There is a profound loneliness to be being an old-school theoretical physicist and believing in the singularity of our universe. They call me a modernist , the multiverse crowd that is so much in vogue these days.
There is a soft glow from the east, it filters through the skylight and onto the floor. The thirty-fourth annual meeting of the universe is happening in a rather stylish event space in the pacific-north-west. The building looks like a Shubert, all glass and wood. Huge Douglas firs tower over us, the ocean is detectable by smell. There is a debate as fervent as any of the week on the nature of the multiverse, and weather or not our universe and the others exist in the same time. If they don’t, it is gong to be very hard to detect the others.
Sandra was outside walking among the sword ferns, tracing the cedar plank boardwalk through the woods. She had a notebook with yellow pages under her arm and she was looking at the trees and the way the sun filtered down through them. She was at most of these things; the theoretical physics conferences. She was a gravity expert as much as experts can be said to exist on subjects we do not yet grasp the fundamentals of. I think it her dreamy demeanor that allows her to hold such a position. The way that its alright or even required of us to not make sense when there is an otherworldliness about the subject. There was something about the way she ignored keynote speakers and seemed to be keeping a numerical tally of unobservable phenomena on her notebook that made me want to know her.
It must have been the conference because that night I had this dream that I was looking at the news paper and on the front page there was an article with a large picture and a caption that read: other universes found behind Jupiter. It was absurd but it seemed real in the dream. I was crushed. They were right, my world became just one among many, the laws of physics, the fundamentals of matter and space and time would not be the same in these other universes. There could be, well, anything out there and worst of all there was a photograph of this universe in full colour on the front page of the paper. Everyone would know.
On Tuesday morning I attended a talk called “Space in the other times: a multiverse perspective on the nature of matter”, I was looking for a chance to pose a serous rebuttal but kept coming up against the same problem. It is incredibly hard to disprove something for which there is not observational evidence. In many ways I am defeated by the weakness of the other side, there is so little to cling to that I cannot get any traction. Sandra was there. I let my eyes un-focus so that everything became blurry and nebulous, the shapes and colours of things blended into each other. Things started to warble around and the light from the window exploded off the desk. I could hear a background buzz of the fans and electricity in the room. Diagrams were put up on the projector but I maintained my lack of focus. I could remember a MacDonald’s in London England where they served lamb burgers and the shops around it. I thought about the desert neat Tucson and the weeds that grew by the roadside, the ubiquitousness of barbed wire in arid climates.
“There was a time when we thought that the earth was surrounded by crystalline spheres, and a time when it was hypothesized that turtles held the planet up, only it wasn’t a planet, it was a dish or a disk and the oceans poured off the edge. Plato thought that the stars were pinpricks of light through a huge cloth and the sun rotated around the earth”
We ate catered salad and chickpea curry for lunch in the dining room. I was sitting with some rather old scholars from MIT when I saw her at the coffee.
“We believed in the absolute truth of Newtonian physics and the speed of light…” I was moving across the room, between the tables, the physicists were a blur to me, I heard the sound of cutlery and glimpsed the square frames of glasses. People scooped salad with forks and used large words to describe mathematics. There was name0-dropping and sniggering, papers were being verbally reviewed.
She was moving north, toward the glass doors that onto the deck. She was holding a mug of coffee and a pyramid of food that was either hidden under, or composed entirely of, a finely chopped kale salad. She slowed and sat on a bench. There were massive ferns and a spry huckleberry bush in the background. Only when I was almost in front of her did I notice that I had been spilling my salad as I walked and made a conscious effort to block her line of site of the trail until it had been kicked around a little. “Hi, my names Derick Brandheart” She looked up and smiled, her eyes were so soft, their edges and lines made me tilt my head as I looked back at her. “Sandra Kirken; nice to meet you” I had a memory now that could not have existed because I didn’t know I was trailing my lunch as I walked toward her and the memory was of the way lettuce and chickpeas fell and hit the ground, garbanzos rolling under the table. “Did you know that the coldest point in the entire universe may be in the suburb of Burnaby outside Vancouver BC? They have a quantum computer lab there with a chamber kept at -273 Kalven[i]. This is the most likely anomaly to attract intelligent life to earth, a dip below the cosmic microwave background of the universe” I was scanned for a reaction. She smiled.
Very shortly after we had sex she reached for her notebook and began scribbling on the yellow paper. She showed me the equation, and for the first time I had some doubt about my position. There was an uneasy way in which it was simple enough and yet unsolvable. I recognized it as a variation on one of my own, but Sandra had broken it by changing the role of gravity to a more nuanced quantum gravity. I knew this was her field. Had she been thinking of this as we made love? Her eyes lit up when she saw that I was a little baffled. There was a tension in my stomach as I tried to figure out just what was going on. If there was a variability in the way gravity acted at the edges of the system it left a lot of odd room for other matter to exist either in or outside of our own time. It became highly relative in a non-trivial way. I breathed out, this was also just quantum conjecture but still it left me simultaneously deeply disturbed and very enamored with Sandra Kirken.
It was a few months later when Voyager began to leave the solar system and the readings it sent back surprised us all[ii]. The solar wind died out but there was no change in the magnetic field and the galactic cosmic rays seemed to be coming more from one direction. None of the models had predicted this. Sandra had first tweeted the rumors that Voyager 1 was going to surprise everyone. She had friends at NASA. We ate Chinese food and discussed the implications. I was less lonely then than I had been in a long time. We were all baffled and scrambling. The old models didn’t make sense any more and this created a great surge or reworking, There was opportunity in chaos and I couldn’t help but point to the observational data and its vast discrepancy form the theories that preceded it. “We have no idea what’s happening out there” That probe it is the furthest thing we can talk to in the universe and its not even in interstellar space, or maybe it now kinda is but, the point it that its all wrong. We are in love with the ideas, with the explanations that consiginiously wrap up the loose ends into tight quantum packets of digestible photons, we praise the minds that pull the most together, are romantics for the biggest possible picture but, at a certain point, we are just doing imaginary math and relishing in the lack of supporting evidence. Drawing lines between things that may or may not connect, may or may not exist.” She paused and speared a piece of tofu with one chopstick and used it to balance more rice against the other, a technique I had been admiring and trying to duplicate. “Lets talk about the big bang, the heat death, Planks constant for gods sake” I took a sip of tea and placed my hand on her thigh. There was a flurry of e-mails.
The multiverse(s) still loom out there, it is a distinct possibility or a myriad of them. It is a future of multiplicity encoded with a past of a singularity, at least to me. Sandra moved out here and we live together. She is still chasing gravity through space. We visited Vancouver and got a tour of the quantum computer lab. There are articles, I was called a romantic for my belief in the universe. Conferences. Space. Time. Our bodies. These things all exist.