The multiverse (or meta-universe) is the hypothetical set of infinite or finite possible universes (including the universe we consistently experience) that together comprise everything that exists: the entirety of space, time, matter, and energy as well as the physical laws and constants that describe them. The various universes within the multiverse are sometimes called parallel universes or "alternate universes"

The structure of the multiverse, the nature of each universe within it and the relationships among the various constituent universes, depend on the specific multiverse hypothesis considered. Multiple universes have been hypothesized in cosmology, physics, astronomy, religion, philosophy, transpersonal psychology, and fiction, particularly in science fiction and fantasy. In these contexts, parallel universes are also called "alternate universes", "quantum universes", "interpenetrating dimensions", "parallel dimensions", "parallel worlds", "alternate realities", "alternate timelines", and "dimensional planes," among others. The term 'multiverse' was coined in 1895 by the American philosopher and psychologist William James in a different context.[1]

The multiverse hypothesis is a source of debate within the physics community. Physicists disagree about whether the multiverse exists, and whether the multiverse is a proper subject of scientific inquiry.[2] Supporters of one of the multiverse hypotheses include [21][22] and Paul Davies have argued that the multiverse question is philosophical rather than scientific, that the multiverse cannot be a scientific question because it lacks falsifiability, or even that the multiverse hypothesis is harmful or pseudoscientific.

Multiverse hypotheses in physics


Max Tegmark and Brian Greene have devised classification schemes that categorize the various theoretical types of multiverse, or types of universe that might theoretically comprise a multiverse ensemble.

Max Tegmark's four levels

Cosmologist Max Tegmark has provided a taxonomy of universes beyond the familiar observable universe. The levels according to Tegmark's classification are arranged such that subsequent levels can be understood to encompass and expand upon previous levels, and they are briefly described below.[23][24]

Level I: Beyond our cosmological horizon

A generic prediction of chaotic inflation is an infinite ergodic universe, which, being infinite, must contain Hubble volumes realizing all initial conditions.

Accordingly, an infinite universe will contain an infinite number of Hubble volumes, all having the same physical laws and physical constants. In regard to configurations such as the distribution of matter, almost all will differ from our Hubble volume. However, because there are infinitely many, far beyond the cosmological horizon, there will eventually be Hubble volumes with similar, and even identical, configurations. Tegmark estimates that an identical volume to ours should be about 1010115 meters away from us.[7] Given infinite space, there would, in fact, be an infinite number of Hubble volumes identical to ours in the universe.[25] This follows directly from the cosmological principle, wherein it is assumed our Hubble volume is not special or unique.

Level II: Universes with different physical constants
"Bubble universes": every disk is a bubble universe (Universe 1 to Universe 6 are different bubbles; they have physical constants that are different from our universe); our universe is just one of the bubbles.

In the chaotic inflation theory, a variant of the cosmic inflation theory, the multiverse as a whole is stretching and will continue doing so forever, but some regions of space stop stretching and form distinct bubbles, like gas pockets in a loaf of rising bread. Such bubbles are embryonic level I multiverses. Linde and Vanchurin calculated the number of these universes to be on the scale of 101010,000,000.[26]

Different bubbles may experience different spontaneous symmetry breaking resulting in different properties such as different physical constants.[25]

This level also includes John Archibald Wheeler's oscillatory universe theory and Lee Smolin's fecund universes theory.

Level III: Many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics

Hugh Everett's many-worlds interpretation (MWI) is one of several mainstream interpretations of quantum mechanics. In brief, one aspect of quantum mechanics is that certain observations cannot be predicted absolutely. Instead, there is a range of possible observations, each with a different probability. According to the MWI, each of these possible observations corresponds to a different universe. Suppose a die is thrown that contains six sides and that the numeric result of the throw corresponds to a quantum mechanics observable. All six possible ways the die can fall correspond to six different universes.

Tegmark argues that a level III multiverse does not contain more possibilities in the Hubble volume than a level I-II multiverse. In effect, all the different "worlds" created by "splits" in a level III multiverse with the same physical constants can be found in some Hubble volume in a level I multiverse. Tegmark writes that "The only difference between Level I and Level III is where your doppelgängers reside. In Level I they live elsewhere in good old three-dimensional space. In Level III they live on another quantum branch in infinite-dimensional Hilbert space." Similarly, all level II bubble universes with different physical constants can in effect be found as "worlds" created by "splits" at the moment of spontaneous symmetry breaking in a level III multiverse.[25]

Related to the many-worlds idea are Richard Feynman's multiple histories interpretation and H. Dieter Zeh's many-minds interpretation.

Level IV: Ultimate ensemble

The ultimate ensemble or mathematical universe hypothesis is the hypothesis of Tegmark himself.[27] This level considers equally real all universes that can be described by different mathematical structures. Tegmark writes that "abstract mathematics is so general that any Theory Of Everything (TOE) that is definable in purely formal terms (independent of vague human terminology) is also a mathematical structure. For instance, a TOE involving a set of different types of entities (denoted by words, say) and relations between them (denoted by additional words) is nothing but what mathematicians call a set-theoretical model, and one can generally find a formal system that it is a model of." He argues this "implies that any conceivable parallel universe theory can be described at Level IV" and "subsumes all other ensembles, therefore brings closure to the hierarchy of multiverses, and there cannot be say a Level V."[7]

Jürgen Schmidhuber, however, says the "set of mathematical structures" is not even well-defined, and admits only universe representations describable by constructive mathematics, that is, computer programs. He explicitly includes universe representations describable by non-halting programs whose output bits converge after finite time, although the convergence time itself may not be predictable by a halting program, due to Kurt Gödel's limitations.[28][29][30] He also explicitly discusses the more restricted ensemble of quickly computable universes.[31]

Brian Greene's nine types

American theoretical physicist and string theorist Brian Greene discussed nine types of parallel universes:[32]

The quilted multiverse works only in an infinite universe. With an infinite amount of space, every possible event will occur an infinite number of times. However, the speed of light prevents us from being aware of these other identical areas.
The inflationary multiverse is composed of various pockets where inflation fields collapse and form new universes.
The brane multiverse follows from M-theory and states that each universe is a 3-dimensional brane that exists with many others. Particles are bound to their respective branes except for gravity.
The cyclic multiverse has multiple branes (each a universe) that collided, causing Big Bangs. The universes bounce back and pass through time, until they are pulled back together and again collide, destroying the old contents and creating them anew.
The landscape multiverse relies on string theory's Calabi–Yau shapes. Quantum fluctuations drop the shapes to a lower energy level, creating a pocket with a different set of laws from the surrounding space.
The quantum multiverse creates a new universe when a diversion in events occurs, as in the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.
The holographic multiverse is derived from the theory that the surface area of a space can simulate the volume of the region.
The simulated multiverse exists on complex computer systems that simulate entire universes.
The ultimate multiverse contains every mathematically possible universe under different laws of physics.

Cyclic theories

In several theories there is a series of infinite, self-sustaining cycles (for example: an eternity of Big Bang-Big crunches).


A multiverse of a somewhat different kind has been envisaged within string theory and its higher-dimensional extension, M-theory.[33] These theories require the presence of 10 or 11 spacetime dimensions respectively. The extra 6 or 7 dimensions may either be compactified on a very small scale, or our universe may simply be localized on a dynamical (3+1)-dimensional object, a D-brane. This opens up the possibility that there are other branes which could support "other universes".[34][35] This is unlike the universes in the "quantum multiverse", but both concepts can operate at the same time.

Some scenarios postulate that our big bang was created, along with our universe, by the collision of two branes.[34][35]

Black-hole cosmology

A black-hole cosmology is a cosmological model in which the observable universe is the interior of a black hole existing as one of possibly many inside a larger universe.

Anthropic principle

The concept of other universes has been proposed to explain how our Universe appears to be fine-tuned for conscious life as we experience it. If there were a large (possibly infinite) number of universes, each with possibly different physical laws (or different fundamental physical constants), some of these universes, even if very few, would have the combination of laws and fundamental parameters that are suitable for the development of matter, astronomical structures, elemental diversity, stars, and planets that can exist long enough for life to emerge and evolve. The weak anthropic principle could then be applied to conclude that we (as conscious beings) would only exist in one of those few universes that happened to be finely tuned, permitting the existence of life with developed consciousness. Thus, while the probability might be extremely small that any particular universe would have the requisite conditions for life (as we understand life) to emerge and evolve, this does not require intelligent design per the teleological argument as the only explanation for the conditions in the Universe that promote our existence in it.

Search for evidence

Around 2010, scientists such as Stephen M. Feeney analyzed Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) data and claimed to find preliminary evidence suggesting that our universe collided with other (parallel) universes in the distant past.[36][37][38][39] However, a more thorough analysis of data from the WMAP and from the Planck satellite, which has a resolution 3 times higher than WMAP, failed to find any statistically significant evidence of such a bubble universe collision.[40][41] In addition, there is no evidence of any gravitational pull of other universes on ours.[42][43]


Non-scientific claims

In his 2003 NY Times opinion piece, A Brief History of the Multiverse, author and cosmologist, Paul Davies, offers a variety of arguments that multiverse theories are non-scientific :[44]

Taking cosmic inflation as a popular case in point, empirical testability or falsifiability is not a major concern. “Many physicists who talk about the multiverse, especially advocates of the string landscape, do not care much about parallel universes per se. For them, objections to the multiverse as a concept are unimportant. Their theories live or die based on internal consistency and, one hopes, eventual laboratory testing.” Although he believes there's little hope that will ever be possible, he grants that the theories on which the speculation is based, are not without scientific merit. He concludes that multiverse theory is a “productive research program”:[45]

Occam's razor

Proponents and critics disagree about how to apply Occam's razor. Critics argue that to postulate a practically infinite number of unobservable universes just to explain our own seems contrary to Occam's razor.[46] In contrast, proponents argue that, in terms of Kolmogorov complexity, the proposed multiverse is simpler than a single idiosyncratic universe.[25]

For example, multiverse proponent Max Tegmark argues:

Princeton cosmologist Paul Steinhardt used the 2014 Annual Edge Question to voice his opposition to multiverse theorizing:

Steinhardt claims that multiverse theories have gained currency mostly because too much has been invested in theories that have failed, e.g. inflation or string theory. He tends to see in them an attempt to redefine the values of science to which he objects even more strongly:

Multiverse hypotheses in philosophy and logic

Modal realism

Possible worlds are a way of explaining probability, hypothetical statements and the like, and some philosophers such as David Lewis believe that all possible worlds exist, and are just as real as the actual world (a position known as modal realism).[47]

Trans-world identity

A metaphysical issue that crops up in multiverse schema that posit infinite identical copies of any given universe is that of the notion that there can be identical objects in different possible worlds. According to the counterpart theory of David Lewis, the objects should be regarded as similar rather than identical.[48][49]

Fictional realism

The view that because fictions exist, fictional characters exist as well. There are fictional entities, in the same sense in which, setting aside philosophical disputes, there are people, Mondays, numbers and planets.[50][51]

See also



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