Parallel Stories, the Second

As I mentioned before, I am putting out three related stories that I wrote (mostly) a couple years ago and only just recently finished. The first can be found here and it represents the universe we all know and love. This second story represents the next type of parallel universe: one within our own universe, but beyond the horizon of the observable universe.

And, without further ado, on to the second story.

Story 2: Untold Light-years Away

Jeff lay in bed, pretending to be asleep, but really just listening to the sound of his wife in the shower. He continued to do so while she blow-dried her hair. She came back into the bedroom and her heard her rummaging around in the closet. Eventually, she came to his side, kissed him on the cheek, said “I love you,” and left. He mumbled, “Love you, too,” as she walked away. He didn’t get up until he heard the back door close.

Jeff sat up and grabbed his phone off of the nightstand. The calendar on the home screen told him his schedule for the day: the interview with Dr. Stephens was at 10, a lunch date with Walt, and the afternoon set aside to work on his article. Jeff got up and hit the shower to start his day.

* * *

He backed his new Pontiac Bonneville out of the garage and on to the street. The radio news host droned on about the latest crisis in North Africa: the death of Muammar Gaddafi a couple days before on October 20th. Despite his death, the fighting in Libya continued, with the UN intervening only half-heartedly. Jeff tended to think that they were only making things worse, but the people in charge weren’t likely to listen to him even if he wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning article about it.

Traffic on the freeway downtown was still thick, despite rush hour ending a couple hours before. Why did this guy insist on having this interview downtown? Jeff grumbled internally. Getting down to MIT was such a bitch, no matter what time of day you went.  Oh well, at least the magazine is covering the parking fees and tolls, he thought.

The Green Center at MIT
The Green Center at MIT

* * *

Doctor John Stephens was a tall, gangly man.  In jeans and a polo with the sleeves rolled up, he looked more like he was about to hit a casual bar for a couple drinks rather than whatever it was that theoretical physics researchers do on a daily basis. Stephens welcomed Jeff into his disheveled office with a smile and a firm hand shake. “It’s good to finally meet you in person,” he said. He cleared off one of the chairs for Jeff to sit down in.

“You, too. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.” Jeff’s original impression from talking to Stephens on the phone was confirmed: he liked the guy.

“Well, if people don’t know what we’re working on, they’re not very likely to support us. I like to get the word out when I can.”

“So what exactly is it that you are doing here? I get the basic idea is that you research other dimensions, but not much more than that.”

“Well, my bailiwick is more on the equation side of things. I work with the math and try to see if we can create an equation that describes the world as we know it. At least, that’s the end goal. We’re a long way off, if it’s something we can even do.” Stephens picked up a pen and began fiddling with it.

Jeff opened up his bag and pulled out his dictaphone. “Before I forget, I’d better get this thing going. You ok with me recording our talk? It’s a lot easier to replay than to scribble notes furiously while you talk.”

“Oh, sure, go ahead,” Stephens responded.

Jeff started the recording. “This is Jeff, it is Tuesday, October 23, 2011, and I’m with Dr. John Stephens of MIT, who is researching extra or parallel dimensions. So, Doctor, why don’t you tell me why science thinks there may be extra dimensions?”

“Well, there’s actually a few different sources for that idea. The idea of extra dimensions has been around a while, but most of the people who espoused it were kind of considered crackpots until relatively recently.”

“Why’d that change?”

“String theory. String theory is an attempt to create the so-called ‘theory of everything.’ One of the big problems in physics right now is that we have two very successful theories: Einstein’s relativity and quantum mechanics. And they don’t mesh at all. So how do we resolve that?  Clearly we’re missing some sort of unifying theory. And there’s a lot of theoretical physicists like me working on several different ideas. We’re still in the early stages of the search, though.”

“So what does string theory have to do with multiple dimensions?”

“The idea driving string theory is that all matter, when you get down to the smallest possible size, is made of tiny strings that vibrate at different frequencies. So, smaller than atoms, smaller than electrons, smaller than photons, smaller than quarks, just infinitesimally small. But they had a problem when they worked on the math: the system just collapsed if they only used the standard four dimensions: the three directions plus time. So they had to start putting in extra dimensions to make the equations work. Depending on the particular approach to string theory, you can have from 6 to 26 extra dimensions.”

Jeff’s eyes widened. “Wow.”

“Yeah, it can seem like a lot.”

“Where are these extra dimensions?” Jeff asked.

“There are a couple ideas on that. One possibility is that they are folded up very tinily and we can’t detect them. Another is that our universe is part of a larger multi-verse and that we only have a few of the dimensions in our universe.”

“So there could be other universes out there like ours?”

“Yes, if string theory is right.”

“Would they be anything like ours?”

“Some might be near-exact copies. Others might have entirely different laws of physics.  It’s hard to say because at this point we’re getting into pure speculation. We just honestly have no idea. Which is why I have a job,” he grinned.

“Like, there could be other versions of me out there in a parallel universe?”

“Yes, that is possible.” Stephens’ eyes sparkled and he smirked, “But there may be other versions of you in this universe, too.”

“What? How is that possible?”

“Our universe is big. Bigger than you can possibly imagine. The human brain is just not built to comprehend things at the scale of the universe. And we can only see a fraction of it. What we can actually see is called the ‘observable universe.’ It’s a sphere with a radius of about 50 billion lightyears. It contains everything we can see in the universe.  But that doesn’t mean it is everything in universe. Only the stuff we can see.”

“So there’s more galaxies out there than we can even see?”

“Most likely. One theory has it that the total universe is actually about 10^23 times the volume of the observable universe. That’s a 1 with 23 zeroes after it. It’s an absolutely gigantically enormously massive amount of space.”

“How does that lead to more versions of me in this universe?”

“There are only so many arrangements of matter possible. Eventually, if the universe is big enough, there will be another world just like ours, with another version of you.”

Jeff just stared at Stephens.

“I can tell you are enjoying this,” he laughed.

* * *

While sitting in traffic on the way home, Jeff couldn’t help but think about those other possible universes. Did they have other versions of him? What were their lives like? Some were probably better, but others would probably be worse.

He couldn’t wait to start writing his article. He was already composing the rough outline in his mind. He couldn’t wait to tell his wife about it. He remembered later that he completely forgot his lunch with Walt.


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