Neil deGrasse Tyson was a special guest at the Nutter Center last night, and my wife and I took the kids out to see him. The teens were skeptical about the event, since it meant giving up one of this week’s iterations of their League of Legends event at Epic Loot, but they enjoyed Dr. Tyson’s presentation as much as anyone.
Even though we were near the back, and beat the turn-away cutoff by less than 15 minutes.
One topic in particular that Dr. Tyson hit upon got me thinking. Time was, ego lead us to place Earth at the center of everything—our foundation was special, indeed unique, something planets wandered around, not something that wandered itself. When that position was no longer tenable, we fell back to the Sun—the Sun was special, not like those other bits of light in the sky. Then that became a lost cause too, so we (perhaps less adamantly) suspected that the Milky Way galaxy was special. But that’s no longer true either. Dr. Tyson identified the logical next to fall in this trendline:
We’ve run out of identifiable aggregates within the universe, but perhaps the universe itself is one of unknown billions of universe in a multiverse. And then that multiverse is one of many multi-multiverses. And so on.
But these are tougher barriers. Better and better telescopes would let us examine more and more of the contents of our universe, in the usual three dimensions and through what Dr. Tyson called the “time machine” as we see light that was emitted millions of years ago. But we can’t simply build a bigger telescope or look a little further into the crevices of those dimensions to find other universes. The math may hold up, but to verify it, we’d need to get outside of these dimensions, and that’s where my mind falls back to simple science fiction, like Alternate Earths. I’m still perfectly willing to say the universe bucks the trend and that there might be more universes out “there”, but that there also might not be—out “there” might only exist mathematically.
And if we do figure out what out “there” actually is, how we get to the multi-multiverse is that much more beyond my ken.
But as Dr. Tyson also summed up: it doesn’t need to make us feel insignificant. We are all part of that whole, no matter how big the whole is.