One of science fiction's favorite concepts, the idea of a "multiverse" of possible worlds, is now potentially scientific fact. It's all due to an accidental discovery made by the lead singer of a one-hit-wonder rock band from the '90s. Sounds like the plot of a crappy novel, but according to Jim Al-Khalili, winner of this year's Royal Society Michael Faraday prize for science communication in the UK, it's also entirely true.
According to Al-Khalili, Mark Everett - lead singer and only permanent member of Eels - came across the only existing recordings of his scientist father, quantum physicist Hugh Everett III, while making a documentary about his father's work. The senior Everett's claim to fame? The theory of multiple earths.
The senior Everett preached:
[T]here are ways of explaining quantum weirdness, albeit with yet more weirdness. One such interpretation as to how subatomic particles can do more than one thing at once is for there to be more than one universe. After first being introduced by Everett, this idea has had a steadily growing minority of supporters. Everett proposed what became known as the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics, which has since come to be regarded as both the most extravagant explanation of reality, and yet the most simple, depending on which side you are on. The basic idea is as follows: whenever a quantum particle is faced with a choice of alternatives (as happens everywhere all the time), it doesn't choose one but rather all. It is only when we look that we force the little blighter to make up its mind. This is not even the controversial bit; we know this happens. But in the many-worlds version the particle never makes up its mind. Instead, it, and the universe along with it, splits into multiple versions of itself equal to the number of options available. When we look at the particle, the universes separate into non-interacting independent realities. We see one version, but our identical counterparts see another.
Al-Khalili is unconvinced by this theory, which he calls "essentially unprovable," but DC Comics knows otherwise. They've been proponents of the multiple earth version of reality since the early '60s, and they've also just put out a guide to the existing multiple Earths that they know about. For obvious reasons, my favorite is Earth-26, home of rabbit superhero "Captain Carrot".
In a parallel universe, this theory would make sense [Guardian Unlimited]