Cast a cursor about on any book sales web page these days and you’ll invariably land somewhere near to a parallel universe novel. They’ll promise to take you on journeys far and wide, stretching the limits of your imagination. One may explore a world where Nazi’s won WWII (The Man in the High Castle-Philip K Dick) others make use of invented contraptions to slip between worlds, such as Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter. To the fiction weary, they yield reviews of ‘ridiculous premise but entertaining’, to ‘not another scientific plot hole’.
But therein lies the rub. It’s called science fiction for a reason. It requires the reader to take what is known about our universe and extend it to beyond what can currently be proven. What many reviewers fail to comprehend, is just how much time goes into researching the latest scientific hypotheses from which to base new stories.
Often times, what was classed as fiction in one decade, becomes science fact in another. Doesn’t it make sense to view all possibilities as equally viable, given the enormous dearth of facts to support a fully comprehensive unified theory?
A brave new world.
Take the sub-section of science research into the concept of Mirror Matter. Although research focuses primarily on sub-atomic particles, the latest theories and experiments could have a revolutionary impact on how we view the entire universe if proven correct.
In 1933, Swiss astronomer, Fritz Zwicky observed galaxy clusters with a stronger rotational pull than could be attributed to gravity of nearby matter. It suggested that something beyond plain sight was exerting a colossal force. Vera Rubin, an American astronomer, noticed the same effect in the 1970s. Now, scientists believe that this pull force could be due to dark matter, although our inability to measure this absence of something, makes it extremely difficult to prove. For every one unit of matter from our universe, equations suggest that there could be as much as five times that amount of dark matter.
The massive values given to universal forces, often rely on minute data obtained regarding particle behaviour at the sub-atomic level. In the 1950s, physicists such as Tsung Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang surmised that all physical processes have a certain degree of symmetry, where many parameters of an object remained the same while forces around it altered. A bouncing ball, for example, does not bounce higher if it is a certain colour. The rules applied to particle physics assumes that particles should remain the same even when the positions and rotations are altered, even in another universe.
This gave rise to the notion of quantum entanglement, where observation of one particle from an entangled pair, allowed predictions to be made about its partner, wherever that may be. For example, if the first particle is spinning in one direction, then the paired particle must be spinning the opposite way.
Lee and Yang proposed that sometimes, this law could be nullified, commissioning Chien Shiung Wu to devise an experiment to prove parity violations. Lee and Yang went on to receive a Nobel Prize for their work. Their explanation for this anomalous particle behaviour was radical. They suggested that parity was preserved if you consider that it was broken in our universe, because we could only observe half the picture. The equal and opposite reaction could have occurred in a mirror universe, thereby retaining the parity overall. This was the beginning of Mirror Matter.
Since then, scientists are racing to prove the existence of mirrored worlds using sub-atomic particle behaviour. One of the most exciting branch of mirror world investigations uses the natural decay rates of neutrons. When an atom breaks down, the components have a limited life span before they break down further. In Beta Decay experiments, measurements are taken when a ‘free’ neutron from the centre of an atom breaks down into protons and electrons. There are two main methods used to achieve an accurate count of protons appearing from a known quantity of neutrons. Both protocols have been honed and repeated until rigorous results are obtained, and experimental error is eliminated.
The first experiment involved capturing the neutrons in a narrow area, known as the ‘Bottle Trap’, waiting for a specific time and then measuring the quantity of protons present. The second method counts the number of protons in a neutron beam that shoots out of a nuclear reactor under a magnetic field. Each proton can only be the result of a decaying neutron.
Having discarded any errors involved, the two methods should arrive at the same value, but they don’t. The ‘bottle’ experiment gives a neutron life of 14 minutes and 39 seconds, whereas the ‘beam’ method has it at 14 minutes and 48 seconds.
Why is there a 9 second disparity?
Zurab Berezhiani, at the University of L’Aquilla, posits that neutrons are able to oscillate back and forth between worlds within a magnetic field. Protons emitted in any parallel universe would not be seen in ours, thus accounting for the statistical difference between the two methods.
Using this theory, scientists have begun to apply the notion of Mirror Matter to other conundrums. Rabindra Mohapatra, at the University of Maryland, says that ‘The Mirror Neutron seems like a good dark matter candidate.’ Given the puzzling maths involved in estimating the quantity of dark matter in the universe, a notional value of five times the amount of visible matter exists, but as yet cannot be detected.
If all this unseen matter is in fact mirror matter, all oscillating between worlds in a uniquely entangled way, then it stands to reason that there must be at least another five universes overlapping ours. Knowing that particles left over from the Big Bang eventually went on to form stars, planets and life, in the great cosmological evolution, it is fair to suggest that life must also be mirrored elsewhere.
It all seems a bit far fetched until you gather together a collection of seemingly impossible data for which the mirror theory provides a logical explanation. Take, for example, the fact that particle detecting telescopes have discovered the existence of high energy particles entering our galaxy from elsewhere. After travelling such incredible distances, the energies involved should be vastly decreased. Their existence in astrological terms, is impossible.
Berezhiani, has applied the mirror theory to this phenomenon. In early models of universe evolution, equations suggest that any mirror universes formed at that time would be cooler than ours. Too much heat would drive mirror matter across into our universe, resulting in a stronger gravitational field for our world. This temperature difference allowed particles to oscillate from our reality into the mirror universes.
When travelling in a mirror universe, particles are able to traverse massive distances without expending all their energies due to the cooler conditions. When they oscillate into our telescopic sights, they have more energy than particles surrounding them from our universe.
Is there any way to prove all this?
The proof for these theories seems to lie in the application of varying strengths of magnetic fields. In 2012, Berezhiani conducted early ‘bottle’ experiments on decaying neutrons using a magnetic field. Her early assumptions may yet prove to be correct, since she claimed at the time to have witnessed mirror matter behaviour. This would reinforce the idea that the Earth’s magnetic field can pull particles into our world from mirror worlds.
Klaus Kirch and colleagues, at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Villigen, Switzlerland, has begun trials using more sensitive apparatus and magnetics fields to test Berezhiani’s original ‘bottle’ experiment.
In the meantime, Leah Broussard, a physicist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, and her colleagues, are hopeful of the results from another experiment. This time, a beam of neutrons will fire at an impenetrable barrier inside a sealed environment. If any neutrons are detected on the other side of the barrier, they must have oscillated to a parallel universe, travelled through the space where the barrier does not exist, to reappear once again in our world. It’s quite a leap of faith, but worth the inexpensive set up to test. She hopes that the application of varying strengths of magnetic fields either side of the barrier will increase the chances of success.
What does all this mean for us?
If Broussard’s team do find neutrons beyond the barrier, then all the science fiction stories I have known and loved would be vindicated. Are we not also made of sub-atomic particles capable of behaving in the same way as those energetic anomalies in deep space? If scientists can prove a disparity of values within our laws of physics, does it not lend credence to the theory that the conservation of energy might be maintained when all parallel universes are taken into consideration?
Countless are the storylines that use this very hypothesis as the driving force for plots, and yet they are relegated to the fictional shelves of implausible nonsense. The television programme, Fringe, by JJ Abrams, used the ability to traverse parallel universes to underpin all five successful seasons. The metaphysical and visionary books by David Mitchell, such as Cloud Atlas, or the newer ‘The Trusted’ series by Michelle Medhat, all use the latest and most contentious science to frame their work.
If all it takes to shimmy into an alternate universe it the correct oscillation frequency, might we be able to achieve that ourselves without the aid of gadgets and gizmos? Yogis and meditation masters can already regulate and control their brainwave frequencies at will. If they can attune to the correct wavelength, ought it not be possible to send our consciousness into a parallel plane, even if our solid bodies stay put?
Could it be that our fundamental perception of the paranormal is flawed, and what people are actually experiencing is a partial or full phase shift between worlds? A fleeting glimpse of an apparition might just as easily be explained as a brief overlap in the frequencies of another universe, allowing a view of mirror matter. Might it be that those given a medical diagnosis after hearing people speaking inside their heads, are really just listening to those from another world?
It’s time to take off the blinkers and see the potential that these brave scientists are offering us. Maybe then, we will reclassify science fiction as science possible.