Imagine a world where dinosaurs hadn’t become extinct, Germany had won World War II and you were born in an entirely different country.
These worlds could exist today in parallel universes, which constantly interact with each other, according to a group of US and Australian researchers.
It may sound like science fiction, but the new theory could resolve some of the irregularities in quantum mechanics that have baffled scientists for centuries.
The team from Griffiths University and the University of California suggest that rather than evolving independently, nearby worlds influence one another by a subtle force of repulsion.
They claim that such an interaction could explain everything that is bizarre about how particles operate on a microscopic scale.
Quantum mechanics is notoriously difficult to fathom, exhibiting weird phenomena which seem to violate the laws of cause and effect.
‘The idea of parallel universes in quantum mechanics has been around since 1957,’ said Howard Wiseman, a professor in Physics at Griffith University.
‘In the well-known ‘Many-Worlds Interpretation”, each universe branches into a bunch of new universes every time a quantum measurement is made.
‘All possibilities are therefore realised – in some universes the dinosaur-killing asteroid missed Earth. In others, Australia was colonised by the Portuguese.’
‘But critics question the reality of these other universes, since they do not influence our universe at all.
‘On this score, our ‘Many Interacting Worlds’ approach is completely different, as its name implies.’
The Many Worlds theory was first proposed by Hugh Everett, who said that the ability of quantum particles to occupy two states seemingly at once could be explained by both states co-existing in different universes.
Instead of a collapse in which quantum particles ‘choose’ to occupy one state or another, they in fact occupy both, simultaneously.
Like Everett, Professor Wiseman and his colleagues propose the universe we experience is just one of a gigantic number of worlds.
They believe some are almost identical to ours, while most are very different.
All of these worlds are equally real, existing continuously through time, and possessing precisely defined properties.
They suggest that quantum phenomena arise from a universal force of repulsion between ‘nearby’ worlds which tend to make them more dissimilar.
Dr Michael Hall from Griffith’s Centre for Quantum Dynamics added that the ‘Many-Interacting Worlds’ theory may even create the extraordinary possibility of testing for the existence of other worlds.
‘The beauty of our approach is that if there is just one world, our theory reduces to Newtonian mechanics, while if there is a gigantic number of worlds it reproduces quantum mechanics,’ he says.
‘In between it predicts something new that is neither Newton’s theory nor quantum theory.
‘We also believe that, in providing a new mental picture of quantum effects, it will be useful in planning experiments to test and exploit quantum phenomena.’
‘For us at least there is nothing inherently implausible in the idea,’ added Professor Wiseman.
‘For fans of science fiction it makes those plots involving communication between parallel worlds not quite so far-fetched after all.’
The ability to approximate quantum evolution using a finite number of worlds could have significant ramifications in molecular dynamics, which is important for understanding chemical reactions and the action of drugs.
Professor Bill Poirier, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Texas Tech University, has observed: ‘These are great ideas, not only conceptually, but also with regard to the new numerical breakthroughs they are almost certain to engender.’
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