The Accidental Universe

Physicist Alan Lightman has made a name for himself by turning life's heavy questions--and the scientific data surrounding them--into compelling reading. One can picture him in the ancient world explaining the heavens to an enraptured audience of pilgrims at Delphi. The renowned modern sage holds the distinction of being the first professor at MIT to be appointed to both the sciences and the humanities, and with his latest book, The Accidental Universe, it is clear to see why.

Lightman stopped by Big Think's studio to discuss whether our universe is an accident. His answer includes a theory increasingly gaining ground among physicists: the multiverse.

"What has happened in the last ten years or so – or 15 years is we now believe – when I say we I mean most theoretical physicists – now believe that our universe is just one of a vast number of universes all with very different physical properties," says Lightman. "And all of these different universes originate from the same fundamental principles.  So there’s not one solution to the crossword puzzle.  There are many solutions to the crossword puzzles.  In that case there’s no possibility of explaining why our universe is a necessary consequence of the fundamental principles."

Now that the multiverse theory is no longer taboo, researchers can debate how many dimensions it may hold. Big Think expert Michio Kaku put the theorized number at 11 dimensions. Lightman threw out a slightly higher number. Let the next great debate begin!

"Some of these other universes might have 17 dimensions," he says.  "Some of them might have planets and stars like ours.  Others may have just an amorphous field of energy with no planets and stars.  Some of them might allow life like our universe.  Some of them may not allow life.  And our universe is just one lucky draw from the hat."

Do you think that our universe was an accident? And are "11" and "17" too low or too high when it comes to other possible dimensions?

Alan Lightman on whether our universe may be an accident.

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