Have you ever imagined yourself scoring the winning goal in a World Cup final, taking the wicket that decides the outcome of the Ashes, or having a candlelit dinner with the person of your dreams? These things may well have happened in a parallel universe, if the propositions from the field of cosmology, which are gaining increased acceptance in the scientific community, are correct. Although it is conversely possible, alas, that your Doppelgänger in such a parallel universe will also have made exactly the same mistakes as yourself.
It is with such ideas that this volume is concerned, in particular the idea of the multiverse, that is to say the existence of other universes beyond ours. One of the issues is whether those who hold this belief have abandoned the traditions of science, which have generally relied on man’s ability to observe, and entered the world of esoterics, where, for example, the distinction between physics and metaphysics is no longer thought to hold. The authors point out that many ideas once regarded as outlandish, such as the big bang theory, have now found their way into school textbooks, while others, such as the Ptolemaic system of regarding the position of the sun and the planets held sway far longer than any current theories of their kind.
The volume goes beyond the current dispute among physicists and astronomers about whether our universe, even if it is still expanding, is the only one to exist. There are references to philosophy and literature, where the possibility of new worlds has often been invoked. For example, in a quotation from Anthony and Cleopatra, when Cleopatra speaks of setting a limit to ‘being beloved’, the reader is reminded of Anthony’s reply, which is that in that case, it will be necessary to create a ‘new heaven, a new earth’. In addition to the discussion of current scientific ideas and their possible consequences, the volume provides a useful introduction to, or revision of, key scientific and philosophical concepts. At the same time, it discusses the issues raised by current theories, for example the question of whether there is any place left for God if the existence of more than one universe is accepted.
The authors reveal a remarkable, journalistic ability to make complex ideas comprehensible in a fine example of the thriving ‘Popular Science’ genre.
All recommendations from Autumn 2009