However, modified naturalness cannot fix an even bigger naturalness problem that exists in physics: The fact that the cosmos wasn’t instantly annihilated by its own energy the moment after the Big Bang.
The energy built into the vacuum of space (known as vacuum energy, dark energy or the cosmological constant) is a baffling trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion times smaller than what is calculated to be its natural, albeit self-destructive, value. No theory exists about what could naturally fix this gargantuan disparity. But it’s clear that the cosmological constant has to be enormously fine-tuned to prevent the universe from rapidly exploding or collapsing to a point. It has to be fine-tuned in order for life to have a chance.
To explain this absurd bit of luck, the multiverse idea has been growing mainstream in cosmology circles over the past few decades. It got a credibility boost in 1987 when the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg, now a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, calculated that the cosmological constant of our universe is expected in the multiverse scenario. Of the possible universes capable of supporting life — the only ones that can be observed and contemplated in the first place — ours is among the least fine-tuned. “If the cosmological constant were much larger than the observed value, say by a factor of 10, then we would have no galaxies,” explained Alexander Vilenkin, a cosmologist and multiverse theorist at Tufts University. “It’s hard to imagine how life might exist in such a universe.”
Most particle physicists hoped that a more testable explanation for the cosmological constant problem would be found. None has. Now, physicists say, the unnaturalness of the Higgs makes the unnaturalness of the cosmological constant more significant. Arkani-Hamed thinks the issues may even be related. “We don’t have an understanding of a basic extraordinary fact about our universe,” he said. “It is big and has big things in it.”
The multiverse turned into slightly more than just a hand-waving argument in 2000, when Bousso and Joe Polchinski, a professor of theoretical physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, found a mechanism that could give rise to a panorama of parallel universes. String theory, a hypothetical “theory of everything” that regards particles as invisibly small vibrating lines, posits that space-time is 10-dimensional. At the human scale, we experience just three dimensions of space and one of time, but string theorists argue that six extra dimensions are tightly knotted at every point in the fabric of our 4-D reality. Bousso and Polchinski calculated that there are around 10500 different ways for those six dimensions to be knotted (all tying up varying amounts of energy), making an inconceivably vast and diverse array of universes possible. In other words, naturalness is not required. There isn’t a single, inevitable, perfect universe.
“It was definitely an aha-moment for me,” Bousso said. But the paper sparked outrage.
“Particle physicists, especially string theorists, had this dream of predicting uniquely all the constants of nature,” Bousso explained. “Everything would just come out of math and pi and twos. And we came in and said, ‘Look, it’s not going to happen, and there’s a reason it’s not going to happen. We’re thinking about this in totally the wrong way.’ ”