Astray Amongst Multiple Universes

I am grateful to Martin Gardner (and editor Kendrick Frazier), for a review of the bizarre “multiple universes” concept, in the Skeptical Inquirer of September/October 2001 [1]. The article is not an “expose,” because advocates of the conjecture have been openly hawking it since 1956, but Gardner thinks it is nutty, and tells us why.

The multiple-universe proposal was the brainchild of the late Hugh Everett III in his Ph.D. thesis at Princeton University [2]. His advisor, John Wheeler, accepted the thesis, as did the thesis committee. That was bad enough, but unbelievably, today, there are some prominent physicists, cosmologists, and philosophers who argue that reality consists of a huge number of parallel universes: the universe in which we reside, and of which we are conscious, and those others that are alongside, and in the past, or whatever [3],[4],[5],[6],[7].

There have to be good reasons for claiming that there are many universes — just about an infinite number of universes, in fact. I will only elaborate on one example; that should give the general idea:

Cut two narrow vertical slits into a thin sheet of metal, with a tiny center-to-center spacing between the slits. (It is easier to do this as a “thought” experiment, because the spacing between slits should be less than the diameter of a hydrogen atom. In practice, many tricks are used [8].) Next, shoot a beam of electrons, as depicted in Fig. 1 (which is taken from [9]), at the two-slit plate. Some of the electrons get through the left-hand slit, and some through the right-hand slit.



Fig. 1 – Two-slit interference and diffraction: (a)Schematic of idealized apparatus based on the fact that Tonomura et al. [7] have demonstrated the particle-wave duality (PWD) of electrons. The slits are at right angles to the page. Two of the semi-infinite number of rays leaving the slits are depicted as they meet at y = 4 of the fluorescent screen. (b)Idealized screen-film pattern.
It turns out that an electron acts as a particle and, at the same time, as the wave packet of Fig. 2. [Similarly, all particles—protons, neutrons, atoms, humans (see the Appendix), and so forth—exhibit this particle-wave duality (PWD) behavior.] As a particle, the electron’s diameter is unknown (if it, indeed, has a diameter), but its mass is known: At rest, it weights 9.109 X 10-31 kilogram; the effective weight increases with its velocity, becoming infinite at the speed of light. As a wave packet, its frequency increases with its velocity; some typical values are given in Table 1. An electron is so light that only 1 volt, across electrodes, is sufficient to get it moving at 600,000 meters/second. It is accompanied by a wave packet that has a frequencycorresponding to an orange color. But the packet is not an electromagnetic wave: It carries no energy, and does not give off an orange glow!


Fig. 2– The wave packet particle-wave duality (PWD) representation of an electron. This is not an electromagnetic wave. One possibility is that the packet is the compression wave that results as the electron flies through the aether. The wave packet travels at the same speed as, and with, the electron. The frequency increases as the speed of the electron increases; see Table 1 for typical values.

Table 1
Frequency f of an electron’s particle-wave duality (PWD) field for various values of voltage V. Because this is not an electromagnetic field, the “color” is for identification only; no orange, ultraviolet, X-ray, or gamma-ray energy is actually available. 


Here I have to pause to explain that we are witnessing strange behavior, unknown to people who don’t spend their time making two-slit-plate measurements. How do we know that particles in motion are associated with waves? Nobody has ever “seen” these waves, and they carry no energy. Perhaps that is not so strange—photons, which are minuscule electromagnetic waves – can zip along for billions of years, at 300 million m/s, without losing an iota of energy. There is nothing to absorb the energy—a vacuum is frictionless!

At 25,000 volts, which is typical for a television monitor, we get X-rays but, again, these are zero-energy rays. (A monitor does give off bona fide X-rays when the high-speed electron strikes the fluorescent target, but exposure, for the viewer, is negligible. The program material is much deadlier than the X-rays.)

The interference pattern that shows up on the photographic film of Fig. 1(a) is a real image, that appears when the film is developed (see [8]), because of energy supplied by the high-speed electron. The fluorescent screen, which is the same as the screen of a television receiver picture tube, “lights up” when it is struck by the electron; this leaves a dot exposure on the adjacent photographic film.

When an electron gets past a slit, it spreads out laterally as a wave, like a beam of light would do, so that the electron waves cover the fluorescent screen at the right. Two of the rays thus formed, of lengths  1 and 2, are singled out as they come together on the fluorescent screen. What pattern will the fluorescent screen show? In some locations, the field from  1 is in phase with that of  2 when they meet at the fluorescent screen, thus increasing screen exposure (constructive interference). At other locations they have opposite phases, and the fields cancel (destructive interference). The net results of constructive and destructive interference are the real (but somewhat idealized) set of peaks and valleys of Fig. 1(b).

If the PWD fields carry no energy, how can they lead to fluorescence? To get a possible answer, consider the happenings if we reduce the electron beam intensity so that only a single, isolated electron at a time is fired at the two slits. This is a difficult experiment, but it was performed by Tonomura et al. [8]. Depending on their past histories, at random, half of the incoming slit electrons go through the left-hand slit, the other half through the right-hand slit. As each electron (which cannot split in half), goes through one of the slits, itsomehow induces a wave packet (which has zero energy) in the second, adjacent slit. The sequence is illustrated in Fig. 3, with the electron going through the left-hand slit. The second wave packet combines with the first slit’s wave packet, reinforcing where the two wave packet peaks add, and canceling where they subtract. The paper by Tonomura et al. [8] reproduces five film exposures showing how the electron interference pattern of Fig. 1(b) builds up as the number of individual electrons increases as follows: 10, 100, 3000, 20,000, and 70,000. The latter is a beautiful 70,000-dot display of the equivalent of Fig. 1(b). In my opinion, this illustration is one of the most remarkable in the history of science. The mystery here is– how can the first electron and/or its wave packet, that happen to go through one of the slits, give rise to a wave packet that goes through the second slit?



Fig. 3- Sequence that illustrates two-slit interference effects that accompany a single, isolated electron. (a)Electron approaching the slit plate. (b)Leading portion of particle-wave duality (PWD) field has split, with a fragment getting through each of the slits. (c)The PWD fields have progressed beyond the slit plate. The electron (power pack), because of predetermined but statistically random past history, has followed the left-hand slit PWD segment. (d)Same as (c), but with PWD fields omitted. The power pack is heading for the y = 3 point of the screen-film. (e)The power pack and net PWD field, halfway across. (f)Because PWD field lines are concave, the power pack is directed away from the destructive-interference y = 3 point. (g)The power pack locus curves, striking the screen-film at the y = 4 point. The ethereal PWD field has vanished without a trace.

What do some of the multiple-universe people have to say about all this? That the electron and wave from our universe goes through one slit, but the wave that goes through the other slit is somehow from another universe, parallel to our own! Is the other universe the source of the second wave packet?

Three of the prominent multiple-universe advocates are the late David Lewis, philosophy department, Princeton University [5], Max Tegmark, physics and astronomy, University of Pennsylvania [6], and David Deutsch, physics department, Oxford University [7]. (David Deutsch is not related to me, not even in one of his many parallel universes.) Their arguments are put forth in several articles and books. Gardner adds “For a good look at all the multiverses now being proposed, see British philosopher John Leslie’s excellent book …” [10].

I cannot resist quoting from Gardner’s final paragraph: “The stark truth is that there is not the slightest shred of reliable evidence that there is any universe other than the one we are in. . . . In my layman’s opinion they are all frivolous fantasies. . . . I can only marvel at the low state to which today’s philosophy of science has fallen.” Here Gardner, of Scientific American fame, sells himself short as a “layman.” He is one of the most gifted science writers of our time, on a par with Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan (here it is safer to make comparisons with people who are no longer with us). In my opinion, Gardner is gifted with fantastic common sense.

The Skeptical Inquirer published follow-up comments, by Bryce DeWitt, on Gardner’s article [11]. I thought that the tone of the comments was nasty. In the issue that followed, Gardner gave a response to DeWitt’s “comments,” calling them “animadversions” (which is a synonym for “hostile criticisms”).

But I am not writing this essay as a review of Gardner’s article and DeWitt’s comments. My purpose is to point out that there is another explanation for the two-slit results: that so-called empty space is actually occupied by the “aether.”

In 1864, James Clerk Maxwell discovered the mathematical basis for electromagnetic field (EMF) propagation; in analogy with the way sound is transmitted, he and his contemporaries gave birth to the aether. The aether has definite characteristics, analogous to the density and elasticity by which a sound wave is transmitted, that account for an EMF speed of around 300 million meters/second (in a vacuum) regardless of frequency or the launching platform. But the aether concept has been discredited by three near-fatal blows:

1) In 1887, A.A. Michelson and E.W. Morley showed that the aether, if it exists, must be stationary with respect to their laboratory and, therefore, it must be moving with the earth. This implies that every large object carries its own aether, just as the earth carries its own gaseous atmosphere. And because the velocity of the earth around the sun is 0.01% as fast as the velocity of light, it implies that there is a gradual change in the speed of light, in transition regions, as one approaches or recedes from the sun’s aether.

2) If the aether is stationary with respect to the earth, a vertical telescope would show no aberration, when viewing distant stars, during a year’s rotation. Instead, small aberration effects appear, corresponding to the 0.01% velocity around the sun; this implies that the aether is stationary with respect to the sun, not the earth.

3) Armed with special relativity and quantum mechanics, the “big shots” of physics discredited and abandoned the aether in the 1920s.

The question of how an EMF can propagate through “empty” space remains, along with: What really is an electric field, and a magnetic field, and why is the speed of light 300 million m/s, and so forth.

Returning to the two-slit apparatus: If it is immersed in a putative aether, it is possible that the speeding electron is preceded by an aether compression wave, just as a missile in air is preceded by a compression wave. When it arrives at the slits, the compression wave goes through both slits, and subsequently the two beams interfere with each other. These are aether waves: they contain zero energy, and vanish without leaving a trace on the screen. But they do exert a lateral force on the electron, guiding it to regions where the compression waves reinforce each other. [Force without movement does not require energy. Visualize a train going around a curve: the track supplies a lateral force, but (neglecting friction) no energy.] As shown in Fig. 3(g), the electron veers off to register a constructive interference peak at y = 4; this requires a lateral push-and-pull that can be supplied by gravitational forces between the electron and the aether.

A similar effect occurs if a photon is fired at the two adjacent, narrow slits of a two-slit apparatus.

In addition to the two-slit “explanation,” there are other weird quantum effects that can be resolved via an aether that, in our universe, has some strange and unbelievable characteristics. Most noteworthy is that two photons can become “entangled,” no matter how far apart they are; this instantaneous “communication,” at a speed far greater than the speed of light, is another nutty, weird quantum effect. Although physicists say “somehow” and shrug their shoulders, it is a statistical illusion that can also be explained by the small, random effect of an aether.

It seems to me that the many-universes conjecture is many orders of magnitude more unbelievable than that of an all-pervading aether.



If the electron’s velocity, v, is less than 6 million meters/second:
Potential energy, qV, is converted into kinetic energy, m0v2/2, where
q = charge of the electron = 1.602 X 10-19 coulomb,
V = voltage between the electrodes,
m0 = mass of the electron at rest = 9.109 X 10-31 kilogram.
Solving for the velocity,
(1)  v = (2qV/m0)½.
The particle-wave dual (PWD) frequency is given by
(2) f = m0v2/h,
where h = Planck’s constant = 6.626 X 10-34 joule-second.
For V = 100 volts, for example, we get from Eq. (1),
v = (2 X 1.602 X 10-19 X 100/9.109 X 10-31)
½ = 5.931 million m/s and, from Eq. (2),
f = 9.109 X 10-31(5.931 X 106)2/6.626 X 10-34 = 4.836 X 1016 Hz, which is the value given in Table 1.
For a human who weighs 100 kg and is walking at a velocity of 1 m/s, the PWD frequency is
f = 100(1)2/6.626 X 10-34 = 1.5 X 1035 Hz. To detect this frequency, our human would have to pass through one of the slits of an unimaginably fine two-slit apparatus. I believe that it is wise, at this point, to gently drop the subject.
If the particle’s velocity is greater than 6 million m/s, relativistic effects become appreciable; that is, the effective mass of the particle increases in accordance with a factor R:
(3) R = 1/[1 – (v/c)2]
where c is the velocity of light = 2.998 X 108 m/s. If v = 0, the relativistic factor R = 1. As the velocity approaches that of light, the factor R approaches infinity. Therefore, an infinite amount of energy is required to get a particle to move at the speed of light.
Since mass is now a function of R, we have to go to basic definitions for the kinetic energy, K:
(4) dK = F dx,
where a change in potential energy, F dx, is converted into a change in kinetic energy, dK. Next, replacing force by mass times acceleration,
(5) dK = m(dv/dt)dx,
which is equivalent to
(6)  dK = (dx/dt)m dv.
But dx/dt is velocity, v, and m dv is change in momentum, dp, so the basic form derived here is dK = v dp.
Solving for v in Eq. (3),
(7) v = c(R2 – 1)
Momentum, mass times velocity, now appears as
(8) p = Rm0v = m0c(R2 – 1)
and, differentiating,
(9)  dp = m0cR dR/(R2 – 1)
The next step is to substitute Eqs. (7) and (9) into Eq. (6). There results the surprisingly simple relationship
(10)  dK = m0c2 dR.
Finally, integrating with a lower limit R = 1,
(11)  K = m0c2(R – 1).
In any device that accelerates electrons, such as a cathode-ray tube, assuming that all of the potential energy qV is converted into kinetic energy K, Eq. (11) leads to
(12)  R = 1 + (qV/m0c2)
and Eq. (2) becomes
(13)  f = Rm0v2/h.
For V = 1,000,000 volts, for example, we get from Eq. (12)
R = 1 + (1.602 X 10-19)(106)/(9.109 X 10-31)(2.998 X 108)2 = 2.957. From Eq. (7),
v = 2.998 X 108(2.9572 – 1)
½/2.957 = 2.821 X 108 m/s. From Eq. (13),
f = 2.957 X 9.109 X 10-31(2.821 X 108)2/6.626 X 10-34 = 3.236 X 1020 Hz, which is the value given in Table 1.



[1] Martin Gardner, “Multiverses and Blackberries,” Skeptical Inquirer, Sept/Oct 2001.
[2] Hugh Everett III, “Relative State Formulation of Quantum Mechanics,” Reviews of Modern Physics, July 1957.
[3] Bryce DeWitt, “Quantum Mechanics and Reality,” Physics Today, Sept 1970.
[4] Bryce DeWitt & Neill Graham, The Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, Princeton Univ. Press, 1973.
[5] David Lewis, The Philosophy of Worlds, Oxford, 1986.
[6] Max Tegmark, “Parallel Universes,” Scientific American, May 2003.
[7] David Deutsch, The Fabric of Reality, Penguin, 1997.
[8] J. Endo Tonomura, T. Matsuda, T. Kawasaki, & H. Ezawa, “Demonstration of Single-Electron Buildup of an Interference Pattern,” Am. J. Phys., Feb 1989.
[9] Sid Deutsch, Return of the Ether, SciTech Publishing, 1999.
[10] John Leslie, Universes, Routledge, 1989.
[11] Bryce DeWitt, “Comments on Martin Gardner’s ‘Multiverses and Blackberries,’” Skeptical Inquirer, March/Apr 2002.
[12] Martin Gardner, “Many Worlds? A Response to Bryce DeWitt’s ‘Comments …,” Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 2002.


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