Life in a Multiverse
The Big Bang, in the Bousso-Polchinski multiverse scenario, is a fluctuation. A compact, six-dimensional knot that makes up one stitch in the fabric of reality suddenly shape-shifts, releasing energy that forms a bubble of space and time. The properties of this new universe are determined by chance: the amount of energy unleashed during the fluctuation. The vast majority of universes that burst into being in this way are thick with vacuum energy; they either expand or collapse so quickly that life cannot arise in them. But some atypical universes, in which an improbable cancellation yields a tiny value for the cosmological constant, are much like ours.
In a paper posted last month to the physics preprint website arXiv.org, Bousso and a Berkeley colleague, Lawrence Hall, argue that the Higgs mass makes sense in the multiverse scenario, too. They found that bubble universes that contain enough visible matter (compared to dark matter) to support life most often have supersymmetric particles beyond the energy range of the LHC, and a fine-tuned Higgs boson. Similarly, other physicists showed in 1997 that if the Higgs boson were five times heavier than it is, this would suppress the formation of atoms other than hydrogen, resulting, by yet another means, in a lifeless universe.
Despite these seemingly successful explanations, many physicists worry that there is little to be gained by adopting the multiverse worldview. Parallel universes cannot be tested for; worse, an unnatural universe resists understanding. “Without naturalness, we will lose the motivation to look for new physics,” said Kfir Blum, a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study. “We know it’s there, but there is no robust argument for why we should find it.” That sentiment is echoed again and again: “I would prefer the universe to be natural,” Randall said.
But theories can grow on physicists. After spending more than a decade acclimating himself to the multiverse, Arkani-Hamed now finds it plausible — and a viable route to understanding the ways of our world. “The wonderful point, as far as I’m concerned, is basically any result at the LHC will steer us with different degrees of force down one of these divergent paths,” he said. “This kind of choice is a very, very big deal.”
Naturalness could pull through. Or it could be a false hope in a strange but comfortable pocket of the multiverse.
As Arkani-Hamed told the audience at Columbia, “stay tuned.”
Reprinted with permission from Simons Science News, an editorially-independent division of SimonsFoundation.org whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the computational, physical and life sciences.