technically, it means that for every atom (or even sub-atomic particle), it can take on a different position or spin than what it did take in this one. While that means a countless number of parallel universes, it does not mean that in one universe, dogs evolved to be people and keep humans as pets or that you are 10′ tall and green since there is no combination of actual changes that could have lead to that.

In fact, while it is generally accepted that the number of parallel universes would be infinite, it may actually be finite. For one thing, there are not an infinite number of particles, so that is one limit. If the universe turns out to not be infinite in size, then that also puts a limit to the number of possible different permutations (configurations of particles). Finally, there is a practical limit to the number of infinitesimal changes to position or spin that a particle can take. For example, an atom could move 1m, or 1cm, or 1mm, or 1µm, or 1nm and so on; however there is a physical limit to how small a unit of distance it can move (at least as far as we currently understand). As such, there could be a practical limit to the number of different universes that can exist (though it would still be unfathomably large).

It might be better to add the term possible to the term parallel universes. When discussing fantasy ideas of worlds where everything is upside-down or underwater and such, it would be more appropriate to use the term alternate reality instead.

Armageddon 2012… or not.

It never ceases to amaze that a giant fabrication that is based on the tiniest sliver of truth can spread like wildfire, masquerading as fact. That many people are wondering if the world will end in December 2012 as “the Mayans predicted” is a great example of this. A lot of people think that the Mayans had predicted that the world would end in December 2012 which is why their calendar “ends” at that point. They hear something about this, then go online and look it up or see something on a sci-fi show about doomsday on the History channel that mentions some small factual detail, then they tell everyone they know about how the end is coming.

The fact is, that the Mayans never predicted that the world would end in 2012, nor did they even predict great change as some people like to “correct”. For that matter, their calendar does not actually “end” at that point either. And even if it did, so what? Do you expect them to have created an infinitely long calendar? We have to buy a new calendar every single year. Do people run around screaming that the world will end on January 1 of every year just because the calendar has run out? Of course not!

If you do a little research on the Mayan calendar, you will see that they do not use the same breakdown of time that we do. Where we use 7-day weeks, 30(-ish)-day months, 12-month years, 10-year decades, 100-year centuries, and 1,000-year millennia; the Mayans break their long period of time into smaller and smaller blocks where each block is 20 (for the most part). That is, 20 k’in in a winal, 18 winal in a tun, 20 tun in a ka’tun, 20 ka’tun in a b’ak’tun, 20 b’ak’tun in a pictun and so on (there are only 18 winal in a tun so that a year/tun is 360 days/k’in). The current date (March 24, 2012) is represented in the Mayan calendar as On December 21, 2012, it will be What’s so special about that? That’s like saying January 1, 2013 or 00:00am or 100,000 miles on the odometer. So the calendar rolled over; whoopdie-freakin’ doo!

Why then do people think that the world will end or pedants think that the Mayans predicted “great change”? Because there is a single, vague mention in a few surviving scraps of Mayan mythology at Tortuguero about how the current incarnation of the world was created on August 11, 3114 B.C., or People have taken this to mean that once the clock hits again, the world will once again be destroyed and a new one created in its place just as it was when the dinosaurs were wiped out and a new world grew from the ashes. This of course is ludicrous.

An apt analogy that most people are likely to understand would be one from the Bible. According to the Bible, God created the Earth and such, then x-number of years  later (let’s say 1,000), there was a great flood which wiped out most of the world. The survivors of the flood started life over, and likely marked time relative to the flood (e.g., years BF /AF)  just as Christians now mark time relative to when Jesus was (supposedly) born (BC /AD) or Muslims mark time as relative to when Muhammad went to Medina (BH / AH). Imagine how ridiculous it would be if you came along and said, hey, the flood destroyed the world and created a new one 999 years ago, so look out! because the world is going to end next year!!! The original survivors of the flood would likely roll their eyes at you.

The Mayans did not predict the end of the world on December 21, 2012, nor did they predict great change. They only thing they predicted was that they would need to turn the page on the calendar and maybe get some fireworks to celebrate their equivalent of Y2K.